Dravid's gem sets up a grand finale
Rahul Dravid made a determined 135, his second century of the match and the 20th of his career, and Dinesh Karthik hit a pugnacious 93 as India moved into a position of strength in the second Test at Kolkata, leaving Pakistan 422 to win. But Pakistan started strongly, as their openers added 93 quick runs. Shahid Afridi played some flamoyant strokes as he raced to a run-a-ball half-century, and though he was out just before the close, he had shown his side what was possible.
There wasn't much in the pitch to indicate a result. It had grown slower, but it hadn't deteriorated otherwise, and the only Pakistani bowler to make an impression was Mohammad Sami, who bowled with fire in the first two sessions, and was met with the ice of Dravid and Karthik. He did pick up the wicket of Sourav Ganguly, though, predictably enough with a short ball.
Ganguly, a man whose batting has declined alarmingly in recent times, unleashed yet another bad shot from his varied repertoire of poor strokes in the eighth over of the morning. He tried to pull a short ball from Sami from outside off stump, top-edged it, and was caught by the bowler running towards midwicket.
A short while later, VVS Laxman went on the back foot to defend a short ball from Sami and was struck on the helmet. He retired hurt with a swollen left eyebrow, but later returned after Dravid was out and played an aggressive cameo, unselfishly losing his wicket in the quest of quick runs.
Dravid had begun fluently, needing no time to get settled in, but slowed considerably after Laxman's retirement, and went through a nervous period in the 90s. He also seemed tired after crossing hundred, batting as solidly as ever but no longer stroking the ball so fluently or placing it as precisely. The young man at the other end, however, did both those things.
Karthik, who had made centuries in the semi-final and final of the 2003-04 Ranji Trophy, showed all the makings of a specialist batsman, and his driving and cutting was excellent. He was enterprising both in strokeplay and in running between wickets, and ran many quick singles with Dravid. He had expressed his admiration after the Mohali Test for Kamran Akmal's second-innings century, and here, he almost emulated him.
The important wicket of Dravid fell to Danish Kaneria shortly before tea. In the quest of quick runs, Dravid holed out to mid-off, and left the field to a standing ovation. Not long after that Karthik was bowled round his legs trying to sweep Kaneria, who was bowling a negative line outside leg from round the wicket.
Irfan Pathan then played some lusty strokes, making 38 off 30 balls before the Indians declared, on 407 for 9. Surely Pakistan had no chance of winning. Well, no-one told Afridi that.
Afridi is predictable in a sense that both scares bowlers and gives them the thrill of opportunity. He played a couple of iffy shots, but there were some thumpaceous boundaries as well. You could call it Sehwag-esque, except that Afridi has been doing it from before Sehwag. Collis King-esque? Trumper-esque? Well, he eventually threw his wicket away, hoicking Anil Kumble to Ganguly at fine leg, so let's call it Afridi-esque.
His assault meant that along with a draw and an Indian victory, a Pakistan win had also become possible. Unlikely, but possible. After all that has happened in this series, count nothing out.
Ganguly c and b Sami 12 (154 for 4) Trying to pull a short ball outside off, top-edging towards midwicket
Dravid c Kamal b Kaneria 135 (322 for 5) Holed out at mid-off trying to force the pace
Karthik b Kaneria 93 (331 for 6) Bowled round his legs trying to sweep a delivery that landed in the rough well outside leg stump.
Laxman st Akmal b Kaneria 24 (377 for 7) Gave Kaneria the charge, stumped
Harbhajan b Razzaq 0 (378 for 8) Wild swing down the wrong line
Balaji c Akmal b Razzaq 0 (378 for 9) Wild swing to ball angled across him, got a slight edge
Afridi c Ganguly b Kumble 59 (93 for 1) Hoick to fine leg