India v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 4th day March 19, 2005

Making the impossible possible

Mohammad Sami: spearhead without spear for so long ... but no more © AFP

For three days, two unevenly matched teams have brawled, they have hurled almost everything at each other, and any time one has deigned to take the advantage, the other has clawed it back. For three days, there has been tense, taut drama where twists have been followed by bends and then loops. For three days, Eden Gardens - already home to legend - has promised another. By lunch this morning, the fourth day, there had been fierce balance. By the end of the day, there was a tentative, tantalizing one.

The cricket has been modern in its ethos. Batsmen have scored runs rarely below three and a half an over and bowlers have tried not to lose heart mostly, occasionally - in two collapses - basking in rare glory. Controversy also dropped by, sparking painfully contemporary debate about technology, the umpire and icon worship. This morning came a crescendo, albeit premature, and as much an encapsulation of a match that refuses to follow norms, as is possible.

Mohammad Sami, spearhead without spear for so long, suddenly summoned a will. His spell yesterday was fast and successful, but today he was hostile, in the way you imagine West Indians and Jeff Thomson might once have been. Off a seemingly random run-up, he raced full pelt and with intent. Buoyed by Sourav Ganguly's poor form and poorer technique against the short ball, he went short and this time, finally, with direction. Ganguly was ruthlessly exposed, VVS Laxman, soon after, was wounded by the ball of the day. Even Rahul Dravid was briefly rattled and the game, maddeningly and breathtakingly again, seemed poised. Here was Test match cricket, complete with casualties and survivors.

The eternal, inevitable survivor, Dravid masterfully enacted a seemingly decisive shift after lunch with Dinesh Karthik, about whom much less was inevitable. In Mohali, the game turned on a diminutive wicketkeeper's intervention and Calcutta provided a similar scenario. Karthik and Kamran Akmal share a lack of height, but little else. Certainly, as a keeper, he is not as assured as Akmal. He has looked uncertain, but adequate, to Kumble and Harbhajan and if energy and attitude was enough, no questions would be asked.

With the bat though, he possesses Akmal's orthodox allure and, additionally, his own impish, improvisational charm. He drove conventionally and often but two shots captured his cheek. The first had to be seen on TV replays to be believed - Mohammad Khalil pitched short, rib high and angling away. Karthik leant back and, as the ball approached, executed a flicked pull of sorts, feet off the ground, sending the ball between mid-on and mid-wicket for four. The second was almost tame in comparison, but what a shot! He negated Danish Kaneria's leg-stump line, by reverse sweeping from a foot outside leg to the point boundary. The limelight from Dravid's impeccable century was stolen and maybe too the match from Pakistan.

But even that, can you mutter with any conviction, such is the manner in which this match has unfolded? What, indeed, can you say with any conviction about a game that has confounded consistently and session by session? Precisely nothing that had been speculated and predicted has occurred. On the fourth day, the equilibrium of three days was disturbed, with apparent finality between lunch and tea by Dravid and Karthik.

The target was improbable, yes, but nobody told Shahid Afridi. Revitalised, he too bludgeoned a brief and spectacular change in momentum in the last hour before, as sure as bend follows twist, he handed it back. Now, finally, the end will come tomorrow, a day on which impossible is nothing and anything and everything is possible.