Inzamam and Younis power Pakistan
Inzamam-ul-Haq emulated Colin Cowdrey, Alec Stewart, Gordon Greenidge and his former team-mate, Javed Miandad, by scoring a century in his 100th Test as Pakistan took control of the third Test on a placid pitch at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Inzamam's 21st hundred was a majestic effort, one that utterly changed the complexion of the match after India had struck two early blows with the new ball. By stumps, Inzamam and Younis Khan, who played the sidekick's role to perfection in bringing up his second hundred in successive Tests, had added a mammoth 316 to set the platform for a big push on the second morning.
India surrendered any trace of initiative soon after lunch, with Inzamam playing some crisp cuts and fluent shots off the pads. Untroubled when driving Lakshmipathy Balaji off the front foot, his back-foot play was simply imperious, with strokes piercing the field almost at will. He also ensured that Younis didn't lose the plot, going down the pitch and administering a pat on the back after a loose shot.
With Younis easing towards his 50, Inzamam stepped out and lofted Anil Kumble effortlessly towards the long-on fence, and then moved to 96 with an exquisite cover-drive off Irfan Pathan, the 15th four of his innings. Minutes later, a tuck off the hips to square leg gave him the single he needed to bring up a century that would mean so much to him and his team.
Inzamam was briefly troubled by cramps in the intense heat of late afternoon, but nothing could halt Pakistan's momentum as Younis also cruised to a century from 211 balls, playing some superb drives and cuts along the way. There was one magnificent straight six off Harbhajan Singh, followed by a miscue over cover that led to angry words being exchanged. Harbhajan and India, though, won no exchanges at all as both batsmen piled on the runs. Errors in length were punished with coruscating pull shots, and width outside the off stump or down the leg side usually resulted in strokes that sped past the infield.
Inzamam's openers hadn't done him any favours at the start, and as has happened fairly frequently in the recent past, he was left to steer his team out of choppy waters. Yasir Hameed, in the side in place of the out-of-depth Taufeeq Umar, had started with a beautifully timed straight-drive, but the opening crescendo from the crowd hadn't even died down when Shahid Afridi, who played that blistering innings at Kolkata, nicked Balaji's first delivery to Rahul Dravid at first slip. And when Hameed edged one from Pathan, Inzamam strode out in his usual sedate fashion, mere minutes after being presented with a special memento on the field.
Both Balaji and Pathan bowled with discipline and verve on a pitch that hid no demons, but Inzamam was in prime form, getting off the mark with a gorgeous cover-drive and following up with a nonchalant swivel-pull for four. The outfield tended to be slow, but Inzamam's sweetly timed shots sped to the fence, and with Younis also lacing some superb drives and cuts, the total slowly mounted.
Harbhajan and Kumble, the hometown hero, never really discomfited either batsman, and the small smattering of grass on the surface appeared more to be a binding agent to prevent it cracking under an unrelenting sun. Harbhajan was frequently pulled away, while a variety of fine sweeps succeeded in upsetting Kumble's rhythm.
The fact that the most vociferous cheer of the day came when Sachin Tendulkar came on to bowl the 74th over said it all, with India's bowlers neutralised by the sluggishness of the pitch. With the shadows lengthening, the new ball was taken in the 85th over, but nothing could halt Pakistan's inexorable progress towards the huge total which had been theirs for the taking at Kolkata too. Just for good measure, Inzamam finished the day with a savage cut for four as Balaji pitched one too wide.
India's fielding had become increasingly ragged in the face of some superb batsmanship, and not even being mistaken for Haidee Tiffen, a New Zealand women's international, by the electronic scoreboard operators would have detracted from Inzamam's sense of satisfaction at a task accomplished to near-perfection.
Afridi c Dravid b Balaji 0 (4 for 1) A tame edge to first slip.
Hameed c Karthik b Pathan 6 (7 for 2): A faint tickle through to the keeper as the ball slanted away from him.
1 Yasir Hameed, 2 Shahid Afridi, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Yousuf Youhana, 6 Asim Kamal, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Kamran Akmal (wk), 9 Danish Kaneria, 10 Mohammad Sami, 11 Arshad Khan.
1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Saurav Ganguly (capt), 7 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Anil Kumble, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Lakshmipathy Balaji.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Cricinfo