Inzamam and Afridi make India suffer
Just as they had done at Lahore, the Pakistan batsmen made a resounding opening statement, walloping breezy cameos and wrenching away the advantage on an absorbing first day of the second Test at Faisalabad. Drama off the field, with selectorial decisions creating a buzz, and entertaining action on it, with a vociferous crowd basking under sunny skies, provided the backdrop for Pakistan's plunder, ending the day on 379 for 4, and gaining a firm grip on the contest.
In a series where the batsmen have been in irrepressible touch, Pakistan's top order refused to let up. The openers were swiftly off the blocks; Younis Khan blossomed with an assertive 85; Mohammad Yousuf produced a composed 65; Inzamam eased to an authoritative 79; and Shahid Afridi, displaying a refreshingly responsible air, reeled off 85 off 84 balls. One by one, with each batsman looking more assured than the previous, they solidified Pakistan's position and the final-session blast, when Inzamam and Afridi rattled 131 off 27 overs, stole the thunder. Against five specialist bowlers, the first India had picked in five years, they managed to score at 4.21 runs an over, and if not for three superb catches from the Indian fielders, more merry-making might have been in store.
Afridi joined Inzamam in a delicate situation: India had got a double-break, both thanks to outstanding catches, with Rudra Pratap Singh, who enjoyed an impressive Test debut, posing a few problems. He embarked on a brief rampage, shredding the largely off-colour Anil Kumble for three successive fours, before sensibly capitalising on a spread field to push the singles. It was an ominous sign from a batsman normally associated with the manical and along with Inzamam, he rotated the strike admirably. As stumps approached, he shifted gears in astonishing speed, smeared Irfan Pathan for 16 in three deliveries and signed off in style.
Inzamam was equally vital at the other end, serving as a calm guiding light amid the run-fest and played his part in beefing up the total. He cashed in on the errant line, whipping off his pads and gliding with felicity, and in a quiet, assured manner took Pakistan close to an impregnable position.
Things weren't one-sided throughout. Both sides jostled for control in the early stages - Pakistan's openers racing away to a 49-run stand; India pulled it back with two wickets - but what tilted the scales was the confident manner in which Younis and Yousuf consolidated, and then drove home the advantage. Both had their uncertain moments against Harbhajan Singh, who extracted some sharp turn and bounce off the first-day track, but they overcame those worries with the sweep, that age-old nemesis that the duo have used since the Kolkata Test last year.
Younis nearly committed hara-kiri when on 11, too far down the track while going for a single, only for Sachin Tendulkar, at mid-on, to fluff a direct hit. Kumble didn't manage to find too much rhythm - Yousuf even lofted him for a magnificent straight six - and the two appeared to be well ensconced during the post-lunch session, highlighted by a flurry of boundaries.
It took a moment of brilliance to separate the pair - Yuvraj Singh leaping up to intercepting a savage Younis cut, plucking the ball despite being off balance and holding on in stunning fashion. Yousuf fell soon after, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni dived acrobatically to his right, giving RP Singh his third wicket on Test debut.
That performance also partly vindicated the team-management's decision to play three seamers - the fact that they were all left-arm made it a first - with RP Singh and Zaheer Khan being chosen ahead of Sourav Ganguly and the hamstrung Ajit Agarkar. It was probably an aggressive move, in contrast with Pakistan's more defensive strategy of replacing Rana Naved-ul-Hasan with Abdul Razzaq, but when the bat is mightier than the sword, the number of bowlers might not really make too much of a difference.
How they were out
Shoaib Malik c Dravid b RP Singh 19 (49 for 1)
Ball ricochet off a periscope bat; fantastic catch at first slip, lunging to his left
Salman Butt c Dhoni b Zaheer 37 (65 for 2)
Tried to drive but inside-edged one that cut back
Younis Khan c Yuvraj b RP Singh 83 (207 for 3)
Savage cut intercepted by a sensational one-handed leap at point
Mohammad Yousuf c Dhoni b RP Singh 65 (216 for 4)
Went after a wide one; fine diving take behind the stumps
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo