Misbah and Sami frustrate India
Anil Kumble's first day as India's Test captain went nearly perfectly for two sessions, but a spirited rearguard action from Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Sami redressed the balance somewhat on an engrossing opening day at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Misbah, who had never gone past 41 in his previous seven Tests, batted more than four hours for his unbeaten 71, while Sami embarrassed more illustrious team-mates with a defiant 20 that spanned the entire final session.
After having picked up eight Pakistani wickets for 142 in the first two sessions, India ran out of steam after tea, with nothing more than half chances coming their way. The best of them came just before stumps, when Misbah pulled Munaf Patel to midwicket. Harbhajan Singh got his hands to it, but the ball was struck with such force that it burst through his fingers and went for two.
By then, with the partnership mounting and spin not providing an answer, Kumble had opted for the new ball, but by the time play was called off 4.2 overs early, the ninth-wicket pair had survived 31.4 overs while adding 68. The application that they showed was a far cry from the headless-chicken act that went before, with batsman after batsman pressured into mistakes by disciplined Indian bowling.
The key wicket arrived shortly after lunch, when Mohammad Yousuf played down the wrong line to Sourav Ganguly to be trapped in front for 27. He and Younis Khan had taken heavy toll on the Indian bowlers in recent times, but the failure of either to play a big innings here put Pakistan under severe pressure.
For Shoaib Malik, whose decision to bat first in overcast conditions had been most likely prompted by the reluctance to face Kumble in the fourth innings, it proved too much. Fortunate to survive a confident leg-before shout off the first ball he faced from Ganguly, he departed without making a dent on the scoreboard, fending at a Munaf delivery that left him a touch. When Kamran Akmal walked in with the score 83 for 5, he might have been reminded of the Karachi Test last year, when his brilliant century won Pakistan the game after they had slumped to 39 for 6.
He played a couple of cracking drives and flicks through midwicket, but when Kumble returned more than an hour into the second session, he had no answer to a delivery that shot through at shin height to knock back the off stump. It was reward for some disciplined bowling at either end, with Ganguly especially outstanding in his role as support seamer. Misbah tried to stem the relentless Indian tide with a superb six over long-on off Harbhajan Singh, but the support from the other end was paper-thin until Sami arrived.
The innings had started inauspiciously, with both Zaheer and Munaf bowling probing spells. Yasir Hameed had the scoreboard ticking with a lovely cover-drive, but Salman Butt was becalmed at the other end. His misery lasted all of 20 balls before Zaheer shaped one back in to beat a tentative prod.
Younis and Hameed tried to wrest the initiative with some singles, but Zaheer's second intervention of the morning put India firmly on top. Younis had committed himself to the front foot when Zaheer surprised him with a short ball at the body. The hook was a hurried one, and despite his reputation as not the most athletic of fielders, Munaf held on to the catch at fine leg.
Yousuf embarked on his innings with a steer to third man and a delightful off drive, but when Kumble and Ganguly came on to relieve the opening bowlers, the runs dried up again. Hameed flicked Kumble for a four through midwicket, but Ganguly's use of the seam was causing Yousuf problems at the other end.
A glorious cover-drive broke the shackles briefly, but when Yasir played all around a straight one from Kumble, it was again backs-to-the-wall for Pakistan. Yousuf ended the session with two magnificent square drives, but on a pitch that was hardly a minefield, it was clear that Pakistan would need to perk up after lunch.
They couldn't, and when Harbhajan and Kumble polished off Sohail Tanvir and Shoaib Akhtar in quick succession before tea, Pakistan were in danger of not being able to match the 150 they made here on their first tour 55 years ago. But as the sun started to shine and the pitch eased out, Misbah and Sami started to grow in confidence. A reverse paddle-sweep got Misbah his 50, and he then produced a gorgeous on-drive when Munaf overpitched with the new ball.
The real star though was Sami, doughty and unflappable in equal measure. A precise cut for four off Harbhajan showed what he could do, and the reintroduction of Ganguly only prompted a charge down the pitch and a massive six down the ground. It summed up India's evening, though they had every reason to be otherwise pleased with their day's work.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo