Majestic Jaffer puts India in command
Wasim Jaffer's bat sparkled brightest on a day of total dominance for India's batsmen, as they ground Pakistan into the Kolkata dust on the opening day of the second Test at Eden Gardens. Jaffer was undefeated on 192 when bad light ended play six overs early, but his fifth hundred was his most joyous yet. With support from Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, he took India to 352 for 3.
For an ailing Pakistan, without their injured captain Shoaib Malik and hampered by a seriously unwell Shoaib Akhtar, it was, by some distance, one of their most dispiriting days in recent memory. Kamran Akmal led the way in the field with an untidy, fumble-ridden performance that included another dropped catch as their chances of winning this series ebbed away under a barrage of boundaries.
But their woes should not take away from a day that was lit up by the beauty of Jaffer. He is compact even on his worse days, and has real grace in his shots, but rarely has he put it all together at such pace. His back-foot punches through covers, the pulls and clips are well-appreciated, but rarely have they come in such quick succession, in such sustained bursts of boundary-hitting. If ever a batsman was in the zone, it was Jaffer at Eden Gardens on Friday.
He was gold from the very start, the early loss of his opening partner as much an inconvenience as a fly is to an elephant. No particular area of the ground was favoured over others and no particular shot over another: pulls, drives, punches, cut and clips were all played with that seductive upright elegance, elbows high, bat straight.
But if he favoured one bowler over another, it was probably Sohail Tanvir, to whom he showed no mercy. Having driven him arrow-straight early in the piece, he struck him for four fours in an over a little before lunch. Later in the afternoon, as India raced to their 200, he hit him for a hat-trick of fours. As the day neared its end, Jaffer continued doing so, mostly through the leg side as Tanvir's inexperience came out of the closet.
He was no less imposing, or elegant, against the legspin of Danish Kaneria, never more so than in the day's 49th over. In it, he reached his hundred with a push through the covers, before celebrating by clipping him twice in a row through midwicket for four.
So commanding did the shy-looking Jaffer become that his support - Dravid and Tendulkar - were mostly overshadowed in stands of 134 and 175 respectively. Dravid was more than willing to go unnoticed, putting together a studied fifty. He was brisk enough to begin, particularly against Kaneria, as he got caught in Jaffer's slipstream. But just as he was bedding himself in post-lunch, Billy Doctrove sent him back for a phantom edge: replays couldn't tell whether Akmal's take was worse or Doctrove's decision.
Tendulkar was more energetic and before he was bowled - by his own shot rather than Kaneria's googly - a hundred seemed a done deal. Alongside Jaffer, he took the wheels right off Pakistan in the afternoon. The pair scored at nearly five an over, Tendulkar by turn cheeky and impulsive, but never in less than total control. The one blot came in the first over after tea, an edge off Mohammad Sami, though Akmal was obliging enough to drop.
Pakistan had a day you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, and compounded it with a comically poor performance in the field. They were effectively a three-man attack for much of it, the decision to play an ill and weak Shoaib always loaded with risk. He could only manage nine overs, and though the early ones had pace, by the end, he should have been running in with an IV drip.
Kaneria was inconsistent, mixing some ordinary overs with brighter ones and Mohammad Sami, also unwell, remained committed but without luck. Perhaps their plight was best captured by the sight of Tanvir, the new hot young thing on Pakistan's pace block, switching to left-arm spin halfway through the afternoon. It was an admission that poor fortune - in their catastrophic run-in to this Test - and a sublime Jaffer had emphatically won the day.
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo