Ganguly and Laxman add to Pakistan's misery
Had India asked the Gods of cricket to script a perfect day, they would not have been able to better this. Wasim Jaffer completed a double-hundred, VVS Laxman added a dainty hundred and above all, the prince of Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly hit his first hundred in front of a rapt home crowd as India declared on 616 for 5.
Then, in the hour available to their bowlers, they picked off an opener; Pakistan ended on 50 for 1, still a whole galaxy of runs behind. Escape is possible, but with every ball, every run, every over, every boundary that has passed over two days, their spirits have sapped further.
No such problems for Ganguly, to whom this day belonged. His hundred was a significant one: his first against Pakistan, his first at Eden Gardens, and most importantly his first in four years almost to the day against major opposition. It was further proof, if needed, that he has been among India's best batsmen since his return from forced exile. At least one Australian in Rajasthan might wince at a Test record since then that now shows four fifties and two hundreds in ten Tests.
It seemed inevitable from the moment he arrived yesterday, though undoubtedly it helped that the moment was 313 for 3. He was tested briefly this morning and straight after lunch, unimaginatively, with the short ball. He weathered most of it, though lucky to survive a ferocious bouncer from Shoaib Akhtar just after lunch when on 63, Yasir Hameed failing to hold on to a difficult chance at gully.
That apart, Ganguly was by turns regal and cussed. He drove well in front of square - a sure sign that the touch is good - never more than when caressing Mohammad Sami past wide mid-off early this morning. To move in to the nineties, just before mid-day drinks, he bettered it, with what was a mere push, off the same bowler.
In between, the area around point and gully was also well-traversed with cuts, punts, deflections and scythes. When he wasn't hitting boundaries - and that wasn't too often - he was picking up the many easy singles here, there and everywhere. The hundred was celebrated with understandable gusto, though having added 163 at a fair clip with Laxman, a lazy loft to long-on, off Salman Butt of all bowlers, amounted to a needless act of charity.
Laxman, as has recently been the case, put together another fine day's work without too many people taking too much notice. Only when he first came in this morning was he in any strife, and that too lasted no more than an over against Sohail Tanvir. He got in to the groove with a delicious drive off Tanvir, and before Pakistan knew it, he was helping himself to boundaries.
When they erred in length, he would push them between mid-off and extra cover and if they erred in line, he whipped them through the arc between mid-on and square leg. Shoaib and Sami tried to rattle him after lunch with bouncers and succeeded twice: the first, he fended off uncomfortably, and the second he gloved. It is the way of this Test, that he did so over the keeper for four.
The serenity of his progress continued unabated subsequently; he slowed down after tea as he approached his first hundred in 16 innings (he does have six mostly crucial fifties in that period) and his first against Pakistan. It took him six overs to move from 91 to 100, though off 158 balls, it was still swift. Ultimately it mattered not: MS Dhoni was around, and after a circumspect start, casually blazed his way to fifty as the declaration approached.
Apart from brief periods in the morning, when they got Jaffer, and immediately after lunch, Pakistan's bowling was a mass of nothingness: no line, no length, no intent, no plan. Shoaib and Sami looked healthier after a night's rest and stirred occasionally, but never looked like sustaining it. As the afternoon wore on, even Danish Kaneria's restrictive plan to bowl a leg-stump line failed to stop fast, easy runs.
And just when they thought it couldn't get worse, it did. Sent in to negotiate the last hour, they lost Hameed after a bright start. India took to spin as early as the third over, after Zaheer Khan pulled up with an ankle problem, but on a wearing surface, its' introduction was only a matter of time.
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo