Misbah and Akmal defy India
Misbah-ul-Haq and Kamran Akmal finally revealed Pakistan's heart, as they batted for over two sessions to help their side to 358 for 6 at the close of the third day at Eden Gardens. The pair put on 207 runs for the sixth wicket, notching up a century each and taking Pakistan to the brink of saving the follow-on, and perhaps the Test.
Harbhajan Singh provided a late twist to the day, removing Akmal two overs before play ended. It was a fitting end, as it was Harbhajan who instigated Pakistan's collapse in the morning session, one which left them teetering at 150 for 5. They are still 58 runs short of making India bat again.
Nothing, however, will take this day away from Misbah and Akmal. By the day's last session, in which both brought up their hundreds, it was difficult to decide who would be happier.
Akmal, who reached it first, had not scored a century for 16 Tests. His last, against the same opponents, came 22 months ago. It felt longer, for in that time, his stock has fallen till it could not fall any further: had he not scored here, he would likely have been dropped. But Akmal at least had done it four times before this; for Misbah, this was a first, and within context, will be difficult to better. The pair had come together just before lunch, with Pakistan in serious strife.
Akmal was the go-getter from the start. He took his time to settle, to assess threats, the situation and run-scoring options. He began by sweeping Harbhajan and continued using that shot to good effect through the afternoon, only getting finer with each attempt.
The further he progressed, however, the more strokes came out. His backfoot play, the cut and pull in particular, flowered first, as he marked significant moments with one of each: a cut brought up the fifty partnership and Pakistan's 200 soon after mid-day drinks, an emphatic pull as tea beckoned brought up his own fifty and another forcing cut brought up his fifth hundred (and fourth against India) before drinks in the final session. It also brought up no doubt, memories of the great Mohali escape.
Had Munaf Patel held on to an edged hook on 87, Akmal may not have had a chance to show one and all his love for the drive. As India took the new ball, that chance apart, Akmal drove Munaf Patel and Zaheer Khan relentlessly straight and through cover until eventually, he was deceived by Harbhajan.
Misbah continued from where he had left in Delhi, at once appearing Pakistan's most sensible and best batsman. Spurred on initially by Younis Khan's daredevilry, he took educated risks before lunch, lofting Anil Kumble over midwicket, slog-sweeping and flashing through slips. He was dropped by Sachin Tendulkar, a difficult chance at midwicket, after which the situation's gravity - and requirement - seemed to hit home.
|Akmal had not scored a century for 16 Tests. His last, against the same opponents, came 22 months ago. It felt longer, for in that time, his stock has fallen till it could not fall any further|
After lunch, he settled for the day, content mostly to defend and occasionally to nudge and pinch runs. Obstacles were placed in his way, most notably whenever Zaheer Khan pitched short. One steepler after lunch ballooned off his edge and in the 90s, after tea, his ribs were given a solid working over.
But those periods apart, Misbah capped his sudden rise to the front ranks of Pakistan's batting. There weren't many shots later, but whenever he chose to play them, he did so with minimum fuss. A cut off Patel in the 90s was efficiently done, while the clip to square leg off Kumble would've been remembered similarly, had it not brought up his maiden hundred.
Yet nothing that preceded their partnership had revealed any sign of such fight. Harbhajan had threatened to embarrass them alone, defining the morning session. Though Pakistan had made an uncomplicated start, Harbhajan was giving the ball considerable loop, though if it's not done with your team 600 runs to the good, then it will never be done.
He was getting turn too: twice, Salman Butt resisted the temptation to drive balls going across him, but the third time the charm couldn't be resisted. Butt was pulled into a drive, Rahul Dravid at slip accepting the edge.
The big fish was reeled in Harbhajan's next over, Mohammad Yousuf defeated in classic manner. He offered flight to drive, before putting one in quicker. It spun sharply and straight through a drive as Pakistan's morning darkened.
Younis fought a brief, reckless battle where runs came freely, but reverse-sweeps and heaves over midwicket were high-risk ways of going about it. And living by the sword eventually meant dying by it, as a poor shot to an even poorer ball from Patel brought his end. As Kumble trapped a clueless Faisal Iqbal, Pakistan were left hoping for miracles. Misbah and Akmal provided them with a little one, though it still might not be enough.
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo