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December 2, 2007
Pakistan needed runs from someone. Kamran Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq proved to be the most desperate of the Pakistani batsmen and scored contrasting, yet equally valuable, centuries that forced India to work hard for gains. And, as is so often the case, luck went with the bravest when it was most needed. India fell into an old habit of making mistakes just when they had a chance to hammer home the advantage. With the follow-on now 59 runs away, which Anil Kumble might be reluctant to enforce with such a slim lead even should the option be available, Pakistan might just have done enough to reach safety.
But it was not always the case. Pakistan's heavy dependence on the two Ys, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, coupled with their combined failure would have given India heart early in the day. But there's little point dwelling on 150 for 5, for that's a situation that came up not through spectacular bowling or a dodgy pitch, but merely by some extravagantly generous batting. What breathed life into this match, and thereby the series, was the passage of play that followed the fall of the fifth wicket.
Misbah and Akmal are at very different stages in their careers; one is steadily making a name for himself after being made to wait long for a chance, while the other has found his reputation being steadily eroded by some disappointing wicketkeeping. In different ways, but with the same intensity and hunger, the two built a partnership that made all the difference.
It's easy to understand the pressure Akmal is under - his keeping has come in for criticism and ridicule in recent times with regular dropped catches - but it's difficult to understand just what he's thinking when he has a bat in his hand. Aside from being a compulsive hooker, Akmal seems only one shot away from self-destructing at any point, being insistent on opening the face of the bat and running the ball through the off side. The luck that favoured his bravery - a dozing Munaf Patel dropped a top-edged hook at fine-leg - finally ran out. On 119, his fourth century against India, and fifth overall, Akmal drove expansively at Harbhajan Singh and lost his off-stump, with the follow-on yet to be averted.
Misbah and Akmal are at very different stages in their careers; one is
steadily making a name for himself after being made to wait long for a chance, while the other has found his reputation being steadily eroded by
some disappointing wicketkeeping
Twice in the recent past, in his fledgling career, Misbah has taken Pakistan to the verge and then departed. The first was the famous scoop in the final of the ICC World Twenty20. Following that, in the first Test of this series, going well on 82 and taking Pakistan towards respectability, he ran himself out comically, leaping in the air to avoid the incoming throw. Now, he has a third chance to seal the deal. On 108, with the tail for company, Misbah needs to coax 59 more runs and see that the follow-on mark is passed.
For Pakistan, it was not merely a question of occupying the crease, for there was enough time left in the game for India's bowlers to do their thing, if the follow-on was enforced. To avoid the follow-on, Pakistan needed runs, 417 of them on the board, and India were aware of just how difficult it was going to be to set their plans in motion. "We understand that the Pakistan total in the first innings might be a big one. That's why we made 616 and made the follow-on target suitably large," Sourav Ganguly had said at the end of the second day. "But things can change very quickly on the fourth and fifth days and we have to bowl well and then make things difficult for them in the second innings."
Now that the follow-on has virtually been taken out of the equation - although it should not be ruled out altogether for India's bowlers have been in operation a day and a bit so far - the complexion of the match changes. It is now India who have to make all the moves if they want to force a result; finishing off this innings quickly, then setting a target, and finally having another go at Pakistan. That's daunting just to think about, leave alone going out there and doing it on a wicket that's still holding together.
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