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December 3, 2007
India gave themselves hope of winning the second Test at Eden Gardens, finally hustling out Pakistan's resistance on the fourth day before racing away in search of a winning target. Having grabbed a 160-run first-innings lead just before tea, a fluent half-century from Wasim Jaffer then led them to 141 for 2 at the close of play. With the lead already over 300, they have a day in which to manufacture another declaration and secure a series win.
It is an outside chance admittedly, but given that halfway through the day there appeared even less chance, that represents progress. Until then luck had fully deserted them and defected to Pakistan, enticed no doubt by the latter's bravery. Rudi Koertzen incorrectly turned down a bat-pad appeal against Mohammad Sami in the first over after lunch, before Billy Doctrove rejected a plumb leg-before shout against Misbah-ul-Haq a few overs later.
Misbah brought up 150, Sami poked a boundary, their stand bulged and the Test appeared to be as good as saved. Anil Kumble then turned to VVS Laxman, in frustration, desperation, indifference or out of instinctive leadership genius nobody knew. Whatever it was, it worked: remarkably resembling a 50s Bollywood star casually rolling in on a Sunday afternoon, Laxman got Sami to miscue an expansive drive to mid-off. A more comical way to finish such serious defiance - and a vital 91-run stand - will not be found.
This was the key moment of the day: unexpectedly refreshed, the spinners then ran through. Harbhajan Singh ended with a deserved five-wicket haul, Misbah remained unconquered on a magnificent 161. Within six overs and eight runs, the tail was gone and India's chances of a win alive again. The intensity and urgency flooded back after Laxman's afternoon breakthrough, never less than when Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik were putting on a speedy 75 after tea. It was the pair's fifth fifty-plus stand in eight Tests and built largely on the style of Jaffer.
Apart from the first ball he faced - which he edged just beyond Younis Khan - Jaffer picked up seamlessly from his first innings double hundred. Whips through midwicket and a couple of drives confirmed the touch was still; an unseemly end in the cause of quick runs should take away nothing from an effortless, almost invisibly made fifty. And as a future bonus for India, until his hasty dismissal, Karthik was also looking better than he has at any point in this series.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni was sent up the order as a positive sign of India's intent, and Sourav Ganguly to counter a useful spell of round-the-wicket leg-spin from Danish Kaneria. As they went off for poor light, the plan had worked, completing an admirable second half of the day for the home side.
At least through the morning, it hadn't looked like ending that way. Misbah and Sami batted through the entire session, taking Pakistan past the follow-on. At that point, the passing of time was as important as saving the follow-on, for it is debatable whether India would've enforced it. Two hours unblemished rather than the 59 runs scored was the key statistic for Pakistan.
Misbah began stoutly, before lofting Harbhajan straight down the ground for six in the morning's fifth over. A pattern thus emerged: a run of maidens and periods of low-scoring followed by a sudden boundary. Misbah cut Kumble past point just before drinks and then broke a sequence of three maidens with an elegant clip through midwicket. Twenty minutes before lunch, Sami edged his first boundary to bring up the fifty partnership, and felt secure enough to launch Kumble over midwicket for six.
India were missing something, their faces looked increasingly creased with each passing, wicketless over. Kumble kept at it and was unlucky. Sami should've gone early when he edged a drive, but didn't. When decisions didn't go their way later, their fate was sealed. But not for the first time at Eden Gardens, Laxman changed that. For the first time, however, he did it with the ball.