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December 8, 2007
The Chinnaswamy Stadium has been witness to some exceptional batting down the years, from Sunil Gavaskar's 96 to Michael Clarke's century on debut, via Sachin Tendulkar's destruction of Shane Warne (1998). The last time India played here, Younis Khan's monumental 267 inspired a famous Pakistan triumph but, on Saturday, he could only watch ruefully as Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly stroked sublime centuries to wrest control of the final Test.
Yasir Arafat's three wickets on debut had shaken the innings to its very foundations before lunch but, from the depths of 61 for 4, Yuvraj and Ganguly constructed a magnificent run edifice. With Shoaib Akhtar off the field after lunch with back spasms, Pakistan's gamble of playing just four specialist bowlers was horribly exposed in the final two sessions.
Younis, who did his best to make sure that shoulders didn't droop too much, was left to reflect on a difficult chance that he failed to hold on to at slip when Yuvraj had made just 12. Danish Kaneria was the luckless bowler, and insult was added to injury over the course of an afternoon when the Indians cut and drove fours at will.
Yuvraj started extremely nervously, understandable given that he hadn't played a Test since the West Indies tour in 2006. A tuck off his hips from Arafat got the scoreboard ticking, but it was only when he played a glorious shot down the ground off Mohammad Sami that he began to resemble the man who has tormented Pakistan over the past few years.
Yuvraj celebrated the Younis reprieve with a gorgeous cover drive off Sami and the complexion of the match changed as he and Ganguly began to pick off the loose deliveries with precision and ease. Sami was repeatedly creamed through the covers, while Kaneria was cut and driven for four. There was the odd scampered single, too, as Pakistan began to lose the plot.
A superb flick through midwicket got Yuvraj to his half-century from 75 balls and, when Younis brought himself on, Ganguly was quick to follow suit. His classy effort had taken a while longer, 92 balls, but was no less valuable in providing India a bridgehead. Even the return of Arafat failed to stem the tide. His first nine overs had cost 26, and fetched him three wickets, but the next 10 that he bowled went for 53 as the batsmen cut loose.
A cut through cover took Yuvraj to his third century, all of them against his favourite opposition. There was a jubilant leap in the air and a prolonged hug from Ganguly, followed by some more breathtaking drives. Even with four men spread out to stop the cover drive, Yuvraj found the boundary and a huge heave for six off Kaneria brought up the 200-run partnership.
Bereft of options, Younis turned to the part-time spin of Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed, but there was no respite. Ganguly, who timed the ball immaculately, especially against Kaneria, drove Hameed through the covers to bring up his 15th Test century, and second in succession, raising his bat to acknowledge the applause from an enraptured crowd.
The partnership so demoralised Pakistan that the second new ball was taken only after 84 overs, with Younis also conscious of a dismal over-rate. Initially, it made not the slightest bit of difference, with Ganguly and Yuvraj continuing to score runs at will.
The partnership was worth exactly 300 when Sami's perseverance was rewarded with a leading edge to point. By then, Yuvraj had amassed a fabulous 203-ball 169, and left the selectors with a massive headache before the Boxing Day Test. By the time he trudged off to a standing ovation, Yuvraj had made an irresistible case to be retained for the trial by Australia pace.
It had been so very different in the morning, when Arafat savoured a debut of schoolboy-dream variety as Pakistan's quest for a hat-trick of victories here started brightly. Sohail Tanvir had done the third seamer's job in Delhi and Kolkata but the decision to draft in Arafat, who had a good county season with Kent, was an inspired one. On a pleasant, sunny day that wouldn't have been out of place in the English summer, he came on as first change after Shoaib and Sami had made lively starts.
After choking off the runs, Sami had given Pakistan the early wicket they sought. Gambhir, one of those with a point to prove, edged one behind to give Sami his first wicket of the series. Soon after, Arafat came on, and India crumbled.
He bowled at lively pace and swung the ball just enough to trouble the batsmen. Rahul Dravid had driven him beautifully through the covers twice, but when he got a little extra bounce outside off stump, the attempted cut flew off the edge to the left of first slip. Misbah-ul-Haq took a smart catch that left Dravid plenty of time to reflect on a dismal record in familiar surroundings - just one score over 50 in ten innings.
Wasim Jaffer, who started sedately before unveiling a couple of superb fours, was then guilty of an extraordinary error of judgment, padding up to one that shaped back in. That left India in disarray at 51 for 3, and it got worse on the stroke of lunch, when VVS Laxman toe-ended one on to his stumps. Then came the resurrection, as two left-hand batsmen touched by grace shone even brighter than the winter sun.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Plays of the day from the fifth ODI in Ranchi
Plays of the day from the fourth ODI between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata