Saving the day by seizing the advantage
A weak batting performance in the final Test of a series has often left India on the wrong side of the rubber during the last two years. In February 2006, they batted poorly twice to lose the deciding Test against Pakistan in Karachi, collapsed in Mumbai on the final day against England in March, and failed to build on a lead in Cape Town in January 2007. A potentially similar situation presented itself in Bangalore when Pakistan had India, who lead the series 1-0, at 61 for 4.
The tendency in such a predicament has been for batsmen to dig trenches and consolidate. That approach has its merits on difficult pitches - like Rahul Dravid's performance in Kingston in 2006 - but it has also proved detrimental in situations such as Cape Town where Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar stagnated against Paul Harris. On Saturday, Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly did the exact opposite - they attacked and punched India out of a corner. They scored at 4.59 runs per over during their 300-run partnership and helped India end the day on 365 for 5, the highest-ever first day score in Tests in India.
The stats make for impressive reading - a fifth-wicket record stand for India against Pakistan and the highest for India in Bangalore - but the comprehensive domination by Yuvraj and Ganguly had shaky beginnings. Yuvraj was playing his first Test since July 2006 and admitted to nerves despite being in supreme form in the five ODIs against Pakistan.
"I've never been a confident starter in Test cricket because I've not played much of it," he said. "I've never been so nervous in a one-day game but Test cricket does give me shivers."
He joined Sourav Ganguly, batting on 12, and faced a short but testing period before lunch. Yuvraj played out 11 dot balls before walking across his stumps to flick Yasir Arafat to the square-leg boundary, the moment, he said, when he felt settled.
Pressure can mount if it's left to one batsman to score but that did not arise because both Ganguly and Yuvraj went for their shots. Without Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan lacked firepower and their helplessness showed as several part-timers lined up to bowl. Yuvraj and Ganguly exuded confidence as the innings progressed: Yuvraj more robust compared to Ganguly's calm composure. Yuvraj gave Pakistan one chance, when he edged Danish Kaneria to first slip but Younis Khan couldn't hold on.
|The responsibility of leading India towards 500 lies with Ganguly. His significant contribution was overshadowed by Yuvraj's 169 off 203 balls but his role on Sunday morning will be vital|
Ganguly's naturally attacking game, said Yuvraj, helped him ease into a groove and the immediate goal was to forge a fifty partnership. Fifty quickly grew into hundred and more, Yuvraj eclipsing Ganguly with breathtaking drives and flicks as the stand grew. They scored 127 runs between lunch and tea and 173 runs in the last session, Yuvraj accounting for 102.
Yuvraj moved into the nineties with a streaky edge but the shot that brought him his century was a majestic cover drive off Yasir Arafat. The celebration was understandably exuberant: he jumped and punched the air, took off his helmet and roared before saluting his team-mates and the crowd.
Ganguly also got to his century with a cover drive though once the ball pierced the infield, he merely stopped in his tracks and raised his arms in quiet triumph. The celebrations mirrored their innings: Yuvraj pumped up to prove he fits, Ganguly the calm, knowing, steady hand.
The second new-ball made little impact, as Yuvraj whipped Arafat to square leg and drove to the long-off boundary off successive deliveries and with such ease it prompted Ganguly to quip that "he had springs in his bat."
However, even with India in such a strong position, Yuvraj said the "game was still on" if Pakistan restricted them to 400. The responsibility of leading India towards 500 lies with Ganguly. His significant contribution was overshadowed by Yuvraj but his role on Sunday will be vital.
George Binoy is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo