Yuvraj stands alone after Gul heroics
Pakistan 61 for 1 (Farhat 25*, Hameed 4*) trail India 287 all out (Yuvraj 112, Pathan 49, Gul 5-31) by 226 runs
Two men who started this series on the periphery of things grabbed the limelight on an enthralling opening day's play at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. First, Umar Gul - a late replacement for Shabbir Ahmed - bowled a magnificent spell that reduced India to 147 for 7, and then Yuvraj Singh, in only his third Test, stroked a glorious 129-ball 112 to take his side to 287. By stumps, Pakistan had knocked off 61 from the deficit, for the loss of Taufeeq Umar.
India's innings, after Rahul Dravid won the toss, had three distinct phases - dominance, collapse, and eventual recovery to a total that was nevertheless somewhat below par. For a 90-minute spell either side of lunch, when Gul's control of line and length fetched him splendid figures of 5 for 31, it appeared as though they might not reach 180, but Yuvraj and Irfan Pathan - who showed genuine class with the bat - evened up matters with a 117-run partnership characterised by some stunning strokeplay.
After Aakash Chopra departed for 4, trapped in front by Mohammad Sami, Virender Sehwag took up where he had left off in Multan. A slashed six over point off Shoaib Akhtar set the tone, and he followed up with some beautiful off-drives as both Sami and Shoaib failed to make use of favourable conditions on a green-tinged pitch.
The complexion of the match changed after the drinks break, by which time Gul had come on to replace the huffing-and-puffing Shoaib. He got Sehwag with one that pitched just outside off stump - Kamran Akmal, deputising for Moin Khan, took a regulation catch - and then delivered a real knockout punch. Sachin Tendulkar was struck high on the pad in front of the stumps, and Simon Taufel lifted the finger, though there was some doubt about whether the ball might have gone over the stumps (75 for 3).
VVS Laxman played one withering square cut off Shoaib, but otherwise appeared ill at ease, and when Gul tempted him with one outside off, he nibbled it through to Taufeeq at second slip (94 for 4).
Yuvraj was quickly into his stride with a nonchalant flick for four off Gul, but India's innings was in tatters soon after. Dravid had rarely been troubled during his 33, but when he flashed at a fairly wide one from Gul, Inzamam-ul-Haq took a fine low catch at slip (125 for 5). Parthiv Patel didn't trouble the scorers, bizarrely choosing to shoulder arms to a straight one from Gul (127 for 6).
Ajit Agarkar made just 2 before edging Shoaib behind the stumps - the only success for Pakistan's ineffectual spearhead - but his dismissal set the stage for a remarkable rearguard action. Yuvraj was especially ruthless on the radar-less Sami - hooking, cutting and square-driving him for four fours in an over.
Pathan got going with a sumptuous off-drive off Shoaib for four, and there were also two quite magnificent square-drives when Sami pitched it in the slot. Yuvraj continued to bat in imperious fashion, slamming Danish Kaneria for six over long-on, and then sweeping him over deep square leg for six more. By tea, it was Pakistan under siege, as both Yuvraj and Pathan struck the ball with a fluency that made a mockery of the supposedly bowler-friendly conditions.
Yuvraj was dropped by Akmal off Sami - a sharp chance low to his left when he had made 97 - but Pakistan made the breakthrough soon after, when Pathan slapped a half-volley straight back to Kaneria. He departed having made an excellent 49, with his parents watching from one of the enclosures.
A misfield at cover gave Yuvraj his century, and he celebrated with a disdainful pull for four when Shoaib returned for a new spell. But Sami, shockingly wayward in conceding 117 from 23 overs, got rid of Lakshmipathy Balaji, and Yuvraj was finally out, sweeping Kaneria down to Imran Farhat at deep midwicket, as India folded for 287 in just 64.1 overs.
Balaji sneaked one through Taufeeq's defence late in the day, but India knew that they would have to bowl extremely well on day two to wrest the initiative back from a rejuvenated Pakistan side that had rediscovered its appetite for the big occasion. After four days of one-way traffic in Multan, the series had finally become the contest that we all hoped for.