Sami averts a rout after Indian bowlers strike
Close India 23 for 1 (Patel 13*, Dravid 9*) trail Pakistan 224 (Sami 49, Balaji 4-63) by 201 runs
In a dramatic day's play, India, after taking charge of the match, let the advantage slip a bit. First, after the bowlers had reduced Pakistan to 137 for 8, a gutsy 49 by Mohammad Sami helped them to a respectable 224. Then, Virender Sehwag was out off the first ball of the innings, though the Indians avoided further loss, ending the day on 23 for 1.
Sami's calm innings might well prove to be of decisive importance when the game is done. The pitch had enough green on it to persuade Sourav Ganguly to bowl first after winning the toss, and his bowlers, after an erratic start, delivered what he expected of them. By the middle of the day, Pakistan were eight down and struggling, but the Indian bowlers appeared to relax a little.
A calm Sami and a bumbling Fazl-e-Akbar added 70 runs as the bowlers kept bowling wide to them. Akbar, in particular, looked so much at sea that he appeared likely to get out every time a ball was directed at the stumps. But Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan, who had both bowled with accuracy and hostility until then, kept bowling outside off stump - allowing the batsmen to leave the ball - or on Sami's pads, quite often, which gave him easy runs. Even Akbar freed his arms and got a few lusty slogs away, while Sami benefited when a top-edged skyer off an attempted pull was dropped by Parthiv Patel.
Even Anil Kumble was not his usual accurate self to begin with, though he finally did get the breakthrough, trapping Akbar in front for 25 (207 for 9). Sami was run out 17 runs later, trying to steal the sharp single that would have brought him his maiden Test half-century. But 224 was around 80 runs more than India should have conceded, on a pitch that seems unlikely to yield high totals.
India began their reply in the worst way possible, as Sehwag played too early at Shoaib Akhtar's first ball, which flew off the back of his bat to gully, where Yasir Hameed, after juggling the ball twice, held on to a one-handed catch. Rahul Dravid, along with makeshift opener Patel, kept the innings together till the close of play.
In the morning, the Indian bowlers, perhaps under pressure after Ganguly's decision to field, were erratic in the first 45 minutes, with Lakshmipathy Balaji consistently bowling wide of the stumps, unable to control the substantial amount of swing he was getting. Pathan was more accurate, but virtually every ball he bowled in his first spell had the same shape - swinging away from the two left-handed openers. The predictability made him easy to gauge, as Imran Farhat and Taufeeq Umar left a lot of balls outside off, confident that the ball would move in just one direction.
Farhat and Taufeeq added 34, but just as they seemed to have settled in, the bowlers struck. First, Balaji trapped Taufeeq lbw for 9 with a ball that pitched on middle and straightened. An over later, Nehra trapped Farhat for 16 in front of the wicket with an inswinger (34 for 2).
Hameed and Inzamam-ul-Haq then added 43. Inzamam displayed the same composure as during his Lahore century, solid and judicious in playing and in leaving the ball. Hameed, meanwhile, played some lovely strokes, driving the ball with assurance and a textbook technique. But, as so often in this series, his impetuosity did him in. Pathan, in his second spell, tempted him with a wide ball outside off, which Hameed slashed at, only managing to edge it through to VVS Laxman in the slips (77 for 3). Hameed had made 26, one more start left unconverted.
Nehra then removed Inzamam (15) with a brilliant set-up. First, he rapped him on the pads with a ball that pitched on off and straightened - Hawk-Eye said it was plumb, but David Shepherd disagreed. Nehra was unperturbed. The next ball pitched around the same area, but left Inzamam, who had to play at it, but only edged it behind to Patel (77 for 4).
Yousuf Youhana and Asim Kamal now added 33, but they were never comfortable during their partnership. Youhana was troubled by Pathan, who had dismissed him four times in this series before this innings, and survived a few narrow appeals to balls that pitched on the stumps and straightened. Kamal, meanwhile, was a mess: his feet were stuck to the crease, he kept flailing at wide balls outside the off stump, and was lucky to survive long enough to make 21. An inside edge went for four, an outside edge fell short of the slips, and he played and missed time and again.
But the Indians, bowling with far more control in the afternoon session than in the morning, stuck to their task, and were rewarded. First, Youhana, on 13, played on to an incoming ball from Pathan (110 for 5). Ten runs later Balaji, back to his metronomically accurate ways, trapped Kamal lbw with one that pitched on middle and straightened, and would have hit middle stump (120 for 6).
Sami and Kamran Akmal then added 17, but just as Akmal started counter-attacking, hoisting Balaji over midwicket for four, he was out. An attempt at an expansive drive resulted in a low chance to second slip, and Laxman took a difficult catch with clinical ease (137 for 7). Two balls later Shoaib, who had earlier pontificated that this Test would be over in three days, was bowled by a jaffa from Balaji: a full-length ball that pitched on middle, squared the batsman up, and jagged away to take off stump (137 for 8).
It seemed then that India would be batting before tea, and could even take a decisive advantage on the first day itself. But Sami battled feistily, and Pakistan recovered to post a competitive total. India could still count the first day as belonging to them, but Pakistan had done enough to keep the game wide open as a contest.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.