Dravid's 270 puts India in command
Pakistan 224 and 49 for 2 trail India 600 (Dravid 270, Ganguly 77, Laxman 71, Patel 69) by 327 runs
A monumental 270 by Rahul Dravid took India to a score of 600, and a lead of 376, as India made sure that the platform they had built on the first two days of this crucial deciding Test at Rawalpindi was not wasted. To drive home their authority over the match, they got Pakistan's openers out in the hour left in the day, and had them tottering at 49 for 2.
On a pitch that appeared to be deteriorating, and against bowlers who did not let their intensity slip, Dravid batted in a manner that epitomised his character: he was focused, determined, unwavering. He began cautiously, realising that India's advantage still had to be converted into an overwhelming dominance. He played more freely as the day went, driving and cutting with textbook correctness and characteristic elegance, and taking no risks. He slowed down after Sourav Ganguly was dismissed half an hour before lunch, but upped his strike-rate in the afternoon session, and went into semi-slog mode after tea, when India were clearly playing for a declaration.
While he had gone through uneasy patches on the second day, there were none today, although he did survive a bat-pad appeal from Danish Kaneria, with replays indicating he was out, and was dropped towards the end at the midwicket boundary, when he shifted to fourth gear as a declaration approached. His innings, otherwise, was smooth and unhurried, containing both solidity and fluid strokeplay - his last 70 runs came at a run-a-ball pace.
Pakistan did not, as one might have expected, let their shoulders droop and wait for the inevitable. Despite Shoaib Akhtar being ruled out of the attack due to a lower-back pain, Pakistan's bowlers bowled with determination and resolve through the day. Mohammad Sami bowled three accurate and hostile spells through the day, Fazl-e-Akbar bowled a disciplined line and extracted some reverse swing, and Kaneria, while bowling a defensive, mostly round-the-wicket leg-stump line to Dravid, troubled both Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh with his variety and bounce.
The bounce in the pitch was uneven, with Kaneria getting a few to jump sharply, and the fast bowlers getting some to stay low, especially if they hit a worrying crack developing just short of the good-length spot. But, as Dravid showed, runs could be eked out of the conditions if the batsmen were willing to apply themselves. Ganguly extended his score to 77, adding 131 with Dravid, and Yuvraj made 47 in an innings that had many different shades to it.
Ganguly had begun the day positively, with his staple scoring shot being the cut through point. One particular shot, a pull off the front foot off a Sami delivery that didn't seem short enough for the stroke, indicated just what sublime touch he was in. But, as has happened to him in the past, it was not his strokeplay but his running between the wickets that got him out.
Ganguly played a ball towards point, set off on a quick single, but kept his eyes on the ball, and swerved to avoid the incoming throw from Imran Farhat. He failed to ground his bat in all this, and suffered the ignominy of being run out despite his feet almost having reached the crease, with his bat just short of the ground (392 for 5).
Yuvraj played an odd innings. He survived some nervous moments before lunch, and was especially uneasy against Kaneria, being unable to read his googly. He escaped a stumping chance, but came back after lunch in a positive mode, and smashed the bowlers around for a few fours. Then he suddenly went into his shell again, with Kaneria and Akbar bowling. Akbar bowled a tight line, with the ball going across Yuvraj and moving slightly away, and Yuvraj's strike-rate dipped from above 70 to below 40 as he became unusually circumspect.
Both bowlers induced edges off him, the ball fell short both times, and he was also reprieved when Kaneria extracted a bat-pad chance off him that just evaded silly point. Sami eventually got him out, adjudged lbw off a ball that pitched outside leg (490 for 6).
After tea Dravid upped the tempo, stepping out to Kaneria and Farhat to drive them, or rocking back and pulling them, or going down on his knees and sweeping them. When given the space on the off side, he cut or lofted them, hitting his first six to go from 255 to 261 - a majestic lofted extra-cover-drive off Farhat. Visibly tired, he was out for 270 trying to reverse-sweep Farhat and hitting the ball onto his stumps (593 for 9). The declaration never actually came, because the rest of the tail was out slogging, as Farhat picked up two soft wickets and India reached their third 600-plus score in four Tests.
Lakshmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan were not quite as accurate at the start of their spells, and had trouble controlling their swing. But they were getting plenty of it, and as they settled into their rhythm, they looked more and more dangerous. Balaji eventually snared Farhat (3) with a ball that angled away from him, and which he played at. Virender Sehwag at first slip, where Dravid normally stands, took an easy catch (30 for 1). An over later Pathan trapped Taufeeq Umar lbw for 13 (34 for 2), and Pakistan were in serious trouble.
But the day belonged to Dravid. In the course of his career, Dravid has evolved from being a modern master to an all-time great of Indian cricket, and has risen to many tough occasions. He has won India Tests at Headingley, Adelaide and Kandy, and has saved them Tests at Port Elizabeth, Georgetown and Trent Bridge. But in Zimbabwe, and in Sri Lanka, and in West Indies, and in England, and, most agonisingly, in Australia, India have won an overseas Test, but not the series. Here, with his eyes on the prize that this generation of Indian cricketers wants so badly, Dravid did not blink.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.