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January 22, 2006
For India, this was always going to be a day for damage control, and despite magnificent innings of contrasting tempos from Shahid Afridi and Inzamam-ul-Haq, they had every reason to be pleased with their efforts. The hammering from Afridi aside - all plans go out of the window when a man strikes the ball with such immense power and conviction - the bowlers were far more disciplined, and when their turn came to occupy the crease, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman batted with unhurried composure against an attack that had both variety and control.
If India did miss a trick, it was perhaps right at the beginning, when Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan were given a ball that was just eight overs old. RP Singh came on much later, and bowled a fine eight-over spell for 12 runs and a wicket. Pathan again lacked incisiveness and pace, and Zaheer was a notch below his performance yesterday, presumably the result of bowling so much on an unforgiving pitch.
There was also the Harbhajan factor to consider. With the first new ball only 15 overs old, he had extracted disconcerting bounce and appreciable turn. But with memories of Afridi's savage assault at Lahore still fresh, he wasn't risked almost till lunch was on the table. Presumably, RP Singh was also shielded, though the spell he bowled suggested that he needed no such mollycoddling.
Such quibbles apart, the nature of the Indian recovery was heartening, with Anil Kumble shrugging off another mauling from Afridi to finally dismiss his tormentor and the in-form Kamran Akmal as well. There was also a superb delivery from Zaheer to account for Inzamam, thereby denying Pakistan the opportunity to flirt with a total nearer 700, as was the case at Lahore.
The batting effort, with nearly 400 needed merely to make Pakistan bat again, was also underpinned by discipline. Sehwag was the exception, but the slash that he fell to has been a source of runs far too often for much blame to be attached. Pakistan's frenetic celebrations revealed just how much he has had the wood on them, and just how irked they were by his comments in Lahore. With another innings likely here, the tussle between Sehwag's irresistible force and the bowlers' wounded ego could well decide the series.
With so much attention surrounding Sehwag, it was again easy to overlook Dravid's contribution. He started off with real urgency and purpose, clipping a couple of fabulous drives, but then grew more sedate after Sehwag's departure. The expected bouncer barrage was largely ignored, despite the odd provocation from Shoaib Akhtar, and Danish Kaneria was dealt with comfortably in a probing spell before close.
The fact that Shoaib has now bowled 25 wicketless overs in this series will be a great source of satisfaction to the Indians, who will look to continue their strategy of seeing him off and taking runs off the inexperienced Mohammad Asif and the rusty Abdul Razzaq. They will be conscious, however, that one decisive spell could push them headlong towards defeat, and the approach tomorrow will be tinged with caution, even if they have batsmen of the calibre of Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh in reserve.
Barring a miracle, there's no way India can win this game. With the kind of grit shown today though, avoidance of defeat is still very much an option. After two days of being under the cosh, it will be an attractive one.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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