Many points of crescendo
Pakistan 185 (Moin 70, Srinath 5-46) and 316 (Anwar 188*, Srinath 8-86) beat India 223 (Ramesh 79, Shoaib 4-71) and 232 (Laxman 67, Shoaib 4-47) by 46 runs
This firecracker of a Test match, nominally the first game of the Asian Test Championship but in spirit the decider of the drawn two-match series just played between the two teams, reached so many points of crescendo over five days as to leave its audiences marveling about it even after months.
After electing to bat on the first morning, Pakistan were reduced inside nine overs to a ridiculous 26 for 6 by Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, and looked in danger of being all-out so quickly as to allow India to bat and take the lead before lunch.
But now Moin Khan, a wicketkeeper who always seemed to reserve his best batting for moments of crisis such as this, appeared, and somehow managed to see off the quicks. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, the spin bowlers who followed, did not pose the same threat on a first-day pitch, and eventually Pakistan aggregated 185 before being bowled out. Moin's distinctive game, structured around little flicks and dabs, swats to leg, and frenetic running between the wickets, brought him 70.
The next day Sadagoppan Ramesh, enjoying a dream start to his career, raced to nonchalant 79, and at 147 for 2 India were in charge of all the control buttons. Then the air of calm and order was once again shattered: two veritable cannonballs from Shoaib Akhtar, charging in off a thrilling 30-yard run-up and straining every sinew, disposed of first the well-entrenched Rahul Dravid and then the just-arrived Sachin Tendulkar for an ignominous duck. It was Tendulkar's first golden duck in Tests; stunned, the Eden Gardens fell silent. This double blow proved too much for India, who fell away for 223. The match was still only into the second day, and before close of play there was to be yet more drama. Srinath, steaming in again and slanting the ball away from the left-hander as always, took Saeed Anwar's edge, but Mohammad Azharuddin at second slip spilled the catch.
The next day belonged almost entirely to two men, one from either side. Running in tirelessly for over after over, Srinath finished with Test-best figures of 8 for 85 from 27 overs, pulling back Pakistan from a comfortable 262 for 3 to 316. For Pakistan, Anwar made full use of his `life' the previous day and carried his bat for a punishing188 - also a career-best - full of flaying cuts and majestic drives on the up.
This left India with a target of 279, far more than they would have imagined an hour into the first morning of the match. And indeed it was Pakistan, who had set India a target of similar size in the first Test at Chennai and won the game, who looed now as if they held the upper hand.The next day, Ramesh and VVS Laxman put on a century-stand for the first wicket, before Saqlain Mushtaq, the most influential bowler of the first two Tests, removed both batsmen. Even so, the game was again in the balance at 145 for 2 when Shoaib again swung it his team's way, albeit unwittingly. Tendulkar had made a confident beginning, and looked to add a comfortable three to his score when he flicked his 13th ball, bowled by Shoaib, into a legside gap. But, turning to take the third run, he seemed not to see the bowler standing in his path until it was too late, and by the time he had extricated himself from the tangle he had been beaten by substitute Nadeem Khan's throw from the boundary. It was probably the most important contribution made by Nadeem, Moin's younger brother and a purveyor of innocuous left-arm spin, in his career.
Enraged by the manner of Tendulkar's dismissal, the crowd erupted and pelted the Pakistani fielders with various objects, and play had to be halted for over an over, during which Tendulkar himself emerged to placate the crowds. When play resumed, Shoaib was again in his element, and it always looked as if Pakistan's strong bowling line-up would defend the target successfully. Shoaib finished with his second four-wicket haul of the match as Pakistan put the seal on a remarkable turnaround and triumphed by 46 runs.
Chandrahas Choudhury is staff writer of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.