First Test Match

Pakistan v India

At Multan, March 28, 29, 30, 31, April 1, 2004. India won by an innings and 52 runs. Toss: India.

From about 10 a.m. on March 28, a regular thud, rather than the roars associated with cricket in the subcontinent, began to emerge from Multan Cricket Stadium, a modern ground situated on farmland 45 minutes out of town. The stadium was virtually desolate, and the thumps, from Virender Sehwag's bat, were to resound for a day and a half as he constructed India's first triple-century in Test cricket. It laid the foundation of a historic victory, India's first in Pakistan in 21 Tests spread over 49 years. It was also, briefly, their most substantial win in a largely wretched 72 years of Tests away from home.

Sehwag's 309, and his partnership of 336, an Indian third-wicket record, with Tendulkar, who crafted a meticulous century, carried India to their third-highest total, and second-highest away: 675 for five declared. The highest, 705 for seven declared, had come in their previous Test on a similar pitch at Sydney.

Sehwag's glitzy epic was not without luck. He was dropped on 68 and 77 during an opening stand of 160 with Chopra - their third century partnership in as many Tests. Later, he offered two chances behind the wicket off Shabbir Ahmed, one ball either side of the four that took him past the Indian record of 281 held by Laxman. None the less, it was an innings of sustained and versatile violence. He thrashed six sixes and 39 fours in 531 minutes and 375 balls; he went from 99 to 105 with a glided six over third man off Shoaib Akhtar, and from 295 to 301 with a roundhouse blast over wide long-on off Saqlain Mushtaq. That was his 364th ball, just two behind Matthew Hayden's 362-ball treble against Zimbabwe five months earlier. Only while nearing his maiden Test double had Sehwag turned circumspect, perhaps stung by the memory of holing out off a full toss on 195 at Melbourne in December.

Yet despite the continued flowering of the batting, India's real success, as Dravid, acting-captain for the injured Ganguly, explained, was in taking 20 wickets on a grassless, crack-free, crumble-proof surface. To do it virtually in four days (Pakistan's last wicket fell 12 balls into the final day) amid Multan's infamous combination of heat and dust was doubly creditable.

Two bowlers, in their 15th year and fourth month of international cricket respectively, stood out. Leg-spinner Kumble took seven wickets out of 13 on the pivotal fourth day, making it 32 from his last four Tests, all abroad. Left-arm seamer Pathan not only bagged six wickets in the match but bowled 17 maidens in 49 overs, 24 of them on the same day four, when a hamstring injury to Zaheer Khan left India a bowler short. It was Pathan, too, who surprised Abdul Razzaq with a bouncer as soon as he took guard on the fourth morning at 364 for six: the dismissal provided India with just the push they needed to press for the follow-on.

Perhaps the match would have run a different course had Inzamam-ul-Haq, who had scored hundreds in both the previous Tests on his home ground, not been cut short by a poor bat-pad decision by umpire Taufel when 77. It ended a pleasing 160-run stand with Yasir Hameed, who fell ten runs later to a loose stroke, with Pakistan still 432 behind. Their hopes of saving the match diminished with every thrust from Kumble the following day. The final nail was Inzamam's second-innings run-out by a brilliant hit from Yuvraj Singh, swooping at mid-wicket to leave Pakistan 44 for three - 224 short of making India bat again. Yousuf Youhana went on to slash a nothing-to-lose century, his second fifty coming in a mere 35 balls. He and Shoaib added 70 for the ninth wicket, which saw them through all but the last over of the extra half-hour claimed by India as they tried to finish it on the fourth evening.

Strangely, the biggest of the game's controversies - dwarfing the umpiring and Pakistan's request for a shaved pitch - came from the victorious camp. Dravid stunned observers by declaring when Yuvraj fell an hour before the second-day close. Nothing sensational - except that Tendulkar was 194 not out. Tendulkar did not take the field that evening, claiming a sprained ankle; at a press conference, he made clear his disappointment and surprise.

Back home, some believed Tendulkar had been robbed; others thought his comments were selfish, and demonstrated an obsession with personal milestones. (As it was, the innings put him one ahead of Steve Waugh's 32 Test hundreds, and one behind Sunil Gavaskar's record of 34.) Many in the first group aimed their vitriol at Ganguly, who had no official role as he sat out the game with a back injury, but was seen on television gesturing impatiently.

In fact, Tendulkar had played the perfect innings for his team, a discreet, chanceless companion to Sehwag's theatricals. His pacing was perfect too, each fifty coming quicker than the last, and the final 40 at almost a run a ball. But because he was operating without obvious risk, he seemed not to be pushing on. And Dravid probably erred not in his timing, but in failing to communicate with Tendulkar. The two had an honest discussion next morning to clear the air, which would have been beyond some faction-ridden Indian teams of the past.

Straight after the victory, while the Indians were off to visit orphaned children, Pakistan's beleaguered bowlers were made to go out and practise on the match pitch itself, which looked good for another five days.

Man of the Match: V. Sehwag.

Close of play: First day, India 356

© John Wisden & Co