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At Faisalabad, January 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 2006. Drawn. Toss: Pakistan. Test debut: R. P. Singh.
Unlike Lahore, Faisalabad offered no inclement weather to bring a premature end to the run-infested agony. Here, cricket witnessed the nightmare scenario that looms over one-day internationals: where bat dominates ball so unforgivingly that "contest" is hardly the word to describe it. Indeed, Pakistan's baffling response to the haze of runs and boundaries at Lahore was to strengthen their batting - dropping Naved-ul- Hasan for all-rounder Abdul Razzaq.
There was a single period of just over an hour, after lunch on the third day, when the fight between ball and bat became competitive, and the series briefly flickered as India tottered from 236 for one to 281 for five. With Laxman and Dravid uniting to add 197, a second-wicket record for India against Pakistan, they had been drifting safely, without particular direction. Neither showed any sign of trouble as they approached their centuries on a lifeless pitch, though Danish Kaneria was tying up an end. Then, Kaneria found bounce to catch Laxman's edge; a couple of overs later, on came Shoaib Akhtar for his fourth spell.
Bowling as if he believed himself to be the lone champion of downtrodden bowlers the world over, Akhtar banged the ball in short to bully batsmen and beat up the uncharitable pitch. It lasted six overs, all terrifyingly quick and all but one with the new ball. In that first over, Dravid was run out when no run presented itself. In his fifth, Akhtar claimed his solitary wicket, when Tendulkar, who had been harried with short balls, walked after gloving one.
Dhoni, India's cocky rock star with a neat line in wicketkeeping and outlandish batting, was also peppered around his head and ribs, but it was during this hostility that he announced himself as a Test batsman. Having ducked, weaved and absorbed bouncers, he decided out of the blue to hook his seventh delivery from Akhtar over square leg for six. It was a whippy, pivoting stroke, ball picked from inches in front of face, and carried more than a trace of the Caribbean. Much of his subsequent work echoed that unperturbed aggression. Dhoni drove on the up, pulled from outside off through midwicket, and slapped square. He hit Kaneria out of the Iqbal Stadium; after a delay while the ball was retrieved, he did it again, to the same spot, to bring up his fifty in 34 balls.
Though he calmed down, Dhoni reached a 93-ball maiden Test hundred, by running three off Akhtar. With Pathan's composed support in a stand of 210 for the sixth wicket - another Indian record against Pakistan - he dragged his side to safety, and an inconsequential lead of 15.
Time was left for more batsmen to continue boosting their averages. Younis Khan made his fourth hundred in successive Tests against India, only to fall in the 190s again, while Mohammad Yousuf offered more undemanding support in another pleasant century. They partnered each other for 242 runs, following 319 at Lahore and 142 on the first day here, proving that they, at least, had absorbed the dosti-dosti (friendship) brouhaha of this series. The innings came to a surprisingly abrupt finish, when Zaheer Khan claimed four wickets in ten balls.
Perversely, it was little surprise that a bowler, debutant Rudra Pratap Singh, was named man of the match. Five wickets over two innings were probably worth ten on most pitches, though some cynically noted that four batsmen were particularly generous to him in the first innings. Some horrendously loose shots - perhaps from boredom - left Pakistan an uncertain 216 for four before Shahid Afridi and Inzamam-ul-Haq settled their nerves. Afridi's 156, off only 128 balls, was his fifth and highest Test century; Inzamam's 119 was his 25th. In all, Pakistan scored 1,078 runs, second only to England's 1,121 against West Indies in a nine-day Test in 1929-30. There were nine cases of bowlers conceding 100 in an innings, a record equalled by England and Pakistan at Headingley seven months later. By the end, however, those were meaningless numbers in a meaningless match.
Man of the Match: R. P. Singh.
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