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At Karachi, January 29, 30, 31, February 1, 2006. Pakistan won by 341 runs. Toss: India.
The imbalance between bat and ball was redressed so abruptly that it felt unreal. Irfan Pathan (two for 319 in the series before now) took a hat-trick with the last three balls of the first over. His pace - or the lack of it, a recurring theme for India's bowlers - mattered less than the movement in the air and from the surface: the pitch was as green and lively as the others had been brown and dull, and had early-morning bite. Salman Butt had to play, but only edged to slip; Younis Khan had to play, though not across the line, and was lbw; Mohammad Yousuf had to play, though not drive, to one that virtually spun through his stumps. No hat-trick had been taken so early in a Test - though Nuwan Zoysa did it with the first three balls of the second over at Harare in 1999-2000 - and none could have been so unexpected.
Zaheer Khan followed up with two wickets and, when R. P. Singh got Imran Farhat, Pakistan were 39 for six halfway into the 11th over. A total of fifty looked ambitious. Kamran Akmal faced an immediate lbw appeal, but avoided the duck with a looping cut past gully for four, and the salvage had begun.
Simply by moving back first, Akmal countered the ball's movement, a tutorial for his upper order. In defence, he remained unyielding; in attack, he was equally sure. But in its entirety, the innings served a double purpose, simultaneously quelling disaster and propelling a feisty, pacy counter-attack. Before his arrival, there had been 12 hundreds in this series. He reached a lucky 13th off 130 balls, and it was by a distance the most substantial and meaningful; with it came the winning and losing of the match. It was not flawless - he should have been stumped on 80 - but those who witnessed it are likely to remember it vividly. Akmal added 115 with the composed Abdul Razzaq and 82 with the more energetic Shoaib Akhtar before Pathan returned to complete his first five-for in a Test innings against established opposition. Pakistan were all out after tea for 245, many more than they could have hoped for that morning.
Despite Akmal, the contest could still have gone in many directions; it was Pakistan's bowling, on paper a man short, that eventually decided the route. Without Inzamam-ul-Haq because of a bad back, the selectors had again done nothing to reinforce the attack, and fielded only three fast bowlers - Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Razzaq - against India's renowned batsmen. By the close of the first day, however, the top four had gone for 74.
The attack's strength lay in its variety. Asif, lanky of height and healthy of pace, moved the ball in and away. With minuscule away movement, he found Dravid's edge and, with sharper cut-back, the gap between Laxman's bat and pad. Bowling tight lines and difficult lengths, Asif made it hard to believe this was only his third Test, and justified coach Bob Woolmer's assessment of him as Pakistan's most improved bowler over the past year. Razzaq proved a potent sidekick, bowling as he had done early in his career. His selection had been viewed as defensive, but his only Test five-for had come on this ground, and he toyed with length, line and pace to exploit whatever there was in the surface. It was Razzaq's best all-round Test performance, and he knew it. Each time he got a wicket - especially Tendulkar, bowled on the first evening - he celebrated as if he had never taken one before.
Asif and Razzaq shared seven wickets in the first innings, to secure Pakistan a sevenrun lead, and 14 in the match. But behind both lurked the threat of Shoaib Akhtar. When would he come? What would he do? How quick would he be? He hit Tendulkar's helmet flush, rattled Yuvraj Singh, dismissed Sehwag early in the first innings and Dravid early in the second - and shook India every time he stirred.
In contrast, India's bowling was monotone: one pace, one angle. They let Pakistan off the hook on the first day, and let them cut loose over the next two. Only once in Test history had seven batsmen reached 50 in a single innings, for England against Australia at Manchester in 1934 (and Sri Lanka would do so at Lord's less than four months later). But, uniquely, Pakistan's top seven all got fifties. This time it took India 25 overs to claim their first wicket, through the unlikely agency of Ganguly. Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf shared their fourth century stand of the series. Faisal Iqbal, recalled for his first Test in three years because of Inzamam's absence, scored a punchy maiden hundred, mostly off the back foot: an innings that started to dispel the shadow of his uncle, Javed Miandad. As the fourth day dawned, Pakistan were already 518 ahead; the only questions were when the acting-captain, Younis, would declare, and how long India might survive. Younis called time when Razzaq fell ten short of his hundred, leaving India five and a half sessions... and a target of 607.
They lasted four and a half hours. After Akhtar's first-over strike, Asif bowled three of the top four, and Razzaq worked through the middle. Yuvraj blazed out a final act of defiance, the 15th hundred of the series to equal the record for three Tests set by England and India in 1990, but in essence it was futile. The loss of their fourth wicket at 56 in the first innings and 74 in the second suggested where India's problems lay. When Yuvraj was last out, Pakistan had turned their disastrous start into their biggest victory in terms of runs, a remarkable comeback, and a fitting conclusion to a successful home Test season.
Man of the Match: Kamran Akmal.
Man of the Series: Younis Khan.