<
>
Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Dhoni guides India out of danger

India 441 for 5 (Dhoni 116*, Dravid 103, Laxman 90) trail Pakistan 588 by 147 runs
Scorecard and ball by ball details
How they were out

Two contrasting centuries, one reeking of supreme confidence, the other of swaggering brilliance, bailed India out of strife on an absorbing day at Faisalabad, after a frenzied 11-over spell had tilted the scales Pakistan's way in a batsman-dominated Test. In one gripping session between lunch at tea, Pakistan stormed ahead with four quick wickets, but a spectacular maiden Test hundred from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, when he produced strokeplay reminiscent of Caribbean aggressors of the past, steered India past the stormy seas.

Rahul Dravid's second successive hundred, and his fine partnership with VVS Laxman, appeared to have guided India towards safety but somewhere around the half-way point the series, with a draw looking like a distinct possibility, the game turned. Led by a scorching spell by Shoaib Akhtar, in the most engrossing session of the series so far, Pakistan put India on a skiddy slope, with 107 still needed to avoid the follow-on. What came next was plain sensational as Dhoni counterpunched his way to an audacious hundred, waving the bat like a cowboy with a lasso, and, along with Irfan Pathan, partly nullified Pakistan's advantage.

To blitz a hundred off 93 balls, with the first fifty coming in just 34, is superb in any situation, but the fact that Dhoni managed it under trying circumstances, with the team sinking in a vital Test, was simply outstanding. Laxman and Dravid had fallen in quick succession - one top-edging while trying to cut, the other caught napping from a direct hit - and India's middle order was to face its sternest test in recent times. Yuvraj failed, falling to the pull-trap, and Dhoni soon saw Sachin Tendulkar depart, gloving a short ball, targeting his ribs, down leg-side. Added to that, in just his fourth Test, he had to negotiate 150kph thunderbolts from Shoaib. Logic would have probably suggested caution; what followed was more like an eruption.

For the first few balls, he was like a moving dartboard, with Shoaib targeting his ribs with venomous velocity. He flinched, ducked and evaded before he had had enough. In the seventh ball of his innings, as if expecting a short one all along, he lined up and uncorked a most sensational hook, swatting it way over square leg and watching as it soared into the stands. From then on, anything short was given a meaty biff, anything full creamed with dazzling power.

Mohammad Asif's ambitious short balls zoomed square; Danish Kaneria's flighted deliveries found themselves in the stands in midwicket; Abdul Razzaq could bowl anywhere, he would be thumped anyway. He walked as if he owned the land, ran as if there was no tomorrow and cut through the tension with a fire to fight all fires. With the follow-on saved, he shifted to a lower gear, and pushed the singles in the gaps that he had created. Irfan Pathan provided superb support at the other end, rotating the strike and describing smooth arcs while driving through the covers, and the run-a-minute 160-run partnership put them back on track. Pathan was given a reprieve as stumps approached, when Kamran Akmal missed a tough chance diving to his left, and India went in with plenty to celebrate, with visions of a draw considerably enhanced.

All this action was preceded by a morning session where grinding attrition blended with sparkling strokeplay. Dravid, with confidence reeking from every pore, didn't hold back when the ball was there to be hit and was off the blocks in glorious fashion, driving the very first ball of the day straight back past the bowler. He was chiefly responsible for putting the bowlers off rhythm, capitalising on his errant line, and repeatedly easing through the covers, laying into the drives with oodles of class. Laxman, his partner in many a famous rescue act, was equally positive, choosing the right ball to strike and executing the strokes with a stamp of beauty. He often tucked the spinners to the fine-leg areas and sometimes used his feet to neutralise any spin.

Pakistan weren't helped by the 34 extras they conceded with the no-ball malady troubling them through the day. For the first part of the day, they stuck to restrictive lines, around middle and leg, and ensured that the rate was under control. They reaped the results in the second session, with a flurry of wickets putting them in pole position, but they could do absolutely nothing when they ran into a whirlwind called Dhoni, standing on a burning deck and igniting a blaze of his own.

How they were out

VVS Laxman c Akmal b Kaneria 90 (236 for 2)
Tried to cut a slightly wide one but got a top edge

Rahul Dravid run-out (Farhat) 103 (241 for 3)
Caught napping by a direct hit from square leg

Yuvraj Singh c Kaneria b Asif 4 (258 for 4)
Pulled to fine leg; superbly-judged catch inches from the ropes

Sachin Tendulkar c Akmal b Shoaib 14 (281 for 5)
Gloved a short ball down legside and walked &