For the second time in the match, an Indian player staging a Test-comeback has made a strong statement. On the first day, it was Yuvraj Singh's unforgettable hundred and on the second, Irfan Pathan underlined his batting ability by exhibiting composure and urgency during his maiden Test century. Pathan may not be a permanent part of India's Test plans just yet but a few wickets, on the back of his solid batting performance, will give the selectors one more pleasant problem to solve.
After batting for nearly two sessions during a 178-run partnership with Sourav Ganguly, Pathan was ready to take the new ball. He ran in with purpose, buoyed by his performance with the bat, and bowled with energy, trying to swing the ball. Perhaps it was fatigue or because the new ball didn't swing but Pathan didn't prove as effective as he, and India, would have liked. He troubled Yasir Hameed with the odd delivery that bent back in and had a couple of leg-before shouts. But on the whole, the Pakistan openers played him with relative comfort. Even though Pathan went wicketless, he rarely bowled a loose ball and walked off the field a tired but a thoroughly satisfied man.
"I was tired because I had scored a hundred but I was ready for it [to bowl] and I ran inside [to the dressing room] after the innings because I wanted to bowl my first over," Pathan said. "The thrill was there and I was looking pretty good in my nine overs."
A counter-argument to Pathan's value to the Test side, on the evidence of today's performance, would be that the team needs him to be in form more with the ball than the bat. That argument holds true for home Tests in which India play two fast bowlers and two spinners. Pathan doesn't fit the bill of a specialist fast bowler in Test cricket at the moment, especially in conditions not aiding swing. However, in Australia, India's bowling attack is likely to comprise three fast bowlers and a solitary spinner.
Therefore, he makes an attractive option for the third fast-bowler's slot given the injuries to the Sreesanth, RP Singh, Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel. His endurance will allow him to bowl lengthy spells and should the ball swing, he could be a handy wicket-taking option. His batting is a bonus: Pathan's solid technique coupled with his ability to score quickly makes him adept for any situation.
India were in a strong position - 427 for 6 - when Pathan began his innings but there was still a job to be done. Another wicket would have exposed the Indian tail, and had Pakistan restricted India to below 500, they would have still been in with a chance. Pathan's settling-in period was made easier by Shoaib Akhtar's absence and he was let off on 23 with Kamran Akmal spilling the edge off Danish Kaneria.
Slowly growing in confidence, Younis Khan's defensive field made matters easier. Pathan slashed and edged a couple off Mohammad Sami and Yasir Arafat but survived as only one slip was in place. As Pakistan's heads began to drop, Pathan infused energy into the partnership with Ganguly. His quick running ensured that Ganguly ran more than his usual share of sharp singles.
Pathan was at his best when playing the legspin of Kaneria. He used his long stride to smother the spin and stepped out of his crease to drive straight or loft over midwicket when it was tossed up.
I had never thought that I would score a hundred on my comeback. Selection is not my hand and I don't think about it. I didn't even think that I would play the third Test
A hundred was for the taking but after Sourav Ganguly got out, and Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh perished, Pathan's chances hinged on No. 11 Ishant Sharma. The Sunday crowd cheered as Sharma blocked four deliveries to hand the strike back to Pathan, who seized the moment against Kaneria and hoisted him over midwicket to bring up his century.
"Ishant [Sharma] played those four deliveries quite well," Pathan said when asked about his shot to reach the hundred. "But I thought that if I take a single, then there are chances that Ishant could get out at the other end. The spinner was bowling, so I had a go and luckily it clicked.
Pathan was pleased with his performance on his return to the Test team, which followed his call-up to the ODI squad after being part of India's triumphant World Twenty20 squad.
"Since the time I have come back into the team, whether it is Twenty20 or ODIs, I have bowled and batted pretty well. But when it came to Test cricket, I had never thought that I would score a hundred on my comeback. Selection is not my hand and I don't think about it. I didn't even think that I would play the third Test."
Pathan has done the job with the bat and a strong bowling performance in the match will virtually ensure that he is a topic of discussion at future selection meetings.