Pakistan batsmen thrive at Chittagong

Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan, players who have grown to be stalwarts of the Pakistani middle-order in recent times, struck sparkling centuries to propel their side to a 281-run lead over a baffled Bangladesh at the MA Aziz Stadium in Chittagong.

The hosts, no doubt hoping for once to avoid defeat inside three days, picked only six wickets from three sessions of ruthless Pakistani batting. Sending back Taufeeq Umar early, caught at slip off Mohammad Sharif, and removing Inzamam-ul-Haq earlier than expected, Bangladesh's bowlers may have rejoiced briefly and walked back to their marks with a spring in their step. For the rest of the day, however, they could do little but helplessly witness the absolute mastery of Younis and Youhana.

After Inzamam was caught at slip to give Fahim Muntasir his first Test scalp, the Pakistani duo batted with class and control that Chittagong is unlikely to host again in the near future. As if following an unwritten manual, both took singles off the good deliveries and flayed the bad balls for boundaries. The scoreboard whirred along steadily, and Bangladesh looked unlikely to break through except by immense good fortune.

Muntasir's debut grew less inauspicious when, with the score on 236, he induced a false shot from Younis to have him caught by Mehrab Hossain at mid-wicket. Striking 20 fours in his knock, Younis made 119 and put on 70 scintillating runs with Youhana for the fourth wicket.

Dhaka hero Abdur Razzaq, Rashid Latif and Waqar Younis all fell relatively cheaply, chancing their arms once too often after taking hot-blooded boundaries off the Bangladesh attack. It fell to Saqlain Mushtaq, often the second fiddle in a glorious concerto, to provide Youhana with the stable support he needed.

Youhana reached his ninth Test hundred off 144 balls, his knock an amalgamation of his status as a top-flight player and proof of his ability to be cruelly punitive on loose bowling, as Muntasir and Manjural Islam would only be too glad to testify.

With the aggression of a maddened bull, Youhana came down even more heavily upon the Bangladesh bowling after reaching his century. Putting on an unbeaten 90 runs for the eighth wicket with Saqlain, Youhana played with supreme confidence, haughtily leaving the best deliveries alone and pouncing on the not-so-rare bad ones to gleefully show them the fence.

At stumps, Pakistan were 429 for 7, with Youhana batting on 174 and looking good to complete his second Test double hundred tomorrow. Saqlain, especially in comparison to the run-machine at the other end, looked positively sluggish, managing only 7 off his 58 deliveries.

An impartial observer would find it difficult to select the best bowler of an errant attack, but Mohammad Sharif proved the most consistent, sticking to a reasonably tight length in all his spells and being rewarded with three wickets. Debutant Muntasir may have picked three wickets as well, but his lavishness in conceding 131 runs from 27 overs will, 20 years down the line, mar his rose-rimmed memories of his first Test.