First Test

Pakistan v India, 2005-06

At Lahore, January 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 2006. Drawn. Toss: Pakistan.

The pitch and the weather should share the blame for this abominable Test. The flatness of the pitch suggested that, even if the match had been timeless, it might have been problematic bowling out a side once - let alone twice. The fickleness of the weather thankfully curtailed such punishment, allowing barely 220 overs' play. Only 15 overs were possible on the third day, and just 14 balls on the fifth.

It was time enough, nevertheless, to generate numerous entries for the record books. Though Pakistan's batsmen dominated the first two days, the foremost feat came from India: Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag opened their reply with a stand of 410, which was three short of breaking the 50-year-old record for the highest first-wicket partnership in all Tests, by their compatriots Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy against New Zealand at Madras. Refreshingly blunt, Sehwag professed his ignorance of the record; on the final day, his lame poke at the third bouncer in a row from Naved-ul- Hasan was the shot of a man who, equally refreshingly, didn't much care.

Interrupted, and prolonged over four days, their partnership was one of obvious contrasts, between Dravid's correctness and Sehwag's mischief; Sehwag outscored Dravid two to one, though he was dropped twice. But the contrast was less stark than expected. Together, they rattled along at 5.33 per over (the final scoring-rate of 5.30 was the third-highest for totals over 400, while the rate of 4.93 over both innings was the highest for matches featuring over 500 runs), and the normally sedate Dravid more than played his part. His first Test century as captain started shyly before he shed his care, and it was heavy with meaning. Cameras had captured a heated discussion before the toss between Dravid, his predecessor Sourav Ganguly and coach Greg Chappell, which was swiftly construed as an argument about who would open. Ganguly's selection, ahead of specialist openers Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Jaffer, was believed to have been imposed on the management, and forced Dravid up to do the job.

Unsurprisingly, though, it was Sehwag who drove the innings. His love of Pakistan's bowling was already well-known - his previous six Tests against them had featured scores of 309, 173 and 201 - and this was his second double in succession. His trademarks were all present, mostly on the off; cuts on his toes, jabs with feet static, drives on the up, slaps through square, carves through point. There were a staggering 48 boundaries (47 fours and a six) all told, the third-highest total in a Test innings, only nine of them on the leg-side. It was the second-fastest double-century recorded by balls in all Tests - only Nathan Astle, who got there in 153 balls against England in 2001-02, had beaten Sehwag's 182, and his eventual 254, from 247 balls in 328 minutes, was believed to be the highest Test score at over a run a ball.

The first two days had seen four Pakistanis do their share of pillage. Younis Khan rendered his middling form against England irrelevant, smoothly resuming where he left off with 508 runs in India the previous year. Spinners were nullified through an expansive array of sweeps and paddles, all with an unusually long reach; the quicks were dealt with more deftly, a tickle here, a glide or a checked drive there. It never looked like ending... which is generally the cue for a run-out. One short of a second successive double against India, Younis failed to beat a direct hit from Harbhajan Singh, and became the sixth batsman to be dismissed for 199 in a Test, the first to be run out. Younis added 319, the fourth-highest Test stand against India, with Mohammad Yousuf, who contributed a delightful hundred, but two mad centuries from Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal almost wiped out the memory. Though there was little pressure - from bowler or surface - when they walked in, few could have imagined that they would add 170 at nearly eight an over; in fact, Pakistan were propelled from 485 to 679 in 22.3 overs after lunch on the second day. Afridi started circumspectly, reaching lunch on 18 off 31 balls, but 47 balls later equalled his own record for the second-fastest Test hundred by a Pakistani. His fourth Test century was like his others, plump with improbable strokes and unrestrained aggro; it included 27 runs - 666621 - off an over from Harbhajan. He was going, obviously, for 36, but it was still the second most expensive over in Test history.

Akmal kept pace as he reached his fourth international century in seven weeks, though his strokeplay was of a more orthodox hue. With drives and cuts aplenty, he raced to an 81-ball hundred, then the fastest by a wicketkeeper in Tests, temporarily overhauling Australia's Adam Gilchrist. Impressive though the feat should have been, there was such a barrage of records attempted, equalled or broken that much of its worth was lost in ennui.

Man of the Match: V. Sehwag.

© John Wisden & Co.