March 19 2005
The Indian performance on day 2 reminds me of a ride on my old bike: when I careered down the street, the tires cycled smoothly and without too much friction. When I tried to change gears, I almost busted my wrist. Solitary parts all worked alone, but something was lacking in the team performance.
On day 2 the bowlers ran in seemingly without a plan in their heads. Line and length was erratic and the captaincy was insipid and uninspiring. The bowlers, like a curate's egg, bowled well in patches, particularly Balaji and Bhajji, but Kumble was over used, and Pathan went through the motions.
It appeared as if someone had lit a fire underneath the Indian bowlers on day 3 though. The field placing to both overnight centurions was just about perfect. Each bowler bowled to a plan, and a set line and length. The singles, which Youhana and Younis had built a massive partnership upon the previous day, were completely cut off. As a result, the run making shut down, and the batsmen sweated and were put under pressure.
Balaji opened the day with a beauty of an over to overnight centurion Younis Khan, beating him 3 times out of 6. Slanting in the ball from a wide run up, and then seaming it away is an art he seems to have perfected in the nets. With Bhajji getting the ball to bite the first thing in the morning, things were finally looking up for the Indians, and that's when Youhana fell. Balaji suckered him into leaving with a couple of good outswingers, then brought one back into him from outside off as Youhana shouldered arms. As Hair raised a finger, Youhana walked off with a slight shake of his head and seemed disappointed with the decision. The only conceivable reason could be the height, which was a bit high; although based on umpiring consistency so far in the series and the fact that the ball seemed headed towards middle and off, the decision was fair, and Pakistan 289/3.
Interestingly, I was talking to fellow columnist Amir Ahmad at the time, and he mentioned that quite a few commentators do not know of the new LBW law, wherein if the batsmen shoulders arms to a ball, and makes no move to play a shot, he may be given out regardless of whether or not the ball hits the batsman in line with the stumps, and if the ball would have hit the stumps. Based on that law, the decision was totally fair, as the ball had pitched outside the off stump.
The new man was the Pakistani captain Inzamam ul Haq who had looked in ominous form in Mohali, and he picked up right where he left off with his last innings. Boundaries flowed from his bat, and in the process, Inzamam knocked Balaji out of the attack (13 off 15 Bala deliveries). Pathan replaced him, raring in to make amends for some uninspiring bowling the previous day. While Balaji concentrated on shaping the ball into the batsmen, Pathan concentrated on bowling outswingers from just short of driving length. One such ball saw Inzy come forward and try to steer to third man. All he managed though, was a thin edge, and Karthik pouched it. Inzy gone for a breezy 30, and leaving Pakistan at 331/4.
Kamal looked to be settling down, when a lack of communication did it for him. Sohail, while commentating in the box yesterday, had mentioned that the Pakistani batsmen were always looking for two runs whenever Sourav Ganguly fielded the ball. It had yielded plenty of runs earlier, but this time the tactic would cost them a crucial wicket. Balaji bowled a half volley, which Khan hit beautifully down the ground. The ball looked to be running to the boundary, but the Indian captain actually chased it down and flicked it back to Tendulkar, who had run just behind him. Younis Khan, was at that point, coasting, and assumed the third run was on. Kamal didn't, and remained rooted to the crease for a few precious seconds. Showing an incredible presence of mind, Tendulkar fired a bullet like throw into Karthik's gloves from 90 yards, and Asim Kamal, among the most consistent in the Pak ranks, was caught short of his ground. Wonderful stuff from Tendulkar, and credit must also be given to the Indian captain, as many of his own country and others are finding it increasingly easy to take a swipe at him.
Lunch came and went, but the insanity remained. Ganguly finally had Bhajji and Kumble bowling in tandem, and the runs dried up. They bowled wonderfully well together, and the tactics from Ganguly were superb. For the left hander, Bhajji was the aggressor, flighting the ball and getting plenty of loop and drift, encouraging the batsmen to go for the drive, while Kumble speared it in on middle stump, tucking the batsmen up with a stream of short flippers. For the right hander, it was Kumble who gave the ball a rip, landing the ball on middle and off and getting alarming bounce, while Bhajji mixed up his toppies and doosras to perfection.
Most importantly though, Ganguly's field placing backed them perfectly. Younis Khan had piled on a big score relying partly on deft late cuts and dabs off the spinners, and Ganguly plugged up his preferred scoring areas with two slips and a gully. Younis finally tried to glide one through the gap despite the fielders, but was beaten by a bit of extra bounce and ended up nudging the ball straight to VVS Laxman's hands to depart for a sublime 147 as Pakistan began tottering at 361/6.
Kamran Akmal was worse. The young keeper had been a revelation at Mohali, where every ball was treated simply on its merit as he slammed a superb maiden ton. Here it was more of a boxing match, which huge swipes interpersed with defensive prods. After a string of dot balls, Akmal felt under pressure to break the shackles, and ended up miscuing a straigher one from Bhajji down Sachin's throat at mid-on. Razzaq, Sami, and Khalil fell in quick succession to the spinners, and Pakistan were all out for 393, giving India a lead of 14 runs. Which means from 273/2 to 393, they lost 8 wickets for 120 runs in the entire day - with the last 7 wickets falling for just 65 runs. The wheels had come off with a vengeance.
The Indian innings:
Virender Sehwag looked to rub it in further with the sort of start only he can provide. Three fours came from the first four balls he faced from Mohammad Khalil and India were off to a flyer. Mohammed Sami, though, had a few points to make. Having repeatedly being targeted by Miandad and plenty of other armchair Pakistani critics, he struck with his first delivery, clean bowling Gautam Gambhir with a superb yorker first up. Sami bowls best when he is aggressive, and this time he was right on the money. He followed that up by getting India's man of the series, Virender Sehwag, who was desperately unlucky to have found an under edge bounce on to the stumps, and India were in huge trouble at 23/2 with the destructive opener gone for 15, once again failing in the second innings.
Cue in Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid to steady the ship. Both have been in tremendous form this series and the run continued here. Initially it was Dravid looking to be positive while Sachin got his eye in, but after some time, he appeared to be "back", rekindling memories of past form with a terrific flick through mid on for his first boundary. After that he reigned supreme at the crease, driving and cutting Khalil (interestingly, who had spoken of finding the achilles heel of Sachin Tendulkar), and producing probably the shot of the day, a gorgeous square drive that rocketed to the fence off Mohammad Sami.
Taking a leaf from Younis Khan and Youhana's partnership, the duo took plenty of singles and twos, putting pressure on the inexperienced Pakistani fielders. Statistically speaking, it's been the #3 and #4 batsmen who have done well in the match, Sachin and Dravid, Younis and Youhana. Dravid gave Tendulkar the ideal support, much like Youhana did to Younis; putting bad balls away with ease, and placing the ball between the fielders delicately. Tendulkar reached yet another fifty, his third consecutive, 41st in total, and 5th against Pakistan, with a glorious steer to the third man fence. The crowd were on their feet, and Tendulkar raised his bat in exultation. A superb innings under pressure, and this knock, much like Mumbai against the Aussies, could well turn out to be a match winner. But that's when the trouble with the light began..
Soon after reaching his fifty, Tendulkar complained that he could not see the ball. Dravid from the other end agreed, and spoke to Bucknor, who smiled sheepishly and pointed towards the light fixtures. He said that the lights would be on in a moment. Tendulkar continued, visibly crouched in his stance, and determined to protect the wicket. Razzaq bowled a short one, and Tendulkar whipped it away for a brace, and again sought out Bucknor. Tendulkar was being, in the sitation, admirable polite, and even smiled a bit. Bucknor again refused, and Tendulkar took it very well. Inzy, in a shrewd move, tossed the ball to Mohammad Sami, his fastest bowler, taking advantage of the bad light. Now lies the problem. If the batsmen cannot see the ball, surely they must be telling the truth. Conditions were perfect for batting, and if anything, they would have liked to stay out a bit longer to extend the lead. And even if the umpires did not believe them, they could always whip out the light meter. Then again, where WAS the light meter? Not once had the umpires taken it out, and the batsmen were forced to continue. Hadn't teams left grounds with the same complaints in far better conditions in the past?
A Mohammed Sami bouncer had Tendulkar fending the ball to short leg, and he again made reference to the fact that he could not see the ball. With Dravid playing a picture perfect drive for four, the appeal was denied. Then came the dismissal. Razzaq bowled yet another short one, which missed the outside edge of Tendulkar's bat and deviated after the ball had left the bat. Almost as an afterthought, Bucknor raised the finger, and Tendulkar was shocked to the core. Akmal had barely appealed; only Razzaq had gone up. Tendulkar walked off admirably, with a light shake of his head, and did not say anything to Bucknor. As he walked back, however, he was muttering to himself, and seemed furious. This cannot be deemed as dissent, simply because he had left the field of play and was not disrespecting the umpire in any way. But that was the end of Tendulkar, caught Akmal, bowled Bucknor, 52 to his name.
In walked in the much maligned Indian captain who seemed in decent touch, slamming one exquisite cover drive that zoomed away to the fence which would have evoked memories of his golden years. Finally, with Ganguly now actively arguing with the umpires, the light was offered, and Dravid was left unbeaten on 54, Ganguly alongside him on 4.
The game, is tilted slightly in favor of the Indians. Thanks to the 98 run partnership between Sachin and Rahul, India have built a considerable lead (143). Credit must also be given to the tremendous fightback in the morning, causing the Pakistani collapse. The key will be none other than the Prince of Calcutta however. If he and Dravid can take India to a lead of 200 runs, then they will be comfortable with that. A lead of over 275, and Pakistan is not sitting pretty. This can be a career defining knock for him, as the pacers will not be used too often on this bouncing and turning track. One can only hope, but my gut feeling is that India is going to win this one.
Pakistan, on the other hand, must be kicking themselves. In a position to drive home the advantage, they lost their heads and gave over the ropes to the Indians. They will take comfort in the fact that this same batting line up collapsed on day 1, and provided they bowl well, it can happen again. All seems like a fantastic day 4 coming up. However, one moment from a celebrated umpire was changed the complexion of the match and put a massive blot on what was otherwise a fantastic Indian comeback. It's a shame that Bucknor's 100th test match will not be remembered for his achievement, but for his wrong ruling of the best batsmen in the world.