Dravid and Karthik put India in a great position at Calcutta
This has been a fantastic test match. The pendulum has shifted virtually every session, with both teams wresting away the advantage, or throwing it away. India started the game strongly but lost wickets towards the end of the first day
. Pakistan took a while to clean up the tail and a double century stand between the two Ys
put them in a great position at the end of the second day. India fought back brilliantly on the third day as first the bowlers and fielders triggered a Pakistan collapse
and India had a lead. Dravid and Tendulkar got going until Bucknor sawed off Tendulkar at the end of the day.
The fourth day started with Sami bouncing out Ganguly, who played a horrible pull from way outside offstump. Laxman got off the mark first ball, evading a king's pair. Sami struck again, this time it wasnt a wicket but a nasty bouncer hit Laxman above his eye and he had to retire hurt. At 156/4 and all the specialist batsmen
, barring Dravid, back in the hut, Pakistan sensed an opportunity. Dinesh Karthik has done nothing in his fledgling international career, with the bat, to suggest that he could make runs. At this stage, all that Indian fans hoped for was a fifty run partnership with Dravid so that a target of around 250 could be set. They went a little further than that.
Karthik started off cautiously but once he got over his starting trouble, he played some spunky strokes to put to rest, temporarily at least, Parthiv's and Dhoni's hopes for a phone call from the selectors. Dravid did slow down a little after the twin strikes in the morning, but in the company of an increasingly confident Karthik, he motored on. It was a marvellous innings and I cant recall him offering a single chance. Afridi nearly sneaked one through his defence when he was in the nineties but he got to his century with monk-like patience. He went from 96 to 100 with four singles and took three overs to reach the century. There're quite a few others in international cricket who'd do it with one hit, a four. A couple of maniacal
cases would choose a six. This was his second century of the game
. He is well and truly on his way to being a batting great. Among those with more than 7000 test runs, he tops the averages along with Wally Hammond
. That said, there's one certain gent who scored 4 runs less than that number and averaged a tad more. Dravid was out to Kaneria, attempting to hit him out of the ground, caught at long off. The standing ovation he received was an indication of how much his innings mattered to India's cause.
Dravid's batting masterclass rubbed off on Karthik and he revealed a range of strokes, ranging from flicks over mid-wicket to charging down the track to an audacious reverse sweep which took him into the nineties. He did not seem too mindful of the approaching milestone and an attempted sweep didnt come off and was bowled round his legs. Meanwhile Laxman had replaced Dravid and while he was certainly uncomfortable with the stitches above his eye, he played gallantly and selflessly, scoring a quick 24, including a few vintage inside out shots over extra cover. One test ago, his spot in the side was a subject of discussion. I hope it no longer is. He could easily have sat back in the pavillion, unwilling to risk failure.
Ganguly bizarrely delayed the declaration even after Laxman got out. Pathan thrashed the bowlers around for a while, scoring 38 in just 30 balls and then Ganguly declared once India had got 407, again. Pakistan's target was 422, eerily similar to the 420 they had been set at Delhi
in 1999. They must have hoped for a different result.
Certainly they started off the same way they had at the Kotla, all guns blazing. Afridi does not really know any other way to play the game and as he biffed a run-a-ball fifty, India must have hoped that he would lose his head soon because Pakistan were scoring at more than 5 an over. He obliged India when he couldnt control a sweep off Kumble two overs before stumps were drawn.
Pakistan need to make 327 runs on the final day with nine wickets in hand, including those of Younis, Youhana, Inzamam and Asim Kamal. It is not beyond them, but it is highly unlikely. With a full house expected for tomorrow, they may not even be able to hear themselves calling for a run. India hold all the aces and they will expect to wrap up the innings either by choking the runs or encouraging Pakistan's batsmen to attack and thus lose their minds and wickets. A fascinating day in store, then again, thats what I said at the end of the fourth day at Mohali