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India's charge halted by bad light

India 626 (Ganguly 239, Yuvraj 169, Pathan 102, Arafat 5-161) and 284 for 6 dec (Ganguly 91, Karthik 52) drew with Pakistan 537 (Misbah 133*, Younis 80, Butt 68, Akmal 65, Ishant 5-118) and 162 for 7 (Iqbal 51, Kumble 5-60)

When India left Pakistan just 47 overs to score an improbable 374 for victory, the Bangalore Test appeared to be meandering to a draw. As the opening pair added 44, thoughts turned to how soon the match could be called off but dramatic interventions from Anil Kumble and Yuvraj Singh pushed Pakistan to the precipice before bad light saved them from acute embarrassment with 11 overs still to be bowled. The playing conditions didn't allow the use of floodlights, leaving India to rue a declaration that probably came half an hour too late. However, they would have been satisfied to clinch their first home Test series victory against Pakistan since 1979-80.

Even when Yasir Hameed and Younis Khan fell in the space of four balls, one bowled by a Kumble express and the other popping up a return catch, it appeared to be a wobble rather than a quake. Salman Butt and Faisal Iqbal steadied the innings with a 29-run stand and, when Butt got a thin edge behind to give Kumble his third wicket of the innings, Pakistan decided to blast their way out of trouble.

With the fielders crowding the bat, cuts and drives flew to the boundary as Misbah-ul-Haq and Iqbal added 73 at seven an over. Only nine balls remained for the mandatory overs to start when Kumble struck again. A short and fast one drew Iqbal into the pull, and when it looped up to Ishant Sharma at mid-on, all thoughts of handshakes and an early finish disappeared.

Kamran Akmal walked out to join Misbah, but this time Pakistan's premier rescue act couldn't even get started. Kumble started his cricket as a medium-pace bowler and those roots were very much in evidence in the quicker delivery that deviated away just enough to peg back Akmal's off stump. Mohammad Yousuf avoided the hat-trick, but Yuvraj Singh, the birthday boy, then left his mark on proceedings.

An arm ball ended Misbah's cameo on 37, while Yasir Arafat had no answers to one that went straight on. Given the batting qualities of Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria, India were effectively three decent balls away from a famous victory, but Mohammad Sami kept Yousuf company long enough for the umpires to bring their light-meters out. Once they asked the question, the batsmen were off like a cannonball shot.

India had their chances before tea as well. Rahul Dravid couldn't grab a thick outside edge from Butt off Kumble's bowling, and the captain was himself the culprit moments later when he spilled a chance at gully after Hameed had flashed outside off stump. Hameed rubbed it in with three fours in an Irfan Pathan over but batting, by and large, was no picnic on a pitch where the bounce had become impossible to predict.

India certainly found that to be the case when they resumed in the morning, in the lead by 220 runs. There was no excessive urgency or interest in a challenging declaration. With the odd delivery not rising above shin height, their approach was understandable, though any fears that Pakistan might chase down a target in excess of 300 weren't grounded in reality.

Sourav Ganguly started the morning with an inside edge for four off Sami, and there was four too for Dravid as Yousuf made a complete hash of backing up a throw. But with Shoaib bowling at serious pace and pitching it short, scoring opportunities were hard to come by.

Kaneria was also brought on early, and proved equally difficult to put away, bowling into the leg-stump rough. Ganguly tried to force the issue with a sprightly saunter down the pitch and an off drive, and when Sami subsequently dropped one short, he played a withering pull to the midwicket boundary.

Then came the sticky patch. The partnership was worth 152 when Dravid was deceived by a googly from Kaneria, and three balls later, Ganguly slashed a wide ball from Sami straight to Iqbal at gully. His knock ended on 91. Another nine runs and he would have become only the seventh man in history to make a double-hundred and a century in the same Test.

India will reflect on missed opportunities, but at the end of the day, they'll take a 1-0 series win, their first against Pakistan on Indian soil since the days when a fresh-faced Kapil Dev was leading the attack

The sheen was then taken off Yuvraj's birthday celebrations as Rudi Koertzen gave him out caught behind off Sami for two. Replays suggested the bat had made contact with boot rather than ball. Suddenly, 178 for 2 had become 184 for 5, but instead of retreating into a shell, VVS Laxman and Dinesh Karthik upped the ante. Laxman flicked and then square drove Sami for two fours in an over, while Karthik took a shine to Kaneria, clouting a six and two fours over the leg-side field.

Three balls after lunch, India's immediate prospects, with a tour of Australia looming, were dealt a sickening blow when Laxman took his eyes off a Shoaib bouncer and was struck on the elbow. The physio came out and had a look, but Laxman was clearly in so much pain that there was no option but to come off and perhaps head for a precautionary X-ray.

Pathan came out to replace him, and his batting form was evident in the cover drives that he played off Shoaib and Kaneria. Karthik, who had a point to prove to the knee-jerk-reaction crew questioning his suitability for Australia, was playing a busy little innings at the other end, sweeping and cutting Kaneria for fours as thoughts turned to sending Pakistan in.

A straight drive off Arafat got him to his half-century from 66 balls, but when the next ball was edged behind, Kumble called them in. You could hardly have predicted what happened next. India will reflect on missed opportunities, but at the end of the day, they'll take a 1-0 series win, their first against Pakistan on Indian soil since the days when a fresh-faced Kapil Dev was leading the attack.



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