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Laxman and Dhoni give India the edge

Day 2: India 228 for 6 (Dhoni 57, Laxman 57*) trail Pakistan 231 (Misbah 82, Kumble 4-38) by three runs

A match that appeared to be drifting inexorably in Pakistan's direction in the afternoon session was left tantalisingly poised after a 115-run partnership between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and VVS Laxman pushed India back into contention. Shoaib Akhtar bowled with tremendous pace to dismiss both openers, and there were two wickets too for Sohail Tanvir on debut, but after slumping to 93 for 5, India would have been satisfied to end the day just three runs adrift.

Dhoni and Laxman eased the immediate pressure with scampered singles, a pattern broken only when Dhoni cut Mohammad Sami powerfully for four. Laxman then played two magnificent strokes down the ground off Tanvir, and Dhoni greeted Danish Kaneria's reintroduction with a savage cut for four, but at tea, it was still Pakistan that were dictating terms.

The complexion of the game changed after tea though, with Dhoni's straight swat off Kaneria revealing India's positive intent. Laxman laced some gorgeous shots down the ground and through midwicket, while Dhoni muscled the ball through the off side field whenever he was afforded the width.

Shoaib Malik rotated his bowlers often, using Shoaib's pace in short bursts, and both batsmen were largely content to see him off. Even then, the runs came at four an over as the partnership mounted rapidly. A push through cover took Dhoni to 50, but his movement thereafter was hampered by the ankle that he had injured in Jaipur.

John Gloster, the Indian physio, came on to give it some strapping, but it was clearly a factor as he charged a Kaneria leg break to get the thinnest of edges through to Kamran Akmal. His 57 had spanned just 93 balls, and been the dominant part of a partnership similar to that which saved the Lord's Test for India in July.

Laxman eased to his own half-century soon after, Anil Kumble played one flamboyant square drive off Shoaib, and the fag end of the day was all about consolidation. When the umpires offered the light at the scheduled close, with Pakistan well behind the over-rate, both Laxman and Kumble had little hesitation in walking off.

The situation when Dhoni arrived to a raucous ovation had been very different. Rahul Dravid, who had played some lovely shots in his 38, saw his off stump knocked back by a Tanvir delivery that pitched on middle and leg and left him a shade. Coming soon after Ganguly's departure - bowled off the inside edge to give Tanvir his first Test scalp - it put a severe dent in India's hopes of establishing a first-innings lead.

The unlikely figure of Mohammad Yousuf had provided a telling blow minutes earlier. A sizeable crowd had cheered Sachin Tendulkar all the way to the crease, but when there was a mix-up between him and Dravid over going for a second run, Yousuf's throw to the keeper found him inches short.

Another run-out, albeit a much more bizarre one, had precipitated the end of the Pakistan innings in the morning. Neither Munaf Patel nor Zaheer Khan could break through with the relatively new ball, and after 40 more minutes of being thwarted, Kumble brought himself and Ganguly on.

And it was off Ganguly's bowling that the 87-run partnership - a Pakistani record for the ninth wicket against India - was finally broken. Misbah-ul-Haq, who had faced 243 balls for his 82, played one to point and set off. He seemed to have made his ground when Dinesh Karthik's throw came in. But rather than get his body in the way, Misbah chose airborne evasive action and the ball struck the stumps. When the third umpire handed down his decision, the crowd erupted.

It took Kumble just two balls to clean up Kaneria, leaving India's vaunted batting line-up to chart their own course on a pitch predicted to be at its best for batting on the second day. Though Karthik went before lunch, fending at a Shoaib delivery that moved away, Dravid and Wasim Jaffer proceeded to put on 56 without too many alarms.

Shoaib was the biggest threat, combining the odd unplayable delivery with some wayward stuff. Clearly unhappy with the landing area on the pitch, he asked for sawdust, changed his boots and then kicked a ball away in frustration on his followthrough when he couldn't find rhythm.

The second coming proved to be luckier. Dismayed to see Billy Doctrove turn down a leg-before appeal against Jaffer in the opening over of the innings, he returned to thud one into the pads at serious pace. In the ensuing 6.2 overs, India would lose 4 for 22 and stumble towards an abyss. Fortunately for them, neither Laxman nor Dhoni were in freefalling mood.



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