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  1. 183

Misbah and Ishant light up the day

India 626 and 131 for 2 (Ganguly 63*, Dravid 35*) lead Pakistan 537 (Misbah 133*, Younis 80, Akmal 65, Ishant 5-118) by 220 runs

Misbah-ul-Haq, superbly supported by Kamran Akmal and Yasir Arafat, shepherded Pakistan to safety, but India overcame the early loss of both openers to stretch their lead to 220 by stumps. Sourav Ganguly's brilliant half-century led the Indian effort, on a pitch that didn't deteriorate like it was expected to. Misbah's unbeaten133 was the focal point of the day's play, but there was also an eye-catching spell from Ishant Sharma, whose pace and ability to extract bounce from the dodo-dead surface triggered Pakistan's slide from 525 for 6 to 537 all out.

With a lead of 89, India started sedately and were soon in trouble. Gautam Gambhir did his Australian tour prospects no good at all with another failure, clueless against a full slower ball from Shoaib Akhtar, while Wasim Jaffer played a couple of lovely strokes before being trapped in front by Arafat. At that stage, India were only 115 in front, with Rahul Dravid in scratchy form.

Ganguly, though, was impervious to the pressure, pulling Mohammad Sami for four to send out the message that there would be no repeat of the diffidence that cost India a Test here in 2005. When Shoaib came back into the attack, he twice smacked him through cover point, and when Arafat was then taken for three fours in an over, the momentum had clearly shifted.

Dravid started to play a few shots of his own, but the main aim was to turn the strike over to the man in splendid form. Danish Kaneria's introduction was the proverbial red rag and Ganguly sauntered down the pitch twice to hit him for a six and a four as his 50 came from just 57 balls. The odd delivery did keep low and trouble the batsmen, but with the lead over 200, India wouldn't have cared much.

For much of the day, they had struggled to close out the Pakistan innings, with Misbah proving an impenetrable barrier. At the Eden Gardens, he and Akmal had both made centuries, adding 207 to rescue Pakistan. They provided a 144-run encore in Bangalore, with a combination of watchfulness and belligerence.

Except for the odd ball that did something, there were few demons in the pitch, and Misbah and Akmal started the day at a fair clip as they went in search of the 58 needed to ensure India bat again. Ishant once again had no-ball problems, and both men preyed on errors in line to drive him through the covers.

Irfan Pathan was much more economical at the other end, but the introduction of Harbhajan Singh couldn't halt the Pakistani momentum. Misbah drove him beautifully through point for four, and Akmal then swept fine as 427 came into view.

Anil Kumble switched to spin at both ends after the drinks interval, but Akmal got Pakistan past the follow-on target with another sweep to the rope at fine leg off Harbhajan. He was out soon after for 65, lured forward by a flighted delivery, but on the whole, the Indian spinners were guilty of bowling too flat.

Misbah flicked Kumble through midwicket to move into the nineties, and with Yasir Arafat proving adept at cutting the ball down to third man, the runs and India's frustration mounted. It was no different for more than an hour after lunch. A glance for four off Harbhajan took Misbah to a second successive century, off 258 balls, and a powerful cut for four off Kumble then revealed his intention to step it up a gear.

Arafat was the perfect foil, unflustered in defence and capable of punishing shots when the opportunity presented itself. When Kumble dropped short, he twice heaved him over midwicket for fours, and when Pathan returned for another spell, he flicked through midwicket for another.

With spin not providing the breakthrough, Kumble turned to pace, and the rewards were immediate. With his height and pace, Ishant was a menace, and the 93-run partnership ended when Arafat played on after an accomplished 44. After that, the end was swift. Sami was cleaned up with a yorker, while both Shoaib and Kaneria fell to short balls directed at the body. Ishant finished with 5 for 118 in only his second Test, a strong statement ahead of the selection for the squad to Australia.

The highlight, though, was Misbah and a rearguard action that left India to contemplate some brisk batting on the final morning if a result was to be possible. Only one team has a realistic chance of victory, but at a venue where they haven't won for 12 years, it remains to be seen if India will force the issue.

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