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Top-order batsmen take India close to victory

India 276 and 171 for 3 (Jaffer 53, Tendulkar 32*, Ganguly 48*, Akhtar 3-41) need another 32 runs to beat Pakistan 231 and 247 (Butt 67, Misbah 45, Kumble 3-68)

Shoaib Akhtar briefly rocked the boat but India's batsmen played in pleasant contrast to their Pakistani counterparts, applying themselves and picking the runs when scoring opportunities came their way as they reached the doorstep of victory in the first Test.

First Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid, and then Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, occupied the crease with purpose as they knocked off 171 of the 203 runs needed for victory. When play was called off for bad light, only 32 runs stood between India and glory.

Without doubt India enjoyed a huge slice of luck as Dravid struggled early in his innings, soon after Dinesh Karthik had been dismissed. But that was the only loss India suffered in Shoaib Akhtar's first spell. It was Mohammad Sami who troubled Dravid, with the ball skidding onto the bat and occasionally hurrying Dravid. He was once trapped pretty palpably in front of the stumps but Billy Doctrove, as he has done all match, weighed the decision and ruled in favour of the batsman. Soon after, Dravid tried to fetch one from far outside the off stump and edged between the slip cordon and the gully fielder for a streaky boundary.

Once the nerves settled and the feet got moving, Dravid was rock solid, adjusting well to the slightly variable bounce and getting right behind the line of the ball. What helped Dravid along was the fluency with which Jaffer was batting. Although he was occasionally troubled by Danish Kaneria, Jaffer was regal against the quick bowlers, dispatching anything too straight to the on-side boundary. When the bowlers overcompensated and bowled outside off, Jaffer was quick to transfer his weight on to the back foot, and cut the ball behind point.

The early loss of Karthik, when he drove a good-length ball from Akhtar that seamed away a touch, with the score only on two, was forgotten as Jaffer and Dravid brought up the fifty partnership for the second wicket and pressed on. It took the re-introduction of Akhtar into the attack, just before the tea break, for Pakistan to get their second breakthrough. Jaffer, who brought up his half-century with a pleasing cut for four off Akhtar, could not resist the temptation of pulling a short ball, and failed to keep it down, finding Salman Butt at square leg with pin-point accuracy. At 84 for 2, in came Sachin Tendulkar to a roaring applause from a Sunday crowd.

In the knowledge that Akhtar was only in the harness for a short burst, Tendulkar and Dravid sought to play him out, and the scoring-rate dipped temporarily. But their efforts were partly in vain as, soon after tea, Shoaib produced an reverse inswinging rocket to squeeze through the gap between bat and pad and knock the leg stump back. Dravid had made 34 and India were 93 for 3. Sourav Ganguly then walked out to the middle and batted positively against extreme pace, playing a sensual cover-drive early on to ease the nerves.

With Ganguly scoring freely, Tendulkar was able to knuckle down and bring a solidity to the crease that frustrated the best efforts of Pakistan's bowlers. As he settled down, the runs began to flow more freely, and right towards the end of the day the boundaries came with such regularity that it seemed that India would knock off the required runs with haste. But with the light fading, neither Ganguly, on 48, nor Tendulkar, who in the course of his 32 overtook Allan Border to become the second highest run-getter in Tests, wanted to take any chances, having put together an unbeaten 78 for the fourth wicket. The crowd sighed its disappointment when the players walked off, but this only means that the players will have to come back on the final day to finish this game off.

India's job had been made easier by a brittle and mindless Pakistani batting performance earlier in the day. Kamran Akmal set the tone, choosing to chase a wide one from Zaheer Khan, hitting it straight to Yuvraj Singh, temporarily fielding at point, at perfect catching height.

Sohail Tanvir, who is regarded to be a handy lower-order batsman, was cagey at the crease from the first ball he faced, playing and missing and even edging between the slip cordon and gully. Zaheer bowled a probing line and when he dropped one short, wide outside the off, Tanvir went for a pull shot that should never have been attempted and ballooned a catch to Harbhajan Singh at square leg.

Misbah-ul-Haq was entirely assured at the crease, playing Anil Kumble with confidence, but he didn't get the support he needed at the other end. He too fell to recklessness once the new ball was taken, giving Ganguly the charge. Ganguly was good enough to shorten his length and the attempted heave over long-on was miscued; Karthik took a well-judged catch. With Misbah gone for 45, the end was near and Ganguly winkled out another wicket. Mohammad Sami, who had blocked so determinedly in the first innings, tried to slap Ganguly over midwicket and only managed a top-edge that Jaffer settled under.

Kaneria was never going to pose a massive threat but he ran himself out in circumstances that summed up the Pakistan innings. He played the ball to point and set off down the pitch without much purpose. Tendulkar returned the ball to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who, facing away from the stumps, bent over and flicked the ball onto the wickets, dislodging the bails and ending Pakistan's second innings on 247. Pakistan's batsmen had played with no application whatsoever, and literally thrown away their wickets on the final morning, adding 35 runs for the fall of the last five wickets.



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