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Pak put up a fight, but wilt under Balajiís spell
Abhijit Chatterjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 11
Pakistan were staring down the barrel of a gun at the end of the fourth dayís play against India in the first match of the three-Test series at the PCA Stadium here today. Trailing by 204 runs in the first innings, they ended the dayís proceedings at 257 for six, 53 runs ahead with only four second innings wickets in hand. When play resumes on the last day tomorrow, India should have no difficulty in going 1-0 ahead in the series. It is only a matter of time.

And the man who brought Pakistan to the brink of defeat was new-ball bowler Laxmipathy Balaji, who today scalped three for 67 to add to his first innings tally of five for 76. The Tamil Nadu bowler is returning to Test cricket after a very long lay-off due to injury but he fully justified the confidence of his skipper, who picked him in the playing eleven ahead of Ashish Nehra. Even today he started operations along with Irfan Pathan while the more experienced Zaheer Khan was asked to bowl much later. And the results speak for themselves.

Though Pakistan might be staring at defeat, they certainly did not give up without a fight. Although they lost three quick wickets in the beginning of their innings, two to Balaji and one to Pathan, their middle order, led by their skipper himself, waged a grim battle for survival and only the vastly more experienced Indian attack could force them to capitulate. And if the luck of the dice had swung their way, the story of the day might well have been different.

The Pakistan fightback was led from the front by Inzamam-ul-Haq, who made a fighting, but strokeful, 86. He also shared a 139-run stand with yet another Pakistani veteran of many a battle, Yousuf Youhana, who chipped in with a compact 68. This was the eighth time that these two Pakistani veterans had been associated in a century-plus partnership, a world record the previous best being the Waugh brothers who had been associated in seven century partnerships.

But as both these Pakistani veterans fell on either side of the tea break, the scent of an Indian victory was very much in the air. The duo of Inzamam and Youhana not only put on a record fourth-wicket partnership of 139 runs under tremendous pressure from the Indian bowlers but also spared the team the embarrassment of an innings defeat.

Earlier in the morning, resuming at the overnight score of 447 for six, the Indian batsmen added 69 more runs before folding up for 516 with the stylish VVS Laxman scoring 58 and Balaji making a brisk 36-ball 31. The two shared a partnership of 42 runs for the eighth wicket with Balaji being the principal contributor.

India had a lead of 135 runs, with four first innings wickets in hand, when stumps were drawn yesterday. The order of the skipper obviously was to go in for quick runs so that the bowlers had enough time to bowl out the opposition, especially with the weather threatening to play spoilsport at Mohali, at least on the second and third days. Sourav Ganguly did not want the opportunity of going 1-0 up in the series go out of hand.

But the Indians were stopped in their tracks by Pakistani leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who over the years has become a master craftsman of his trade. Bowling with perfect control, he took charge of the proceedings with his very first over when he had Pathan stumped by Kamran Akmal after he had added 12 runs from 19 deliveries to his overnight total. Pathan fell at 465 and than came the cameo partnership between Balaji and Laxman for the eight wicket before Balaji became yet another victim of the Akmal-Kaneria combine. Laxman, who meanwhile completed his 50 (his 21st in 42 Tests), fell soon after, as he played on a Kaneria delivery going for a drive. Last man Zaheer Khan lasted just two deliveries as the Indian innings folded up for 516 in 147.4 overs. The Indian innings lasted just 16.4 overs this morning.

The last four Indian wickets fell for just 69 runs with Kaneriaís figures reading 6.4-1-29-4 today, truly a fine effort . This was the ninth time in his career that the Pakistani leg-spinner had a five-wicket haul. More importantly, he prevented India from taking a lead of 250 runs plus as they were planning overnight.

The ninth delivery of the Pakistani second innings saw them losing their first wicket under strange circumstances. A Balaji delivery pitched in line and hit the front pad of Taufeeq Umar before ballooning up in the air for Balaji to take a comfortable catch. The bowler instinctively appealed and umpire Darrell Hair raised his finger. The official scoreboard first said the batsman had been declared leg before wicket before quickly correcting to a caught and bowled decision. In any case, Pakistan were four for one.

In his very next over, Balaji struck again, bowling Pakistani vice-captain Younis Khan with a delivery which swung in. Younis, who had a very bad outing in the first innings also, had simply no idea to this Balaji delivery. Pakistan were 10 for two and the crowd could already scent an Indian victory.

And with no addition to the Pakistani total, Pathan struck, having the other opener Salman Butt caught behind . With three wickets down with only 10 runs on the board, Pakistan were in deep trouble. But then came the brilliant partnership between Youhana, who was promoted ahead of his skipper, and Inzamam which spared the visitors the blushes. The Pakistani captain belted 10 boundaries and a six during his 105-ball knock of 89 before falling prey to Anil Kumble for the second time in succession.

Scoreboard

Pakistan (1st innings) 312

India (1st innings)

Gambhir c Rana b Kaneria 41

Sehwag c Youhana b Razzaq 173

Dravid c Kamal b Sami 50

Tendulkar c Kamal b Rana 94

Ganguly c Butt b Kaneria 21

Laxman b Kaneria 58

Kaarthick c Rana b Sami 6

Pathan st Akmal b Kaneria 13

Balaji c Akmal b Kaneria 31

Kumble not out 1

Zaheer c & b Kaneria 0

Extras (b-1, lb-5, nb-21 w-1) 28

Total (all out, 147.4 overs) 516

Fall of wickets: 1-113, 2-216, 3-334, 4-381, 5-417, 6-444, 7-465, 8-507, 9-516.

Bowling: Sami 36-6-120-2, Rana Naved 32-1-133-1, Razzaq 26-1-107-1, Kaneria 53.4-12-150-6.

Pakistan (2nd innings)

Butt c Kaarthick b Pathan 5

Umar c & b Balaji 4

Younis Khan b Balaji 1

Youhana b Kumble 68

Haq lbw b Kumble 86

Kamal lbw b Balaji 48

Razzaq not out 22

Akmal not out 9

Extras (b-2, lb-10, nb-1, w-1) 14

Total (6 wickets, 74 overs) 257

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-10, 3-10, 4-149, 5-193, 6-243.

Bowling: Pathan 14-3-45-1, Balaji 17-3-67-3, Kumble 28-4-76-2, Zaheer 12-0-45-0, Tendulkar 3-0-12-0.
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