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Akmal steals Indiaís thunder
Abhijit Chatterjee
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 12
Even before the first ball had been bowled at the PCA Stadium in Mohali today, everybody was speaking of an Indian victory. It was not a matter of if, but when.

Pakistan were just 53 runs ahead with only four second innings wickets intact and with a full dayís play left, everyone thought it was the end of the road for the visitors. However, Pakistan found an unlikely hero in Kamran Akmal, who slammed a maiden century under immense pressure to take his team to safety and force the Test to be drawn.

Pakistan, looking down the barrel of a gun at the end of the fourth day, staged an incredible recovery today to thwart an Indian victory. And the men who made it possible were overnight batsmen Abdul Razzaq and Kamran Akmal.

Overnight 257 for six, the two took the Pakistan second innings score to 427 before being separated well into the second session of play and by then there was very little India could do to win the game.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Akmal, playing in only his 11th Test, and Razzaq shared a record 186-run seventh wicket partnership which put the game far out of Indiaís reach. This partnership was the highest seventh wicket stand not only at the Mohali stadium but also the best by Pakistan ever against India, improving upon the 154-run stand by Imran Khan and Ijaz Faqih at Ahmedabad in 1986-87.

Akmal got splendid support from Razzaq, who was willing to play second fiddle while scoring 71. The Pakistanis, who had conceded a first innings lead of 204, rode on Kamalís brilliance to declare their second innings at 496 for nine, giving India an improbable target of 293 from 25 overs.

This was Pakistanís highest score in India, improving upon their 487 for nine they made at Chennai in 1986-87. India were 85 for one in 17 overs when the match ended. Virender Sehwag was dismissed for 36 while Gautam Gambhir remained unbeaten on 32.

Akmal, who rightly got the man of the match award, today played the innings of his life. For somebody who had been elevated to first-choice wicketkeeper just before Pakistanís disastrous tour of Australia in 2004, had a highest score of 56 against his name before this innings. And this was the solitary half-century against his name. But todayís innings by the Lahore-based 22-year-old has made him a hero at home, especially due to the fact that many in Pakistan had talked of the inexperience of the current Pakistan team touring India.

Akmal was the more attacking of the two, scoring his runs from 154 balls with the help of 15 fours while his senior partner Razzaq was content to play the sheet anchor.

Razzaq curbed his attacking instincts, as was the demand of the situation, to came up with his knock from 260 balls with four fours and one six off Anil Kumble. The two batsmen appeared tentative early on when they played and missed on a number of occasions. But once they settled down, there was nothing the Indian bowlers could do to trouble them. And as the clock ticked away, the frustration in the Indian ranks became very apparent.

India must take the blame for not being able to convert their dominance over the first four days of play into a win. Their bowlers, especially the pacers ó Zaheer Khan in particular and Irfan Pathan in general ó sent down far too may deliveries wide of the off stump. And to batsmen under instruction to put their heads down and bat as if everything depended on it, this was the best thing which could have happened.

Indian captain Sourav Ganguly made it clear that he meant business by taking the second new ball in the 81st over itself and handing it to his most successful seamers Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji. But with the seamers unable to force the Pakistani batsmen into submission, Ganguly had no option but to hand over the ball back to Kumble after these two had sent down 13 overs.

The biggest culprit in the Indian bowling attack was Zaheer, whose deliveries lacked bite and it seemed he was bowling with his shoulders drooping. Zaheer, with figures of one for 70 in the Pakistanís first innings, went wicketless in the second innings and his figures of 22-0-93-0 were hardly flattering.

Barring Balaji, who finished the Pakistan second innings with a haul of four for 95 to take his match tally to nine, no bowler looked like taking a wicket even though Kumble finished with four scalps to take his Test tally to 450 wickets. It was Balaji who finally claimed the wicket of Akmal, who was caught by substitute fielder Harbhajan Singh at cover, but by then the Pakistani seventh wicket pair had taken their team to safety.

To be fair to the Karnataka veteran spinner, he had yesterday scalped the prized wickets of Pakistan skipper Inzamam and Yousuf Youhana, two batsmen who seem the best in the touring side, and today chipped in with the wickets of Razzaq and Mohammad Sami, the latter a caught-and- bowled effort which took him to 450.

Balaji followed his maiden five-wicket haul in the first innings with figures of four for 95 in the second, assuring himself a place in the final eleven for the second Test at Kolkata, starting on March 16.

After failing to get a wicket in the first session of play with both Akmal and Razzaq playing cautiously, India broke the partnership four hours into play today when Balaji dismissed the wicketkeeper-batsman at the teamís score of 427. But by then it was too late for India as Akmal had done much more than what his team could have asked for.

Seven runs later, Razzaq edged Kumble to Rahul Dravid in the slips. The tail-enders then chipped in as Pakistan declared their innings at 496 for nine with Rana Naveed, with a quickfire 38, and Danish Kaneria (4) remaining not out.

Having erased the unfancied and underdog tag, the Pakistan team will go into the rest of the series with their tails up.

Scoreboard

Pakistan (1st innings) 312

India (1st innings) 516

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 c Dravid b Kumble 71

Akmal c sub b Balaji 109

Sami c & b Kumble 10

Rana Naved not out 38

Kaneria not out 4

Extras (b-17, lb-20, nb-2, w-13) 52

Total (9 wkts, 144 overs) 496

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-10, 3-10, 4-149, 5-193, 6-243, 7-427, 8-436, 9-467.

Bowling: Pathan 27-7-70-1, Balaji 30-5-95-4, Kumble 54-16-160-4, Zaheer 22-0-93-0, Tendulkar 8-0-30-0, Sehwag 3-1-11-0.

India (2nd innings)

Gambhir not out 32

Sehwag st Akmal b Younis Khan 36

Extras: (b-5, lb-8, nb-4) 17

Total (1 wicket, 17 overs) 85

Fall of wicket: 1-85.

Bowling: Sami 7-0-25-0, Rana Naved 2-0-6-0, Kaneria 6-2-17-0, Younis Khan 2-0-24-1.

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