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Cakewalk turns complex

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Last updated on: March 10, 2005 22:14 IST

Damned if I can figure out what the Indian game plan today was - or even if they had one.

Some stats merit consideration, in this context: In the morning session (which began half an hour early, to make up for time lost on day two due to rain), India scored 134 runs in 31 overs, for the loss of Rahul Dravid's wicket.

India - which began the day on 184/1 made off just 40 frantic overs the previous afternoon -- managed in that one session to wipe out the deficit and go into the lead, with eight wickets standing.

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This was despite Pakistan starting the day in defensive mode - just one slip for the first over of the day, bowled by Mohammad Sami, indicated the fielding side's mindset. Pakistan focused largely on packing the off field and getting its bowlers to stay in that corridor around off - the intent obviously being to stem the flow of runs, to try and play for time, to slow down the Indian assault.

Despite this, India managed, thanks largely to frenetic strokeplay from Sehwag and Sachin, to move from 250 to 300 off just 38 deliveries - a rate that shaded even the 48-ball progression from 50-100, when Gambhir and Sehwag were going berserk on the evening of day two.

Cumulatively, these stats convey the impression of a team in a hurry. You had to figure that the Indian plan was to wipe out the deficit in the first session (which they did with ease), and to then, with the luxury of wickets in hand, go flat out in the middle session, when the sun is beating down and conditions are perfect for batting.

That would then set things up nicely for a final session against dispirited bowlers even more than usually tired thanks to the early start, and the steady flow of runs against their names.

Played that way, with India scoring at even four an over - way below the 6-plus they managed on day two - the team would have looked to be between 200- 250 ahead at close; then throw the bat around for an hour on the fourth morning, before inserting Pakistan and hammering it into submission.

That, at least, was what seemed on the cards; it was also the logical way to play this game, against an attack that had already been revealed as lacking in incisors. So what did we get?

A labored afternoon session, when 29 overs produced a mere 59 runs for the loss of Virender Sehwag. And if possible, an even more inexplicable evening session, that produced 70 runs in 30 overs for the loss of Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dinesh Karthik.

The progression from 300-350 was in fact so labored, that Sehwag, Tendulkar and Ganguly used up 154 deliveries to get those 50 runs.

For why? Sure, Danish Kaneria was brilliant with the ball, bowling tirelessly, constantly varying angle and flight and loop and extent of turn, using his googlies to superb effect to fox all but Sehwag, and keeping a tight leash on the batsmen. But Kaneria had bowled in the morning session as well, when India went from 250-300 inside 38 balls - so the Kaneria effect, pronounced as it was, does not explain the go slow.

Another knee-jerk reaction would be to blame Tendulkar's desire to get what would have been a record 35th Test hundred - but remember, at the height of the go-slow, immediately after lunch, Tendulkar was nowhere in sight of his 100, so that does not explain what the batsmen did out there.

What does? Like I said, damned if I know.

What were they thinking? Were they thinking?

It was as if they sat in the dressing room and went, heck, this is too easy, we are getting runs too quick and at this rate, this game will be a cakewalk - so why don't we make things difficult for ourselves?

They did. They have.

Okay, that is facetious - more likely, the think tank figured on grinding Pakistan down in the middle session, playing the game of attrition, and totally wearying the Pak attack; then, with wickets in hand, launching an assault in the final session.

If that was the thinking, it came unstuck thanks to the loss, in the second session, of Sehwag - and such loss is pretty much axiomatic when a team is playing a closed, defensive game.

At close, India is ahead by 135 runs. While that is decent for a track showing signs of wear and tear, it is nowhere close to what the team needs to shut Pakistan out of the game entirely.

So now, India finds itself stuttering, and being forced to make all sorts of calculations. What to do on the fourth morning? Fling the bat around? Or try and accumulate? If the latter, how much is needed to feel really safe - not just to prevent defeat, but to force the win? 200? 250?

Can India afford to bat through the morning session, and - assuming wickets remain -- probably for an hour in the afternoon as well, looking to stretch the lead to around the 250 mark? Will the bowlers then be able - keeping in mind that the wicket is slowing down in terms of pace - be able to bowl Pakistan out, over a session on day four and three sessions on day five?

What seemed a cakewalk has suddenly become complex - and you'd have to say that India with its inexplicable go-slow has only itself to blame for not ending day three in a position of absolute command - a pity, given how well Sehwag played to provide the team that launch pad.

Prem Panicker