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Akmal, Razzaq thwart India

By Deepti Patwardhan
Last updated on: March 12, 2005 18:43 IST
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Sourav Ganguly and his team may have come out smiling after the match for the customary post-match handshakes, but they must be ruing losing out on a certain victory in the first Test.

Kamran Akmal (109) and Abdul Razzaq (71) took the game away from them with a stunning display of grit and patience on the final day.

The Pakistanis have been accused of mindless play in the last few months. Saturday morning was a different story. They played with commonsense and fought hard, unwilling to give India an early weekend break. With the number of runs removed from the equation, the visitors came out fiercely concentrating on their job of saving the match.

They did that before declaring their second innings on 496 for 9 in the final session of the day and putting India in to bat for 17 overs.

India scored 85 for the loss of Virender Sehwag's wicket as the Test, at the PCA stadium in Mohali, Chandigarh, ended in a draw.

"It was difficult to watch," said Inzamam-ul Haq after the match, "With the position we were in, I was too nervous to watch the match."

The Pakistan captain had avoided sitting in the viewing gallery during Pakistan's second innings and must have missed the most resilient preformance by his team for a long time.

Akmal, for his match-saving performance, was adjudged the Man of the Match.

The batting would have given Pakistan heart as they were the underdogs going into the match. They can go to the next Test, in Kolkata, starting on March 16, with the psychological hurdle overcome.

Morning session: (112 runs, 35 overs, 0 wickets)

Razzaq, resuming on 22, showed a different facet of his game. The batsman played cautiously on Friday also, but it looked a matter of time before he would break free into a crazy assault. But, by the end of the first session on Saturday he did better. Never looking uncomfortable in a defensive mode, he accumulated 44 runs, but, more importantly, used up 188 balls.

Razzaq's bat came down behind the ball instead of going for a swish. The sword gave way to the shield. Gone was the restless spirit as he shouldered the responsibility of the senior man. He lent Akmal the rope to play his game without any inhibitions.

Akmal showed some spunk, driving freely to the pacers as well as spinners. It was a very effective innings by the young 'keeper. He kept the runs flowing at one end after Razzaq showed the determination to defend one end. His 75 off 110 balls, with 12 fours, meant that the runs also came at an easy pace.

Akmal also flayed the ball past the slips on a few occasions. But he kept finding the gaps and wasn't averse to cutting the ball through the gully and point region either. When the fast bowlers dug short, he employed the pull shot. When Anil Kumble, coming round the wicket, tried to attack the leg stump, he swept him for four. He had an answer to almost anything. All the Indian strategies were thrown out of the window.

The Indians may have come out a little complacent in the morning. Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji did not bowl a bad opening spell, but they were not sharp enough.

As Pakistan moved on without losing a wicket till the first drinks break of the day, the desperation of the Indian bowlers was felt as they tried to bounce out the batsmen. Zaheer Khan and Pathan's short balls ended up being so high that the umpire had to call them wide thrice.

But Zaheer was the best of the bowlers in the morning. He made Akmal drive and was able to induce the edge on three occasions but the ball dropped short of the slip fielders twice and eluded the outstretched hands of VVS Laxman, at wide second slip, in the 93rd over.

We saw edges falling short of the slip fielders and yet the Indians kept standing in positions they marked on the first day.

Dinesh Karthik's performance was a big disappointment. The day started for him with four byes down the leg side off Pathan and the Indian spinners constantly beat the wicketkeeper. Karthik also found it difficult to collect the ball.

The Pakistani batsmen looked in some doubt when Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were introduced into the attack. The fifth day pitch afforded a lot of turn for the two part-timers and Tendulkar had a few close calls against Razzaq.

Kumble has always proven more effective with greater bounce than turn and this would have probably been the ideal pitch for off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.

When the batsmen came out for lunch, the Pakistan dressing room rightly gave them a standing ovation. Coach Bob Woolmer's eyes brimmed with pleasure and pride.

Post-Lunch session: 90 runs, 27 overs, 2 wickets

Pakistan came out from the lunch break fiddling with the idea of giving India a sporting chase. The batsmen were not content with blocking the ball and went after the Indian bowlers. Akmal had two quick boundaries under the belt and Razzaq lost his cool for a brief while after completing his fifty with a neat drive through cover for two.

He first mistimed Kumble, trying to lift him over long-on. The ball lobbed over mid-on, Ganguly ran backwards and dived to make the catch but it fell just wide.

Razzaq thumped the next ball for a straight six.

At the other end, Akmal cut and drove with panache. He scored 41 runs behind point, 36 between point and extra cover, one through mid-off and one through mid-on. It shows that the batsman was comfortable driving on the front foot or shifting his weight on the back foot to cut behind the stumps.

Resuming on 75 after lunch, Akmal coasted to a hundred. Though he was cramping up towards his ninety, the batsman did not look in any trouble negotiating the Indian bowlers. He brought up his first Test century with a cover-drive for four and thus became the only Pakistani wicketkeeper to score centuries in Test as well as One-Day International.

The game was drifting away from India. The crowd was stunned as the Pakistan batsmen refused to flinch. The Pakistani dressing room, looking somber in the morning was churning out a few smiles. The dark clouds had blown over.

Harbhajan Singh instilled life into the match. The off-spinner was substituting for skipper Ganguly and his home crowd finally found a reason to cheer. He also goaded them on.

Dravid, who took over the reigns, immediately brought in a third slip for the fast bowlers and added a fielder around the bat for Kumble. The 32-year-old vice-captain was more attacking than Ganguly and brought about the desired result.

The long-awaited wicket finally came when Balaji had Akmal driving hard to the cover. The fielder had come in a few steps and completed a good low catch, diving to his left. The crowd was delighted. Harbhajan was the man who had helped India take the wicket after 184 runs and almost three sessions of play.

The partnership between Razzaq and Akmal was the highest and the first century stand for the seventh wicket at Mohali.

Balaji used the old ball craftily. During the final spell before tea, he used the slower ball cleverly and also got the ball to reverse swing.

The afternoon crowd had now come alive. The chances of an Indian win sunk but they wanted to see some action from the home team.

And, as happens with most big partnerships, once Akmal was out, Razzaq soon followed. The Pakistan all-rounder had held to his end stoically for 350 minutes.

He tried to cut Kumble but got a thick edge into the hands of Dravid at first slip. Dravid, who had dropped two similar catches on Friday, held on to a difficult chance after juggling with the ball. He was unsighted by the 'keeper as the ball cut in sharply, but Dravid made it in the end.

It looked like Pakistan would declare at some stage, to make India bat after almost starting at an innings defeat on the fourth afternoon.

Post-Tea session: Pakistan innings: (37 runs, 7 overs, one wicket)

The Pakistani batsmen, especially Naved-ul Hassan Rana, came out guns blazing after the break.

Sami stumbled to 10 from 49 balls before being caught and bowled by Kumble. He hit the ball hard down the wicket, to the left of Kumble, but the bowler stuck out his hand to come up with a low diving catch. The Indian leg-spinner sat crossed legged in disbelief on the wicket. In the process he took his Test wickets haul to 450.

With just one wicket remaining, Rana blasted four boundaries and hit a six off Kumble over the long-on boundary.

With the score 496 for 9, seven overs after tea, Inzamam declared the innings.

The Indian bowling line-up has bailed the team out of trouble in the recent past, but it was unable to snap the Pakistan tail. Pathan and Zaheer lacked the edge, and though Balaji bowled an impressive spell with the old ball, the effort was too late in the day.

Kumble too was disappointing on the final day. Despite wearing out during the course of the match, the wicket had good bounce but the leg-spinner didn't use it to the full. With the batsman also not ready to give him the charge in the first two sessions, his flighted deliveries too did not get the purchase.

India innings: (85 runs, 17 overs , 1 wicket)

With Pakistan declaring after taking a lead of 292 runs, it meant that the second innings for India fettered into batting practice. Even with the result rendered impossible, the crowd stuck around for some action from the Indian batsmen.

It was Gautam Gambhir who took charge of the proceedings. He cracked the first four of the innings, cutting Mohammed Sami through point. While Gambhir took most strike, Sehwag looked disinterested in the game.

He had scored only three runs when Gambhir was sitting pretty on 26. The latter was lucky as he was dropped off Danish Kaneria at silly point. A relatively simple bat-pad chance was spilled by Salman Butt.

Sehwag woke up when Younis Khan was introduced in to the attack in the 15th over.

The Pakistan vice-captain had hardly done anything right in the game. His bowling did not start any differently either. The right-hander chopped the first ball to third man boundary and then pulled Khan for four in front of mid-wicket. The batsman notched up 13 runs from Khan's first over.

He was now willing to throw his bat around.

The first ball he faced off Khan in the next over, he hit an inside-out drive for four. Sehwag, on 36, went for another big shot, dancing down the track, but was comfortably stumped by Akmal.

With India on 85 for one, the two captains agreed to call off the match.

"When we went in to the match today morning, we knew we had to get in just one good ball and the rest of the wickets would follow. But they batted superbly," said Ganguly after the match.

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Deepti Patwardhan