Bangalore Test, Day 1
The run up to the Bangalore Test was replete with the debris of the hurly burly of Test Match cricket. Injured players, sick players, reluctant captains, eleventh hour confusion about replacements, a selector under siege and an untested pitch promised an interesting Test Match. In a series devoid of any great individual contests, there has rarely been a dull moment. The atmosphere at the Chinnaswamy Stadium was electric as Anil Kumble won the toss on home turf and decided to bat first.
Shoaib Akhtar looked healthy again, and the Indian opening combination - Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir faced up to some genuinely quick bowling. Shoaib being Shoaib, it was too good to last, and he soon began clutching his back and getting treatment between overs. Given how unpredictable Shoaib's fitness is, it is not surprising that Younis Khan doesn't want to captain Pakistan.
Runs were difficult to come by nevertheless, and even though the Pakistan new ball pair did not threaten to take wickets, they did not bowl poorly. They bowled to their field, and with the batsmen choosing to ignore most offerings outside off stump, for much of the first hour, bat ignored ball. Gautam Gambhir fell early to Mohammad Sami, caught at the wicket as he pushed speculatively at one that moved just that little bit off the seam.
At the other end, Wasim Jaffer found the fielders with unerring regularity, with the result that India were off to a slow start. Rahul Dravid came to the wicket to a grand ovation and set about the Pakistan bowling as though he meant business. The deceptive Arafat came on as first change, and before long Dravid aimed a square cut at one which seamed in just a tad off a shortish length and also bounced extra, only to see a resulting edge fly to Misbah Ul Haq at first slip. 44/2.
Arafat was warming to the task on his Test debut and the fact that he came into this Test with 520 first class wickets at 22.43 showed in his bowling. He bowled an immaculate length and made the batsmen play without ever drifting down leg side. Wasim Jaffer fell to one which nipped back from outside off stump off a great length, while VVS fell to one which kept low and sneaked in under his bat to knock back his off stump. 61/4. Both wickets were the result of a fine length.
Having chosen to bat first, India were in trouble at this stage, and all the old memories of the Bangalore jinx came to mind. The wicket seemed perfectly playable and India looked like they were going to throw away the significant advantage of first use. Enter Yuvraj Singh at the stroke of lunch.
Yuvraj Singh proceeded to play a sumptuous innings. Shoaib bowled a spell after lunch, which Yuvraj and Ganguly navigated successfully. Once he had left the scene, the two Indian southpaws set about the bowling - each in their own distinctive way. Yuvraj was all expansive stroke play with that magnificient high backlift, while Ganguly was all class, seemingly holding himself back all the time.
Difficult situations seem to bring out the best in the former Indian captain, and he and Yuvraj proceeded to light up the Chinnaswamy stadium in a triple century partnership in just two sessions of play. Yuvraj first mastered and then dominated a Pakistan attack already reeling from an acute sense of deja vu thanks to Shoaib's visit to the hospice. Having hammered the bowling into submission, Yuvraj proceeded to milk the bowling in the last hour of the day. He made a century in the session after tea. The Greenpeace army cheered on as the two Indian left handers sizzled - Ganguly's deftness being matched and surpassed by Yuvraj's powerful display. Having waited a year and a half after an eminently forgettable run of scores in the Tests in West Indies in 2006, Yuvraj left an indelible mark. Dilip Vengsarkar watched from the stands as his masterstroke from 2006 continued to yield pure gold and Yuvraj Singh proceeded to create another impossible situation for him selection wise.
Younis Khan, for his part, was his usual magnificient self. He kept trying something or the other and was finally rewarded when Yuvraj fell against the run of play in the final moments of the second day to the second new ball. In walked Dinesh Karthik at number 7, to face the second new ball, under immense pressure with nothing to gain and everything to lose in the final 3 overs of the day. It was here that Ganguly showed his class. In Sami's final over, Ganguly played the 4th ball towards the point fence and with the man on the fence and hesitated to take the easy single that was on offer, trying to shield Dinesh Karthik for the last two balls of the day. Karthik of course was having none of it, and played out the last two balls of the day with aplomb.
At 5/365, India are not out of the woods by any means. But they have given themselves the opportunity to produce a huge first innings score and seal the series. Until Yuvraj established himself on this newly laid wicket, that looked quite unlikely.
What twists will tomorrow throw up? Shoaib is likely to be available to bowl tomorrow. With Irfan Pathan still to come, India will fancy their chances of reaching 500. This is Ganguly's chance of making a Test double. I really hope that he makes the 75 runs required tomorrow.