Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Younis hundred helps Pakistan salvage draw

Younis Khan lodged himself firmly between India and a series triumph on the final day of the second Test at Eden Gardens, leading his side to an unlikely, morale-boosting draw. Younis, standing in as captain for the injured Shoaib Malik, hit his 15th Test hundred and fifth against India, accepting help from a familiar face as he kept Pakistan alive to fight another day. A 136-run partnership with Mohammad Yousuf dragged them from a peril to safety, both captains calling it a day at 214 for 4 with half an hour of play left.

India were disappointingly lethargic, except for brief periods in the afternoon or when Anil Kumble was involved. Kumble had brought the game alive in the afternoon, with two wickets. But as the two Y's came together with another century partnership - their ninth - even Kumble's tenacity wasn't to be enough.

Younis especially was determined: as captain, his side had to be rescued and following low scores against his favourite opponent, here was the perfect opportunity to rectify that. He was also familiar with the situation, having faced similar ones against South Africa recently. So familiar in fact that he graced the occasion with a third hundred in four Tests, each of them in the fourth innings of a Test.

It says much about his character and his batting that you can't call the innings a dogged, dour rearguard. There was much studious defence, but he never dawdled. What runs were on offer, were gladly taken. Having arrived in the first over after lunch, he brought up his fifty in the last over before tea.

After it, he seemed to speed up, pulling Zaheer Khan to bring up the fifty stand and continued in much the same manner through the session. Only Kumble posed a serious challenge, troubling him with googlies and trapping him plumb when in the 90s (Rudi Koertzen disagreed) but even he was driven and cut for pleasing boundaries. No shot better captured the innings than the reverse-sweep which brought up his hundred: defiant, unbowed and positive.

Yousuf meanwhile helped himself back into some form. He was unusually quiet to begin with, recognition of the pressure of the Test and his own lack of runs. But a fluid punch through point off Munaf Patel eased him gently into the role of Younis's second fiddle, one in which he didn't falter. By tea, he was set and after it was rarely hassled, choosing occasionally to stroke a cover drive, but opting generally to pat balls back.

Anil Kumble snared two wickets early to raise Indian hopes © AFP

India helped them with a surprisingly inert display after tea. The inactivity was captured best by the inside edge on to Yousuf's pad, which looped up in the air, barely a foot from two close-in fielders. Bizarrely, neither made even an attempt. Harbhajan Singh, the bowler, complained rightly, but perhaps not too much for he was flat through much of the day, mirroring Danish Kaneria's disappointing last-day performance at Delhi. He searched constantly, for the right angle, the right line, the right length, but fruitlessly.

Only Kumble it was who pushed and it was because of him India had a sniff at all. They had declared almost an hour into the morning, setting Pakistan 345 runs or 81 overs to survive. Zaheer got rid of Yasir Hameed before Kumble took over.

Second ball after lunch, Kamran Akmal was bowled by a rare, fair-spinning leg-break. The situation thereafter was made for Kumble: no real chance of the opposition chasing, a fifth-day surface and nervy batsmen naturally keen to push on, trying instead to defend. The appearance of threat was there in every ball, even if the actuality of it wasn't. Fielders encircled batsmen as a lynch mob might an unfortunate, dust flew up off the pitch, and Kumble was the centre of all focus.

Even though nothing happened for nearly an hour after that breakthrough - Harbhajan as much as a cussed Salman Butt to blame - Kumble was not to be denied. Coming round the wicket, he soon trapped Butt. He then replaced Harbhajan with Munaf Patel just after mid-day drinks, who produced in his first over what seemed then to be a pivotal moment. It was touched by genius as well, a slow off-break that nevertheless turned sharply enough to go through the defences of Misbah-ul-Haq, leaving Pakistan rocking at 78 for 4.

Both Patel and Kumble sniffed away, but it wasn't to last and as tea approached Younis and Yousuf dug themselves in. There they would stay after it, despite Kumble's best efforts.

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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