But for bad light…

The Indian team poses with the trophy after the series victory.-K. R. DEEPAK

Three more overs from Kumble and India could have scored a more comprehensive 2-0 series triumph over Pakistan. S. Dinakar reports.

A wizened former first-class cricketer once asked this writer to simply record how many deliveries in a session were on a proper line and length.

This could differ from batsman to batsman, bowler to bowler and from pitch to pitch. However, there is an imaginary common area from where the batsman would be forced to play every ball, with an element of risk involved, compelled to make the judgment whether to play or leave, thereby finding it hard to score runs.

This writer made this observation during the third Test at the Chinnaswamy Stadium and the results were disappointing. This was a surface of inconsistent bounce and at least two deliveries out of 20 tended to shoot through. There was an area outside the right-hander’s off-stump from where the ball darted in low into the batsman.

This pitch was no batting paradise. It only demanded consistent intensity from the bowlers.

A Glenn McGrath would have run through a side on this wicket with his off-cutters. A Derek Underwood would have cut a swathe through the line-up with control and accuracy.

Anil Kumble, a bowler belonging to the old school, almost did so on the final day with a probing mix of leg-spin and seam-up bowling. He hit the right areas and the batsmen had little clue.

Irfan Pathan ... maiden Test hundred.-K. R. DEEPAK

Only insufficient light bailed out Pakistan. Three more overs from Kumble and India could have scored a more comprehensive 2-0 series triumph over Pakistan.

However, the Indian skipper, for all his experience, was a let-down in the first innings. So were the other Indian bowlers, save Ishant Sharma in his final burst.

When stump to stump bowling was the need — incoming deliveries to the right-handers and balls moving away from off-stump fall in this category — a majority of the bowlers provided the batsmen width on either side. There were at least two poor deliveries every over. The Test match bowlers were not adhering to the basics; batting was made to look easy because the bowling lacked discipline.

Misbah-ul-Haq was at his usual best.-K. R. DEEPAK

In his final spell in the Pakistan first innings, Ishant bowled according to the requirement of the pitch. Essentially a bowler with the away-going ball as his stock delivery, Ishant seamed the ball in from around the off-stump from the good length area. He, correctly, delivered wide off the stumps, and got his angle right.

Bowlers who essentially take the ball away tend to release from close to the stumps. To bring the ball into the right-hander, Ishant had to make the technical switch without losing his length or direction.

The lanky bowler has possibilities. He is tall and wiry. The methods of this paceman from Delhi remind one of Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif. Ishant is sharp rather than quick and bowls an off-stump line. And he gets the ball to deviate late, which is an asset, and extracts surprising bounce.

He has a fluent run-up but tends to use more shoulder than what may be necessary. The young man should bring more of his non-bowling arm into play. If he uses his wrist more, he could get the delivery to swing in the air and seam off the pitch like Asif does. Ishant is young and he will learn. He did bowl creditably towards the end of the Pakistan innings in a four-wicket burst, which left him with a five-for in only his second Test. He mixed his off-cutters with a couple of scorching yorkers and a few well-directed short-balls.

An occasional lifter from a paceman on a surface of dubious bounce — such a ball has to be truly a surprise weapon — could impact how a batsman plays even if it does not fetch a wicket. Rightly, Ishant had a short-leg in place.

In the Indian second innings, V. V. S. Laxman suffered a blow on his left elbow while ducking into an Akhtar bouncer which did not climb. Fortunately for India, Laxman did not suffer a broken bone.

Irfan Pathan blitzed a maiden Test hundred in the first innings, but his comeback as a Test bowler was a mixed bag. The left-armer, with a more balanced action, bowled at a reasonable pace but, on occasions, erred in line. In the second innings, he should have operated from round the wicket to the right-handers. From over-the-wicket, his incoming balls need to be better disguised.

It did not reflect well on the specialist pacemen that Sourav Ganguly was the pick for most part of the first innings. He made the batsmen play and consumed a well-set Salman Butt, a southpaw, with a peach of an away-going delivery. He should have bowled more in the first innings.

Anil Kumble’s captaincy is based on cricketing acumen gathered over the years, but the bowler captain certainly erred in not giving Yuvraj Singh more than one over on the fourth day. The occasional left-arm spinner had threatened the right-handers on day three and Kumble missed a trick.

India’s original plan for the final Test included left-arm spinner Murali Kartik. However, a dense cloud cover leading up to the Test forced the selectors and the team-management to opt for a second paceman.

Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh produced a hugely entertaining partnership — the first 300-run association between two left-handers for India in Tests — with a blaze of strokes after India, opting to bat, lost four wickets for little on day one.

Opener Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj were included in the side following injuries to Sachin Tendulkar and M. S. Dhoni. Gambhir — opening the innings since Dinesh Karthik had to keep wickets in Dhoni’s absence — missed the opportunity but Yuvraj didn’t.

His innings of 169 (203b, 28x4, 1x6) was an effort of a very talented batsman. He picked the line in a jiffy and had time to play his shots. He found the gaps between point and cover with panache, pulled the short-pitched balls and drove straight down the ground.

The stand between Yuvraj and Ganguly showed how difficult it can be for bowlers to operate against an all-left combination. The Pakistani bowlers, dominant till that point, lost the plot. Debutant Yasser Arafat, taking the ball dangerously past the right-handers earlier, strayed down the leg-side against the southpaws. And in attempting to angle the ball across the southpaws, Sami gave the batsmen width. It was puzzling to see leg-spinner Danish Kaneria not bowling round the wicket to the left-handers. He did not probe them with googlies and the one that straightens off the pitch.

Sadly for Pakistan, Shoaib Akhtar suffered a back strain and left the field after lunch on day one. India finished the day at 365 for five — the highest day one Test score in India — and set up a potential win.

On the second, the smooth-stroking Ganguly (239, 30x4, 2x6) made the highest Test score by a left-hander for India.

Subsequently, India also earned a dubious record. The host’s 76 extras is the most by any Test side in an innings. And Dinesh Karthik conceded 35 byes, the most by an Indian ’keeper in Tests.

Yet, Karthik did not keep badly; some of the deliveries shot through and a few others travelled wide on either side. The bowlers were not on target. Had India utilised this pitch of low bounce better, Pakistan could have been dismissed below 350.

In the event, Pakistan progressed beyond the follow-on mark. Skipper Younis Khan’s 80 ended with an ill-advised reverse sweep off Harbhajan but the temperamentally sound Misbah-ul-Haq (133 not out, 322b, 17x4) rallied with the lower order where Kamran Akmal and Arafat were defiant.

Misbah’s tactics were interesting; he adapted well to the situations and the conditions. He also read the situation well which is crucial in Test cricket. Much of Misbah’s runs in the series have come under pressure.

He batted in the series with a slightly open stance which provided him more room to manoeuvre the ball on the off-side. This said, he also moved across and whipped the ball on the onside when Harbhajan attempted to drift the ball across the right-hander from round the wicket with a slip, a gully, and a silly point in place.

Earlier, Harbhajan had tried to bowl from round the wicket to the right-hander with two short-legs and a short mid-wicket which meant his line was leg-stumpish. This is a self-defeating tactic for an off-spinner. When India batted again, Akhtar was back. Ganguly, though, scintillated before missing his hundred in a moment of carelessness. Dravid was sound and solid off his front foot — he countered the low bounce in a technically pleasing manner — and Karthik’s half-century was a gem.

Kumble probably delayed his declaration but had strong reasons for batting Pakistan out of the Test. Eventually, Pakistan was set 374 in 48 overs for a series-levelling win. Then Kumble sliced through the line-up using the quicker balls to breach defences. The skipper’s control was admirable.

He found unlikely support in Yuvraj’s left-arm spin. Yuvraj’s armer prised out Misbah. The close-in cordon breathed down on the batsmen and the crowd roared with each delivery. Many of the balls were hugging the surface but Pakistan survived with a huge helping hand in the form of bad light. The playing conditions for the series did not include the use of artificial lights.

The Indians, nevertheless, celebrated. They had secured their first home Test series triumph over Pakistan in 27 years.

THE SCORES

Third Test, Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore, Dec. 8-12. Match drawn.

India — 1st innings: W. Jaffer lbw b Arafat 17; G. Gambhir c Akmal b Sami 5; R. Dravid c Misbah-ul-Haq b Arafat 19; S. Ganguly b Kaneria 239; V. V. S. Laxman b Arafat 5; Yuvraj Singh c Iqbal b Sami 169; D. Karthik c Akmal b Arafat 24; I. Pathan c Akmal b Kaneria 102; A. Kumble lbw b Kaneria 4; Harbhajan b Arafat 4; I. Sharma (not out) 0; Extras (b-13, lb-19, nb-6) 38. Total: 626.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-44, 3-51, 4-61, 5-361, 6-427, 7-605, 8-615, 9-620.

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 10-3-23-0; Sami 36-5-149-2; Arafat 39-5-161-5; Kaneria 46.2-8-168-3; Younis Khan 2-0-14-0; Butt 10-1-36-0; Hameed 7-0-43-0.

Pakistan — 1st innings: S. Butt c Karthik b Ganguly 68; Y. Hameed lbw b Kumble 19; Younis Khan b Harbhajan 80; M. Yousuf c Yuvraj b Pathan 24; Misbah-ul-Haq (not out) 133; F. Iqbal c Gambhir b I. Sharma 22; K. Akmal st. Karthik b Harbhajan 65; Y. Arafat b I. Sharma 44; M. Sami b I. Sharma 1; S. Akhtar c Gambhir b I. Sharma 1; D. Kaneria c & b I. Sharma 4; Extras (b-35, lb-26, nb-15) 76. Total: 537.

Fall of wickets: 1-59, 2-149, 3-221, 4-227, 5-288, 6-432, 7-525, 8-527, 9-529.

India bowling: Pathan 37-14-80-1; I. Sharma 33.1-10-118-5; Kumble 44-12-116-1; Ganguly 10-2-20-1; Harbhajan 38-7-131-2; Yuvraj 6-2-11-0.

India — 2nd innings: W. Jaffer lbw b Arafat 18; G. Gambhir b Akhtar 3; R. Dravid lbw b Kaneria 42; S. Ganguly c Iqbal b Sami 91; V. V. S. Laxman (retd. hurt) 14; Yuvraj Singh c Akmal b Sami 2; D. Karthik c Akmal b Arafat 52; I. Pathan (not out) 21; Extras (b-9, lb-24, nb-7, w-1) 41. Total (for six wkts., decl.) 284.

Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-26, 3-178, 4-178, 5-225, 6-284.

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 17-6-43-1; Sami 20-2-63-2; Arafat 13.3-3-49-2; Kaneria 26-2-96-1.

Pakistan — 2nd innings: S. Butt c Karthik b Kumble 8; Y. Hameed b Kumble 39; Younis Khan c & b Kumble 0; F. Iqbal c I. Sharma b Kumble 51; Misbah-ul-Haq b Yuvraj 37; K. Akmal b Kumble 0; M. Yousuf (not out) 10; Y. Arafat b Yuvraj 0; M. Sami (not out) 4; Extras (b-12, lb-1) 13. Total (for seven wkts.) 162.

Fall of wickets: 1-44, 2-44, 3-73, 4-144, 5-144, 6-148, 7-154.

India bowling: Pathan 7-4-30-0; I. Sharma 6-3-22-0; Kumble 14-2-60-5; Harbhajan 6-1-28-0; Yuvraj 3-0-9-2.