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Since 1st March, 1999
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Shoaib says ball slipped; Dhoni is gracious
- With India taking lead, it’s bound to get tougher for Sourav

Faisalabad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Shoaib Akhtar were in the news on Tuesday, too. The latter for hurling a beamer at the century-smashing wicketkeeper and Dhoni himself for posting 1 48, the third highest score by an Indian with the big gloves.

Back at the hotel (Serena), Shoaib told The Telegraph he’d “apologised” then itself, but added Dhoni “may not have heard.” Explaining that the ball slipped, he said: “As you can see, I’ve got this cut in the webbing... I’d applied some spit there... What I bowled wasn’t intentional...”

Dhoni didn’t hear any apology, but was gracious: “The ball must have slipped... I’m sure the beamer wasn’t intentional...” That ‘slip’ occurred after India’s latest Test centurion took three consecutive fours off the Pakistan spearhead.

Shoaib was issued the mandatory warning, but could have continued. However, stand-in captain Younis Khan didn’t look at him after that dramatic third over of his in the morning. It was, in a way, a tactical move.

On Monday (Day-III of the second Test), Shoaib targeted Dhoni for sledging and made an ‘issue’ of his “we’re ready for him” comment on the eve of the tour. Apparently, he spat: “Such big statements... Let’s see your courage...”

As has been documented, Dhoni countered so aggressively that Shoaib forgot where to pitch. Given what had happened, being hit to the fence three times in as many balls ' and, so early in the day ' was the proverbial last straw.

Asked whether Dhoni’s innings impressed him, Shoaib sneered: “I scored 47, but given another go yesterday, would have got a century... Aise wicket pe century karna koi kamaal nahin hai...”

Dhoni and Co. better be prepared for thunderbolts in Karachi (venue of the third Test, from Sunday) as well. Incidentally, nobody will speak on record, but the Indians have “strong reservations” about Shoaib’s action.

By the way, Dhoni picked a six each off Shoaib (a pull) and Danish Kaneria (lofted, which cleared the Iqbal Stadium) as his “most satisfying” hits. Sending the cherry out of the park had been a “top desire.”

For India’s man of the moment, the most touching compliment came from the one and only Kapil Dev ' “Dhoni’s my hero now...” Really, it can’t get better than that.

While Dhoni added 32 to his overnight 116, his comrade in the mother of all (recent) rescue acts, Irfan Pathan, fell ten short of his maiden century. Just last month, he’d scored 93 (as opener) against Sri Lanka at the Kotla.

With their record-busting sixth-wicket partnership worth 210, India managed a 15-run lead. Hardly anybody would have placed a wager on that bottomline with the score 281 for five and Shoaib bowling as he did in the explosive Asian Test Championship face-off at the Eden seven years ago.

That the Test is going to be drawn got confirmed (to the extent possible in cricket, that is) when stand-in opener Kamran Akmal and Younis took Pakistan to 152 for one at stumps. Coach Bob Woolmer was overheard remarking “such tedious cricket.”

The classy Younis has completed his second fifty of the match. Akmal, who managed a blob in innings No.1, is unbeaten on 59. He was asked to partner Salman Butt as Shoaib Malik is still in Sialkot, where his father is dying of liver cancer.

Meanwhile, with India forging ahead despite fielding one specialist batsman less, the odds are bound to get tougher for Sourav Ganguly. Now, it will surely be even more difficult for a comeback in Karachi.

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