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First Test on razor’s edge
- Pakistan 167 in front with 5 wickets in hand

New Delhi: Salman Butt was set to shatter a myth when Indian spinners decided to intervene.

For the first two days in the first Test between India and Pakistan, the unfriendly Kotla pitch was described as the prime reason for batsmen’s failure. It was widely expected to deteriorate on Day III.

On Saturday, Butt showed how wrong it was to blame the turf for lack of application. For 217 minutes, the opener played brilliantly for his 67 — studded with 11 hits to the fence.

Had the visitors not suffered a slump in the post-tea session, Butt’s innings could have taken Pakistan to a position of greater comfort. The tourists dispersed for tea at 108 for one, only to find Indian spinners retaliate in the final session.

At stumps on Day III, Pakistan, 161 for five at one stage, finished at 212 without further damage.

Some lusty hitting by Misbah-ul Haq in the later stages took them past the 200-mark. Play was called off early because of bad light in the 66th over. Pakistan, ahead by 167 runs, would be in a position to call the shots if the lower order fires again.

Early on Saturday, India, 228 for six overnight, could manage a lead of only 45 runs as they folded up for 276 just 50 minutes into the morning session.

Leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, who returned with figures of four for 59, proved to be the most effective. He wiped out the Indian tail to leave V.V.S. Laxman stranded on an unbeaten 72. The focus was once again on Anil Kumble for his bowling as well as astute leadership. He did a flawless job on both counts.

Kumble’s handling of bowlers was judicious and productive. The masterstroke was to introduce Harbhajan Singh from the Delhi Gate end post tea when there was talk about the Punjab off-spinner being under-bowled.

Harbhajan dealt a huge blow with the first delivery of his second spell when he sent back Mohammed Yousuf caught and bowled for 18.

Kumble was equally effective, but not his fielders. At forward short leg, Wasim Jaffer dropped Misbah off Kumble when he was on one. The flamboyant batsman celebrated by hitting Harbhajan for two sixes in one over. Still batting on 29, Misbah’s innings could make a lot of difference.

Despite this, Kumble had three wickets in his kitty for 55 runs, including that of Butt, who edged into Dravid’s hands at slip. His dismissal was a bigger relief than sending back Younis Khan or Mohammed Yousuf.

The magnitude of Butt’s innings shouldn’t be judged by the number of runs he scored. The innings came at a time when two of Pakistan’s most experienced batsmen — Younis and Yousuf — had once again failed to rise to the occasion.

Like in the first essay, Kumble used Sourav Ganguly in three spells. Ganguly didn’t pick up a wicket but bowled with a lot of control and accuracy. In eight overs, he gave away only 16 runs.

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