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Since 1st March, 1999
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Excited captain targets Friday finish

Rawalpindi, April 15: For half-a-century, teams from India set out aiming not to lose in Pakistan. The current side landed wanting to win. Today, in the decider, Sourav Ganguly’s team is eight wickets from rewriting the sub-continent’s cricket history.

Powered by Rahul Dravid’s career-best 270, the stalwart’s latest epic which spanned beyond 12 hours in taxing conditions, India’s first innings ended at 600 — exactly 100 more than what Sourav targeted. That ensured a lead of 376 and, by stumps on the third day, Pakistan was tottering at 49 for two.

“Yes, there’s some excitement.... I’m looking to finish it off tomorrow itself, but we’ve got work to do,” said Sourav in a chat with The Telegraph on returning to the Marriott in Islamabad.

Unusually fidgety, he added: “Our bowlers will have to bowl line-and-length.... That’s it.... The rest is going to be done by the awesome lead we’ve taken.... Actually, it’s becoming difficult finding the right words to praise Rahul....”

Sourav, of course, is on the verge of overtaking Mohammed Azharuddin as the captain with the most Test victories (14). So, a personal bit of history too awaits him. Significantly, Sourav is already ahead in percentage-terms.

Pakistan, in fact, are as good as four wickets down because Asim Kamal’s mobility is still restricted — following a Sourav pull late yesterday — and Shoaib Akhtar has a “suspected side muscle tear” in addition to a swollen left wrist.

Neither took the field during the day.

“Both should bat, though they aren’t fit as yet,” acknowledged manager Haroon Rashid. Asked whether the deathly silence in the Pakistan dressing room this evening was indicative of the towel being thrown-in, he responded: “Oh no.... There’s hope.... In any case, our best batsmen (Inzamam-ul Haq and Yousuf Youhana) haven’t taken guard....”

The “best batsmen”, however, appear diffident: Neither came out at the fall of the second wicket although almost five overs remained till stumps. Either the captain or vice-captain ought to have made a statement, instead ’keeper Kamran Akmal was sent as nightwatchman.

Beginning the day on 342 for four, the Indian innings continued till 53 minutes after tea. First to go was Sourav himself, and in embarrassing manner: Failing to ground his bat. He scored 77 high-value runs, but missed what could have been a memorable hundred.

Yuvraj Singh, the next man in, also helped himself to runs but the cynosure was Dravid. He did have another let-off and Rudi Koertzen gave a second benefit of doubt (after David Shepherd yesterday), but that shouldn’t take anything away from a character-packed effort.

Talking exclusively, a drained-out Dravid said: “Technically, the 233 in Adelaide will be better.... However, if we seal a win here, then, Jesus.... This 270 is going to be the best knock of my life.... Am I disappointed at missing a triple' I’m pleased with what I got.”

Incidentally, this about-to-end season has seen three double hundreds from Dravid, the sequence beginning with 222 in Ahmedabad. He has done a Bradman.

Postscript: The Pakistanis are convinced they had Dravid on the second day, but Inzamam very publicly warmly congratulated the Indian vice-captain on his double hundred.

Sourav, though, wasn’t too impressed: “Look, the way Rahul is batting, the world would like to wish him....”

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