| Rahul Dravid sweeps en route to his 135 at the Eden on Saturday. Pictures by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: To many in Pakistan cricket, Shahid Afridi is still a kid who has failed to mature. 'People have tried their level best to drill into his head that he can bat. But not much of it stays,' says Aamer Sohail. Latent technique takes a backseat as the urge to hit out comes often to the fore.
'He has had so many opportunities' I still rate him as a kid. If you give a five-year-old a bat and you throw a ball at him, his first instinct will be to hit, very hard. In international cricket, a kid too, gradually learns. But Afridi remains a four-year-old to me. If he hits a six, or a two or a three, it is good for him. But eventually he is going to throw it away,' the former captain had said before the second Test.
It's not that the 25-year-old showed a much-changed attitude at the Eden on Saturday. But it was Afridi's run-a-ball 59, which hit the Indians like a Nor'wester in the evening, that threw the match wide open. It would be no surprise if this game were to reach the final session with possible edge-of-the-seat excitement.
Pakistan still need 327 in 90 overs. The only encouragement for the hosts on this slow and low pitch are the footmarks on either side of the wicket. If the not-so-prodigious turn will worry India, the pressure element will equally weigh on the batsmen's mind.
If Afridi added a new dimension to the game, Rahul Dravid and Dinesh Karthik's 165-run partnership in 288 balls for the fifth wicket nearly put it beyond the visitors. When the declaration finally came, 55 minutes after tea, Pakistan needed 422.
It didn't look rosy for India in the morning. Mohammed Sami did well to utilise the moisture with a spell that had the batsmen in a spot. His rhythm was disturbing while also managing to get considerable bounce from the wicket.
Pakistan's strategy against Sourav Ganguly was very clear ' unsettle him with the short-pitched stuff. After hanging around for 33 minutes, he perished in a desperate attempt to wriggle out. The intended pull didn't go beyond short mid-wicket and Sami did well to complete the catch. Sourav is yet to be among runs in the series and will be under pressure in Bangalore.
The Pakistan offensive continued, this time V.V.S. Laxman failed to defend a short delivery, the impact of the ball hitting the visor of the helmet resulted in a swollen left eyebrow. He was forced to retire due to problems of vision resulting out of the knock and it looked like Pakistan were back with a bang. He recovered, came back later and scored 22 more runs.
Dravid, all this while, was his usual cool self, not one bit affected by the adversities. Karthik gave him the much-needed support. The vice-captain was not just timing the ball to perfection, he evoked a sense of confidence and purpose in the Indian ranks.
The circumstances never disturbed Dravid as he inspired his younger partner to carry on the good work. In reaching his 20th career hundred, he also notched a hundred in each innings of a Test for the second time.
Karthik was a revelation. His keeping in the first innings was hardly assuring, but he never allowed that to disturb his concentration. Picking up the loose deliveries with ease, he played like an established batsman capable of shredding the attack into pieces. He never let the pressure affect his batting.
His over-enthusiasm also resulted in a warning from umpire Darrel Hair for running onto the danger area. The career-best 93 was richly deserved, though he should have reached his hundred.
Dravid left to a tired shot and Karthik was bowled round his legs, but Laxman and Pathan, especially the latter, helped extend the lead.
Then it was time for the Afridi onslaught. Sourav's well-laid out plan ultimately paid off. Kumble pitched one outside leg and as Afridi went for the sweep, the ball ballooned into the hands of Sourav, who had positioned himself at short fine leg.
The dismissal is sure to boost the Indians' morale, but Afridi had placed the match on an even platter. One can only hope for the weather to hold true for a scintillating final day in the second TVS Cup tie.