| Greg Chappell
Karachi: Rahul Dravid has repeatedly been talking of “fresh challenges” and the need to “constantly raise the bar.” With Pakistan taking a vice-like grip on the final Test, the biggest challenge is at hand and unless the bar is raised appreciably, Team India will lose this three-match series.
With three days remaining, the visitors have to do all the running at the National Stadium. The only positive development, so to say, is that the wicket has become easier.
Indeed, Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh’s 81-run partnership for the fifth wicket and Irfan Pathan’s chancy 40 couldn’t prevent the hosts from taking a seven-run lead ' small where numbers go, but big considering they were six down for 39. At stumps on Monday, that swelled to 180, with eight wickets intact.
Regular (and inspirational) captain Inzamam-ul Haq isn’t playing, but stand-in boss Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf are back among runs. Unbeaten on 25 and 30, respectively, Younis has now taken 1,000-plus off India in Tests with Yousuf enrolling himself in the 5,000 club.
Pakistan got off to a robust start with openers Salman Butt and Imran Farhat hitting fifties. Butt posted his first of the series, while Farhat got one in his comeback. Both, incidentally, fell after tea when conditions at the National Stadium change in the manner of the old Eden Gardens.
Speedster Mohammed Asif believes it’s an “open” match, but few are going to agree with his assessment.
The day, of course, could have been Sourav’s. The former captain, however, nullified his own hard work ' which included seeing off the fast and furious Shoaib Akhtar’s spell ' by pulling an Abdul Razzaq delivery (pitched outside off) into Asif’s hands.
Sourav scored 34, but what stood out was the way he negotiated Shoaib. Often accused of backing away from demanding challenges, he stood firm and even took boundaries off the spearhead. Asif, who has trained under Dennis Lillee at the MRF Academy, had also been a threat.
“I played a poor shot... I shouldn’t have given it away... But, then, these things happen,” is how Sourav reacted in a chat (at the Sheraton) with The Telegraph. Asked whether he’d been upset at again being overlooked for the ODIs, he replied: “Nowadays, I don’t worry about things beyond my control...”
Having made a point in the first innings, Sourav has to consolidate in the next. He didn’t say so, but one needn’t guess he’s on trial each time he takes guard. That scenario may not change in a hurry. In any case, no matter the conditions, a 34 cannot guarantee anything.
Meanwhile, there are whispers that a report in a local daily headlined ‘Chappell was not in favour of selecting Ganguly for Karachi Test’ has caused disquiet in the Team India dressing room. Nobody wished to speak about it, but Chappell’s stand on Sourav isn’t exactly a state secret.
It’s an unfortunate situation and Dravid risks being caught in the crossfire.