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A gripping series-decider on the cards

It was disappointing for me that I was not part of the team that won a terrific Test match and set the stage for a grand finale in Rawalpindi next week. I had never encountered groin problems in my international career but just two days before the Lahore Test the pain left me with no choice other than to skip the game.

I was surprised when Rahul Dravid won the toss and gave our seamers an opportunity on a lively track that had a lot of bounce. But then it's not easy to read the wickets of the sub-continent that are famous for their docile nature.

Cricket is a game of grabbing opportunities at the right time and the young seamer Umar Gul couldn't have got a better one with the track suiting his type of bowling. Despite Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami's struggle to find the right line and length on a perfect track in the first innings, Gul did not lose heart and forced the Indian batsmen to make mistakes with his pin-point accurate bowling.

The secret of success against any strong opposition is in how long a bowler can frustrate a batsman by bowling the ball in the right areas and Gul did exactly that with utmost perfection. His initial burst of five wickets in an unchanged spell of 12 overs under hot conditions damaged the back of the Indian batting line-up.

Unfortunately Gul suffered from dehydration and this gave India a breather. Yuvraj Singh pounced on the opportunity and played one of the finest stroke-filled Test innings I have witnessed under pressure. Had Gul continued his good work for three more overs, I am sure India couldn't have got out of trouble.

But this Indian team certainly has the fighting spirit. Irfan Pathan has the potential to become an useful all-rounder and he showed it with some crisp boundaries in his century stand with Yuvraj that gave the Indian total a healthy look. I think after the first day, the demons in the wicket took a day off as the Indian bowlers bowled to a disciplined line and length but couldn't find assistance as much as our bowlers did on the first day.

Credit goes to skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq for leading the side from the front with a superb century, but I am more happy for Imran Farhat who has been struggling with his form in the recent past. They handled Pathan's left-arm seam bowling with a lot of grit and determination and on a grassy wicket, it was difficult for Anil Kumble to get much help as we planned our innings session by session instead of going for our shots. It paid rich dividends in the end.

Though India hit back strongly through Pathan and we lost Youhana and Inzamam in quick succession on the third day, I think Asim Kamal cemented our position with a superb innings of 73. He displayed controlled aggression and ensured Pakistan got a psychological advantage with a big first innings lead.

It is always difficult for a team to bat under pressure and India faced the same music we did in the first Test at Multan. The pressure of wiping off a deficit is not easy and even a world-class player of Sachin Tendulkar's calibre can crack. If our captain's run out was a decisive factor in the Indian victory at Multan, Dravid's dismissal in a similar fashion sealed our victory even before the teams had tea on the third day.

Gul saved a Very Very Special delivery for a Very Very Special Laxman that comprehensively beat one of the most technically correct batsman in world cricket. For Akhtar and Sami, there was at least one session on the third day evening which would have given them the much-needed lift before the final Test.

They are getting their rhythm back just before the series decider. That is a good sign for Pakistan. No one could have asked for a better finish to this historic Test series which has gone right down to the wire with both teams equally capable of beating the other. But then, there can be only one winner and the team that plays better should take the cup.

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