SPORT

Inzamam-ul-Haq delights with delectable knock

EARLY STRIKE: It was only the second time in the day that the Indian team celebrated when Irfan Pathan had Yaseer Hameed caught behind. After that it was a long day in the sun for the Indians. - Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

EARLY STRIKE: It was only the second time in the day that the Indian team celebrated when Irfan Pathan had Yaseer Hameed caught behind. After that it was a long day in the sun for the Indians. - Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash  

BANGALORE, MARCH 24. It was an effort of delectable touch and effortless ease, conjured more than constructed. The man who meets the ball with the sweet portion of his willow had timed a hundred in his century of Tests.

On Thursday the crowd at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, reaching out to a modest cricketer of extraordinary deeds, erupted as Inzamam-ul-Haq turned Irfan Pathan to reach the three-figure mark. Walking in with Pakistan at seven for two, Inzamam, in a captain's innings, was on a majestic 184 when the stumps were drawn.

Vice-captain Younis Khan underlined his surging confidence after a mental blackout at Mohali, with a fine supporting hand of an unbeaten 127, his second century of the series. And Pakistan ended the first day of the third TVS Cup Test at an imposing 323 for two. The unconquered third-wicket duo has already gathered 316 runs in 526 deliveries, the highest Pakistani partnership for any wicket in India, on a pitch offering little to the bowlers.

Thumbs-up

In the morning, even as he strode out with his Indian counterpart Sourav Ganguly, Inzamam received a thumbs-up signal from Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan.

He got the spin of the coin right for the first time in the series, returned for a group snap with his men, and then was felicitated for his 100th Test achievement with cricketers from both the sides lining up to applaud him.

Emotions must have been swirling around him as entered the middle just 2.5 overs after play began. In the fact that Inzamam, without being overwhelmed by the occasion, remained an ocean of equanimity in a situation of crisis, lies his biggest achievement.

He went past the mark of 149 by Gordron Greenidge for the highest knock in a cricketer's hundredth Test - Colin Cowdrey, Javed Miandad, and Alec Stewart are the other century-makers in their 100th Test - and now also has the highest individual score in Bangalore.

Valuable toss to win

It was a valuable toss for Pakistan to win on what was a benign track. From the evidence of the first day, the pitch, which appears to be bound firm, should not break.

However, this surface could prove a slow turner from late on the third day, with the odd delivery keeping low.

If Pakistan registers a total beyond 600, then it could be in a position to apply some pressure on the Indians by setting attacking fields for its three spinners; off-spinner Arshad Khan has been included in the eleven.

It was a long, hard day for the Indian bowlers and fielders and all they could do was hope. The ball disappeared to the different corners even as Inzamam and Younis built up a mammoth stand.

The Test had begun on a rousing note for India. Shahid Afridi was drawn like a moth to fire to a Lakshmipathy Balaji delivery on a length outside the off-stump and was taken by Rahul Dravid in the cordon.

Minutes later, Yasir Hameed, who replaced Taufeeq Umar as an opener, flashed at an Irfan Pathan delivery to be caught behind. Then Inzamam assumed control. The feature of the 35-year-old batsman's 21st century was the manner he found the gaps, whether driving the ball between point and cover, or flicking between square-leg and mid-wicket.

He reached his half-century in 85 balls with a lovely cover drive off Harbhajan, who did not deliver a doorsa on day one. Inzamam lofted Kumble over long-on and then square-cut the bowler to move into his 90s and soon arrived his century in only 131 balls; he clearly changed gears during his second 50.

The Pakistan skipper celebrated the occasion by lifting his bat and even swinging his arms in a rare display of joy, before concentrating hard for a longer vigil at the crease. His 150 consumed just 209 balls.

Younis' eighth century

Younis suffered in comparison to Inzamam's ethereal strokeplay, but did essay some fierce square-cuts and some sparkling cover-drives. He got to his eighth Test hundred in 211 deliveries with an edged stroke off Kumble, and then punched the air in delight.

There was a moment of concern during his innings though. Younis dismissed Harbhajan over the long - on ropes and then miscued a stroke over mid-off and before long there was an exchange of words between the two. Umpire Billy Bowden and Inzamam had to intervene quickly. Soon Harbhajan and Younis were smiling again.

Kumble had a rare off day, tending to stray down the leg-side, and Harbhajan's search for rhythm proved futile.

The second new ball was taken after 84 overs, but made little impression. Inzamam's thundering square-cut off the day's last ball from Balaji summed up the proceedings.

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