Singh, Ganguly on the attack against Pakistan

Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly hammered explosive centuries to lead India’s fightback in the third and final Test against Pakistan in Bangalore on Saturday.

Yuvraj celebrated his comeback with a career-best 169 and Ganguly scored a fluent unbeaten 125 as an injury-hit India recovered from a horror morning session to post 365-5 in their first innings at stumps on the opening day.

India were wobbling at 61-4 after winning the toss on a good batting track before left-handers Yuvraj and Ganguly restored their team’s fortunes with a 300-run stand for the fifth wicket.

The partnership was the highest for the fifth wicket in Tests between the two countries, surpassing the previous best of 213 set by Pakistanis Zaheer Abbas and Mudassar Nazar at Karachi in 1982.

Debutant seamer Yasir Arafat jolted India with three important wickets in a tight seven-over opening spell before his side ran into Yuvraj and Ganguly, who counter-attacked to steer their team to safety.

It was one-day specialist Yuvraj’s third Test century — all against Pakistan — and Ganguly’s 15th, including a second successive ton against the tourists following his 102 in the previous match.

Pakistan also suffered a stroke of misfortune when ace paceman Shoaib Akhtar walked off the field after bowling two overs in the afternoon. He was taken to hospital with back pain.

Pakistan’s team management said the fast-bowler’s condition would be assessed on Sunday morning before any decision was taken.

”I was nervous when we were 61-4. I have never been a confident starter in Test cricket. It gives me shivers because it’s a different ball game,” said Yuvraj, playing only his 20th Test since his international debut in 2000.

”I feel bad sitting out, but it’s not easy to replace Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ganguly and Venkatsai Laxman in the middle order. I was disappointed to get out. I should have got a double-century, but I am happy I pulled my team out of trouble.”

Yuvraj and Ganguly demoralised the Pakistani attack in the last two sessions with a wide range of attacking shots all round the wicket.

Yuvraj (25), named in the playing 11 following injuries to Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, made the most of the opportunity with a gem of an innings in his first Test in more than a year.

India were also without pacemen Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel, ruled out of the match due to fitness problems.

Yuvraj was the first to reach 100, punching Arafat through the covers for an 18th four. His 203-ball knock included a pulled six off leg-spinner Danish Kaneria and 28 fours. He was caught off a leading edge by Faisal Iqbal at gully while trying to work paceman Mohammad Sami’s delivery to the leg-side.

There was plenty to cheer about for nearly 20 000 spectators as Ganguly also drove and cut with authority against both pace and spin during his 214-ball knock containing 20 fours.

India plundered 127 runs in the afternoon session and 173 in the last after Arafat had raised Pakistan’s hopes of restricting the hosts with a triple-strike in the morning.

”The pitch helped bowlers in the morning and I kept a tidy line and length to get three wickets. It later played easy, but all credit to Yuvraj and Ganguly,” said Arafat. ”Losing Akhtar was a setback. We now have to get India out as quickly as possible tomorrow [Sunday] morning to have any chance of winning the match.”

The 25-year-old Arafat, who joined the squad as a replacement for injured Umar Gul, removed Wasim Jaffer (17), Dravid (19) and Laxman (five).

The hosts’ batting problems began in the eighth over when Gautam Gambhir was caught behind off Sami after making five in his first Test in two years.

Arafat bagged his first big wicket when he dismissed Dravid, caught at first slip by Misbah-ul-Haq while attempting to cut an away-going delivery.

Jaffer, who scored a double-century in the previous match, was trapped leg-before while Laxman played a low delivery on to his stumps. — Sapa-AFP

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