Dogged centuries from Misbah-ul Haq and Kamran Akmal helped Pakistan stage a resolute fightback on Day 3 of the second Test against India at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Sunday.
Akmal scored a magnificent 119, while Misbah was unbeaten on 108 as Pakistan posted 358 for 6 in 104 overs at close. They still need another 59 runs to avoid the follow-on.
The Misbah-Akmal combo frustrated the Indian bowlers for nearly two sessions during their 207-run partnership for the sixth wicket to bring back Pakistan from the brink.
Pakistan were reeling at 150 for 5 in the morning session after Harbhajan Singh claimed two quick wickets, those of Salman Butt (42) and Mohammad Yousuf (6). He finished the day with figures of 3 for 86, while Anil Kumble claimed 2 for 81.
The visitors still trail India's first innings score of 616 for 5 declared by 258 runs.
Resuming at 50 for 1, Pakistan lost the wicket of opener Butt (42) quite early in the morning session. Harbhajan forced the batsman to play at a wide, turning delivery, which he edged to Rahul Dravid at first slip.
Harbhajan then dealt Pakistan another big blow when he bowled Mohammad Yousuf through the gate for 6. The veteran batsman tried to play a drive against the spin but was beaten by the turn as Pakistan were reduced to 85 for 3 after 28 overs.
Stand-in captain Younis Khan then decided to take the attack to the Indian spinners, especially Harbhajan. He employed the reverse sweep to good effect despite Harbhajan wanting him to play on the leg side. He also played a couple of powerfully lofted shots on the leg side, including a huge six over mid-wicket off Harbhajan.
However, his adventurous stay at the wicket did not last long as he was caught behind attempting a rash shot against Munaf. The right-hander made 43, hitting five boundaries and a six. Pakistan were in deep trouble at 134 for 4 in the 38th over.
Given the situation it was the last thing Pakistan would have expected from their captain. Instead of trying to grind out a big innings, Younis tried to attack the bowlers without any real plan and paid the price.
In the next over, Misbah-ul Haq (22) got a lucky reprieve when Sachin Tendulkar at mid-wicket failed to hold on to a sharp catch. Misbah played the cross-batted slog off a full toss from Kumble, but Tendulkar could not cling to the catch in the 39th over of the innings.
Misbah continued playing his shots and enjoyed another piece of luck when his slash off Munaf went in the gap between slips and gully.
Faisal Iqbal found Kumble's guile too much to handle. He failed to read a googly from the veteran spinner and was trapped right in front of the stumps for 0 as Pakistan slipped to 150 for 5.
At lunch on the third day, Pakistan were reeling at 154 for 5 in 43 overs, still trailing India's first innings score by 462 runs.
Misbah was unbeaten on a quick 35 from 35 deliveries, inclusive of five boundaries. It remains to be seen how far he can take Pakistan.
Kamran Akmal, who was not out on 2, needs to make a big contribution with the bat after a poor display behind the wickets.
Kumble was again India's trump card, as he took 2 for 34 in 13 overs. Harbhajan gave India a fine start with those two wickets to have figures of 2 for 48 in 15.4 overs.
Munaf also looked quite sharp and bagged the important wicket of Younis to end up with 1 for 39 in seven overs.
With the pitch offering uneven bounce, Pakistan's task is getting harder and harder.
Pakistan batted with a bit more commonsense after the lunch break. There were no flashy shots but determined batting and an effort to stay at the wicket.
Misbah completed his half-century with a double on the off-side in the 53rd over. It was his second consecutive fifty following the one at the Kotla and came off 65 deliveries, including six boundaries.
India dried up the runs as only 49 runs came off the first 15 overs after lunch but, importantly, they were made to earn their wickets unlike the first session, where the batsmen gifted a few.
Kamran Akmal brought up the 50-run partnership for the sixth wicket with a cracking boundary off Kumble through the covers. Pakistan also crossed the 200-run mark with that four in the 62nd over of the innings.
The pitch was still good for batting and once the batsmen got their eye in there was no stopping them.
With not much action in the middle, for the first time in the match the 80,000-odd spectators began to get bored. There were no wickets falling nor was there a flurry of boundaries as in the last two days.
Akmal, under fire for his poor showing with the gloves in the series, utilized the opportunity perfectly. He started off nervously but then improved gradually during his stay at the wicket. He reached his half-century with a stylish pull shot off Munaf in the 71st over. It was inclusive of six boundaries in 107 deliveries.
He was a bit lucky though with the very next ball as he ducked under a bouncer from Munaf; the ball hit his raised bat and flew over the slips to the boundary.
The 100-run partnership between the two batsmen was brought up when an edge from Misbah fell short of wicketkeeper Dhoni and went to the boundary. Munaf was the unlucky bowler again as he beat the batsman with a well-pitched out-swinger, but, unfortunately, the edge fell short.
Pakistan went to the tea interval a lot happier, having reached 256 for 5 in 75 overs.
Indian bowlers toiled hard but failed to pick any wickets as Akmal and Misbah showed great determination and fighting spirit. There were a few nervous moments when the ball did things, but otherwise it was a comfortable stay for both of them.
It was Misbah again who led Pakistan's fightback. At the tea break, he was unbeaten on 73, inclusive of seven boundaries, in 121 deliveries. Giving him company was Akmal, who looked solid on 63, inclusive of eight boundaries, off 119 deliveries.
Thirty-two overs were sent down in the session in which Pakistan scored 102 runs. However, the task is not over yet as they need another 161 runs to avoid the follow-on.
Pakistan started with a flurry of boundaries as Kumble opted to keep Tendulkar bowling. But Tendulkar could only bowl two overs before he was taken off after giving away 16 runs.
Kumble then introduced part-timer Sourav Ganguly and the decision was received with a huge cheer from the Eden Gardens crowd. He did manage to make things happen, as he once got the edge, which flew past the first slip fielder and beat the bat a couple of times in his first over.
India took the new ball in the 82nd over as the conditions became a bit overcast. Akmal smashed Munaf to the point boundary to move to 87 and overtake Misbah, who was batting on 84.
Akmal (87) got a lucky break in Zaheer's next over when his top-edged hook shot was dropped by Munaf, who was slow to react to the shot. Zaheer had tempted the batsman into making a mistake but Munaf's sloppy fielding put paid to his efforts.
A leg boundary by Akmal off Zaheer in the 87th over brought up Pakistan's 300 with both batsmen unbeaten on 88. With 117 more runs needed to avoid the follow on, the task seemed much easier than it was a couple of sessions back.
However, Akmal was the first to get to his century as he lashed a few quick boundaries. He brought up the hundred with a powerful cut shot for a boundary through point in the 90th over off Munaf. His fourth century against India took 173 deliveries and included 16 boundaries.
In Munaf's next over, Akmal made the pacer suffer again when he hit two successive boundaries through cover as Pakistan reached 325 for 5 after 92 overs.
Misbah took his time but eventually completed his century with a neat flick for a boundary off Kumble in the 98th over. His maiden century in Tests took 181 deliveries and included nine boundaries and gave Pakistan real hope of salvaging a draw, at least.
Akmal and Misbah's partnership also revoked memories of the VVS Laxman-Rahul Dravid stand against Australia at this venue in 2001. The two batsmen's efforts had carried India from the jaws of defeat to a miraculous victory over the Aussies, but that possibility seemed unlikely on this dead pitch.
Akmal posted the 200-run partnership with Misbah for the sixth wicket with a single of Harbhajan in the 101st over of the innings. The silence of the fans in the stadium said the whole story as the Indian bowlers failed to make any sort of impression on this wicket.
However, they got back to life again when Harbhajan struck with the important wicket of Akmal. The right-hander tried to drive through the off-side but was beaten to be bowled for 119.
Akmal hit 20 boundaries in his 210-ball knock, adding 207 runs in 62.1 overs for the sixth wicket with Misbah.
Once again bad light ended play early with Pakistan reaching 358 for 6 in 104 overs at close on the third day. Misbah was unbeaten on a fine knock of 108 in 204 deliveries, inclusive of 10 boundaries.
Though Misbah and Akmal batted with great determination for nearly two sessions, India would be delighted to get the wicket so late in the day.
They will now hope to clean up the Pakistan lower order rather quickly and try to make a match out of it.
Both Akmal and Misbah deserve special praise for this stupendous fightback. Even the Kolkata fans made their delight clear by giving them a huge cheer as they walked back. It turned out to be a frustrating day for the Indian bowlers as they got only a single wicket in the last two sessions.
Harbhajan emerged the most successful bowler, claiming 3 for 86 in 31.4 overs. Kumble toiled hard throughout the day to finish with figures of 2 for 81 in 27 overs.
Pakistan, who trail India's first innings score by 258 runs, still need another 59 runs to avoid the follow-on.
With the pitch still not offering any help to the bowlers, a draw looks the most likely result. But India still have a big chance of ending up on the winning side, but for that they will need to a much improved showing with the ball.