"We were chasing well so we decided to field." - Rahul Dravid
The team that used to rival the South Africans in choking under pressure has just won it's eleventh successive game while chasing! What a turnaround it has been under Dravid and Chappell. The old warriors in Sachin and Dravid are still around to negotiate the tricky seam movement and Dhoni and Yuvraj are there to provide the ballast to the chase. Yuvraj has seen the Indian team lose from winning positions on several occasions but Dhoni probably doesn't have first hand experience of that sinking feeling, which is reflected in the fearlessness of his batting. Sehwag is another one who bats in this fashion. But the confidence with which Yuvraj and Dhoni completed the chase it seemed like the thought of losing never entered their minds. The prevalent feeling in the team seems to be "Chase? Absolutely, bring it on!"
After a poor start, Pakistan must thank Shoaib Malik for holding the innings together with his brilliantly paced innnings of 108. He was in top form with 2 scores of 90plus in the previous two games and India missed a big one when Gambhir dropped him at slip. The poor bowler to suffer was Sreesanth, who had to endure three dropped catches in his opening spell and one catch that wasn't even attempted in his second spell. But Sreesanth bounded in enthusiastically till the end and was India's best bowler even though he finished with a cruel 0-74. India's slip fielding was pathetic and with Sehwag sent back to rest his injured shoulder they have only one proven slipper in Rahul Dravid. Gambhir has dropped more than he has caught at slip and even the reliable Mohammad Kaif dropped a catch in the unfamiliar position. India really have to develop some more slip catchers in the one dayers, maybe Tendulkar should go back to the slips or maybe Irfan Pathan could do it as he has proved himself to be adept at all other tasks.
For the second game running India went in with 4 fast bowlers and no specialist spinner. The spinners have been mercilessly tonked in this series, and even Tendulkar has resorted to seam up. Irfan Pathan provided the initial breakthroughs as Salman Butt departed for another second ball duck and Afridi skied to cover in another momentary lapse of reason that occurs when he faces Pathan. Several Pakistani's got starts and Kamran Akmal even played his typical cameo innings, but when Inzamam fell to Sachin, half the side were gone by the 28th over. It is only due to Malik's doggedness and the late innings impetus provided by a belligerant Abdul Razzaq that Pakistan managed to reach a lofty 288. It definitely was a match winning score, especially with the new master of seam bowling, Mohammad Asif in Pakistan's bowling attack.
The Indian chase started badly with Gambhir struggling at the top of the order. He was plumb in front to the second ball from Mohammad Asif, but the umpire Asad Rauf gave the batsman the benefit of whatever little doubt he had. Gambhir has shown a tendency to play around his front pad against Sri Lanka where Chaminda Vaas exploited this weakness to the hilt and he continued to do the same here. Although in the end he was a bit unlucky to be bowled behind his legs as the inswinger from Asif was going down the legside and it clipped his pad and rolled onto the leg stump. Gambhir opening doesn’t appear to be a reassuring move. Asif claimed another one quickly as he surprised Pathan with a perfect bouncer that flicked the batsman’s left thumb on the way to the keeper.
Sachin Tendulkar meanwhile was in good touch and opened out with two delightful boundaries to the square boundary. He was very watchful against Asif, judging and leaving several balls and even letting one go on the bounce, over the stumps. But, when he got a loose one he pounced on it and even pulled a short one from outside the off stump for a four. Asif was threatening in every single over, but Umar Gul released some pressure by not sticking to a consistent line. Even though Gul produced some sharp movement off the seam, he strayed on both sides of the wicket. Dravid was lucky to survive a scorcher from Asif that hit the bat and bounced over the stumps. But, the pair managed to survive Asif’s opening spell, with some luck and grit. Tendulkar was lucky that Asif at thirdman didn’t pick up his top edged square cut quickly enough and it sailed over his head for a six. To rub it in, he smashed a wide one from the aggrieved Rana Naved through cover point for a four. Naved then came back to bowl a 140kph leg break to Dravid that pitched on middle and missed the off stump. It was a battle out there with the new ball.
The earlier than normal start to the day nighter, i.e. at 11am, probably is a reason why the Pakistani seamers got so much assistance from the pitch even in the second innings. The early start ostensibly, is to prevent the dew from adversely affecting the side bowling second, but it definitely evens out the odds for the new ball bowlers on both sides. Gul almost struck first ball after the drinks break, but Kamran Akmal dropped Sachin down the leg side. Sachin rubbed it in by pulling and driving for two boundaries in the same over.
Dravid perhaps was encouraged by Umar Gul’s poor collection at midon once before, and he decided to run another quick single but Gul got his second direct hit in two matches and the Indian skipper was well short of the crease. The next man, Yuvraj Singh, was in fine nick and pulled the first short ball he received from Yasir Arafat wide of mid on to get off the mark. His second scoring shot was a stunning stand up and drive shot, wide of mid off. He followed it up with another incredible back foot off drive that raced to the boundary. It was a slightly slower pitch and several batsmen got leading edges, including Yuvraj, but he adjusted quickly to play a beautiful on drive for his fourth boundary. He eased off all the pressure from Sachin, who was suddenly finding it difficult to time the ball. A clearly unfit Shahid Afridi came into bowl, and clutched his ribs after each delivery. Even as Sachin cheekily dabbed him through the vacant slip region for a four, one wondered why Afridi even played this game. Wasn’t he better off resting his freak shower injury?
Sachin is not getting any younger and coupled with the fact that he had bowled ten overs in the Pakistani innings led to the leg cramps affecting him much earlier than was expected. But he hung on gamely and even scrambled for the quick two, as always refusing the services of a runner. Strangely enough the injured Afridi continued bowling while Abdul Razzaq patrolled the outfield and even the hobbling Sachin pulled him away for a four. Razzaq was finally brought into the attack in the 30th over. Sachin’s injury was limiting his front foot movement and he stayed on the backfoot and still found the boundary, whipping Razzaq to square leg. When Asif was brought back to break the bourgeoning fourth wicket partnership, the little master stepped up his game and produced a powerful backfoot off drive that sneaked past a stiff Inzamam. Yuvraj pulled Asif straight back over the bowlers hands to reach a remarkable half century. Sachin was looking for the short ball and had no problem pulling Razzaq for a four and then followed it up with a picture perfect on drive for another four. His eyes must have lit up when he saw a short ball outside off and in his eagerness to smash it, he sliced it straight to point after a superbly compiled 95. The very next over Umar Gul brought one back to trap Mohammad Kaif plumb in front. India had lost 2 quick wickets and Pakistan was back in the game.
Dhoni came in and immediately hit the ball from the meat of the bat. The first few hits found the fielders, but after that he began to find the gaps and he spread the field after 2 smashing hits off Razzaq over mid off for four. Dhoni ran quickly and eased the pressure with 12 runs off the Razzaq over. Pakistan’s ground fielding was pretty shoddy once again, with fielders letting the ball slip through their legs. Immediately after a bowling good over, Yasir Arafat made hash of it at deep square let and let the ball go between his legs for a four. Yuvraj made it a big over off the struggling Rana Naved by hammering a wide one to the point boundary for another four. Dhoni continued the momentum by swivel paddling another ball for an easy four with the fine leg up. Rana Naved capped an awful fielding display by taking his eyes off the ball for a second time as he attacked the ball and conceded an easy two. Dhoni bounded to his fifty in 35 balls in the 44th over which included three consecutive boundaries off the hapless Rana Naved. Asif was brought back for his third spell, and ruined his bowling figures which uptil then were 2-28 of 8 overs and gave away 19 runs in his last 2 overs. He still managed to induce an edge from Yuvraj, but it raced away to the thirdman boundary. Dhoni finished it off with another adventurous pull shot in the 48th over, and he finished on 72 of 46 balls while Yuvraj looked positively sedate with 79 from 87 balls. Dhoni made sure that India won in a canter, but, the match was setup up by an innings of the highest class from Sachin Tendulkar who along with Dravid played out the seaming new ball spells from both Asif and Gul, while still scoring runs at healthy strike rate. Sachin's knock was complemented by a brilliant knock from Yuvraj who scored quickly when Sachin cramped up, and later throttled down when the Dhoni fireworks began. Yuvraj is becoming a rock in the Indian middle order and it is no wonder that he was named the Vice Captain in Sehwag's absence.
Inzamam admitted that Pakistan lost the match because of their fielding, in fact it was woeful. The Indian's dropped three catches but their ground fielding was excellent. Raina, Kaif and Yuvraj in the covers ensure that the Indian's can play with only four full time bowlers. Pakistan cannot hope to improve their fielding overnight, so it looks like it is going to be tough for them in the remaining two matches.