A glorious exhibition of strokeplay from Sachin Tendulkar put India in the ascendancy as Pakistan struggled to stay afloat in the five-match ODI series. On a pitch where most other batsmen were restricted in their shot-making, Tendulkar played with the fluency and confidence of old, finding gaps with effortless ease as India ate into the target of 256.
To compound Pakistan's problems, Shoaib Akhtar, who bowled with genuine menace for three overs, went off with what looked like a shin injury after completing his fourth. He returned only in the 25th over, by which time India were well past half-way. In his absence, Tendulkar unveiled some stunning drives, including a couple of pushes through the covers off the back foot that brought back memories of the halcyon years.
Sourav Ganguly and Gautam Gambhir didn't make much of an impression. Ganguly poked one into the slip cordon off Shoaib, and Gambhir pulled a poor delivery from Rao Iftikhar Anjum straight to Sohail Tanvir at midwicket. That brought Virender Sehwag to the crease, and though he was scratchy early on, Tendulkar's punched drives and measured clips off the pads gave him the time to play himself into form. A chop behind point set the tone, and a withering cover-drive then suggested that Redemption Road wasn't too far away.
And after Shahid Afridi had stemmed the tide for a couple of overs, it was Sehwag that once again unleashed mayhem with a huge six over midwicket. Tendulkar followed suit with three magnificent drives through cover, each timed better than the previous one. For the Pakistani bowlers who have taken a pounding in this series, respite didn't seem to be on the agenda.
Pakistan 255 for 6 (Yousuf 99*, Younis 68, Zaheer 2-40)
On a sluggish pitch where unfettered strokeplay was rarely an option, Pakistan were indebted to the old firm of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan for a competitive total that gave them some hope of squaring the series. Having elected to bat, Pakistan made sedate progress before Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq injected some much needed urgency in the final phase of the innings. Younis had dropped anchor initially with a doughty 68, and there was also a patchy innings from Shoaib Malik after he promoted himself to the opener's slot.
Yousuf's splendid unbeaten 99 - he needed three off the last ball, but could get only two to long-off - was anything but patchy though, with some glorious drives through the covers and a lofted six over midwicket off Harbhajan Singh. As ever, he was immensely strong off the pads, and with Misbah ticking along at a run a ball, the run-rate crept towards five.
India though rarely let things drift. The bowlers, both pace and spin, were fairly accurate, and the fielding a marked improvement on the previous games. Even Sourav Ganguly played his part, with the priceless wicket of Shahid Afridi, slightly unfortunate to be given leg before after being struck just outside the line of off stump.
At that stage, Pakistan were in disarray at 131 for 4, with Younis having looped a return catch to Yuvraj Singh off the leading edge. But Yousuf's ability to find the gaps made the difference as the sluggishness of the early overs was forgotten by the finish.
Malik surely wouldn't have bargained for Salman Butt lasting only two balls. RP Singh, taking the new ball, shaped the ball from leg to middle to trap him plumb in front, 129 short of what he had scored on Sunday. Left to consolidate, he and Younis did it mainly in singles, and even those didn't come along frequently.
It took 14 overs for the 50 to be raised, and there was a moment of controversy as the Indians claimed a catch behind off Younis. Amiesh Saheba made the right decision though, with the ball having bounced just before nestling in MS Dhoni's gloves. Pakistan were just beginning to shed the shackles when Zaheer Khan picked up his 200th ODI wicket. Malik's heave against the line was an ugly one, and it got what it deserved - an inside edge on to the stumps.
With the run-rate still below four after 20 overs, acceleration was required and, though Yousuf signalled his intent with a loft down to long-on off Yuvraj Singh, India refused to loosen the grip. Younis was given a reprieve on 48, when Dhoni missed a tough stumping chance off the pads, and it was left to him and Yousuf to ensure that India would have a tricky target to chase under lights.