Pakistan v India, Group B, Asia Cup, Karachi

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ndia 301 for 4 (Sehwag 119, Raina 84) beat
Pakistan 299 for 4 (Malik 125, Younis 59) by six wickets

A mighty performance from India's batsmen, led by Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina, made short work of Pakistan's competitive target of 300 and gave India two points to take into the next round. Sehwag and Raina tore into Pakistan's depleted and wayward bowling attack and sent fielders on frequent ball-retrieving missions as they scored at over eight an over during their partnership of 198 for the second wicket. The impact of that devastating stand was that India overhauled their target with six wickets and 48 balls to spare, their quickest run-chase while facing a target of 300.

The Indian approach was in stark contrast to Pakistan's methodical planning of their innings. Their openers played cautiously at the start, guarded against early wickets, and accelerated once the new-ball had been seen off to set up a launch pad. Malik's maiden century as captain was the cornerstone of the innings and the platform he provided allowed the batsmen that followed the freedom to innovate and bat aggressively in order to propel Pakistan to 299 for 4. In the end, however, they needed plenty more to challenge a trailblazing Indian batting line-up.

Pakistan's defence was blighted by a rib-muscle injury to Umar Gul, as a result of which he left the field after bowling only 1.2 overs. Shoaib Malik's offspin was also unavailable because he didn't take the field after cramping towards the end of his century. This left the acting captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, with only three specialist bowling options - Sohail Tanvir, Rao Iftikhar Anjum and Shahid Afridi - and their flat performance cost Pakistan dearly.

Despite snaring Gautam Gambhir early - Misbah reacted in 0.2 seconds at gully to take a one-handed catch to his left - Pakistan were unable to contain India. After the Kitply Cup final, Dhoni had admitted that promoting Raina ahead of himself was a mistake but today Raina walked in at No. 3, instead of the out-of-touch Rohit Sharma.

Bristling with confidence after his maiden century against Hong Kong, Raina began with free-flowing cover drives when offered width outside off stump by Tanvir and Iftikhar Anjum. He did most of the early scoring and Sehwag hadn't got off the mark till the fourth over. However, Sehwag began to gather momentum by flicking consecutively to the long-leg boundary when Anjum strayed on to his pads, and slashed two short and wide balls from Tanvir to the third-man boundary.

With Tanvir and Anjum proving toothless, Misbah turned to Afridi in the 11th over. Afridi bowled one satisfactory over before Sehwag hit him for two straight sixes in his second. Raina lofted Anjum audaciously over extra cover for another six and when Misbah brought Tanvir back, Sehwag immediately glided him down to the third-man boundary.

Pakistan began to heammorage runs and by the time Malik took the field, India had raced to 100 in 14 overs. They found the boundary virtually every over: Raina lofted Fawad Alam's leg break over the deep-midwicket boundary, Sehwag hit Afridi over long on once more. And when Malik, who wasn't allowed to bowl for 71 minutes after taking the field, turned to Salman Butt, Sehwag responded by charging him and smashing the ball twice into the stands at deep midwicket to move into the 90s.

Sehwag brought up his century of only 80 balls but Raina missed his, chipping Anjum tamely to Alam at cover but, at his departure, India needed 90 runs in 23 overs and victory was only a matter of time.

The ease with which India achieved victory was startling for Pakistan, on a sluggish pitch, had worked extremely hard to build a competitive total. They reverted to the caution-before-aggression approach that won them the Kitply Cup final against India. In that game, Butt and Younis Khan did the groundwork, steering Pakistan cautiously to 104 for 1 after 25 overs before they went on to score hundreds in a final total of 315 for 3.

Today, Malik's effort was an example of how to pace an innings. He and Butt gave the first eight overs to the Indian bowlers and took no risks. By the end of the 13th over, Pakistan had only scored 38 but the Indian fast bowlers had failed to create wicket-taking opportunities. Thereafter, Malik began to attack, driving Praveen straight for four and then gliding him between Dhoni and short third man. He was offered width twice by Ishant and cut him through and over point for fours. Dhoni finally resorted to spin in the 20th over but by now Malik was well set and he hit Chawla for two fours through midwicket to reach his half-century off 61 balls.

Malik and Younis, who scored 59, strengthened Pakistan's grip on the game during their 129-run stand for the second wicket. Brimming with confidence, Younis swept the spinners fluently, made room to cut, lofted them over midwicket and threw them completely off line by using the reverse sweep repeatedly. They played crucial roles in helping set a challenging target but their hard-working partnership, during which they ran between the wickets splendidly, was put firmly in the shade by the blitzkrieg launched by Sehwag and Raina.

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Will Pakistan Premier League gain success just like Indian Premier League ?