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Afridi delivers a knock-out punch

Sanjay Rajan

DOWN AND OUT: Yuvraj Singh has no clue about this delivery from Abdul Razzaq. - PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM

KANPUR: There was little else that vice-captain Virender Sehwag could do to pep up Lakshmipathy Balaji other than pat the tall speedster on the back every time he returned to the top of his run-up. There wasn't much that skipper Rahul Dravid could do either. Come to think of it, what can anyone do when caught in the midst of a whirlwind?

Forty-five ball centuries are rare. And when they happen, try as much as it can, the fielding side can just hope that it gets over quick. Like the famous Twister, Pakistan's maverick all-rounder Shahid Afridi twirled in and whirled out, registering the joint second fastest one-day century to settle the fifth match of the Pepsi Cup ODI series by five wickets in favour of the visitor at the Green Park here on Friday.

Third straight win

It was Pakistan's third straight victory and it leads the series 3-2 going into the final ODI to be played at the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi on Sunday.

Afridi wasn't Pakistan's only hero. There was Rana Naved-ul-Hasan in the morning. The balding pacer sent back Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Dhoni in no time, after India opted to bat on a pitch that was on the slower side.

Dravid (86) and Md. Kaif (78), batting for the first time in an ODI on his home ground, bettered their previous best fifth-wicket stand of 118 against Pakistan at Karachi last season, with 135 off 160 balls. This took India to a fighting — or so, one thought at that point — 249.

That was before Afridi stepped in. His fifty (53) came in 20 balls, with two sixes and three boundaries off Balaji and three sixes and a boundary off Kumble, who replaced Balaji in the attack for one over. He brought up his half-century with a stepped-out straight drive off Zaheer Khan.

In a situation like this, it just doesn't matter who the bowler is. And Afriidi — whom skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq has often described as the most dangerous player in his team — is known for these machine gun-like assaults.

Maddening pace

Afridi kept at the maddening pace — he had failed with the willow in the first three games and it seemed like he wanted to make up for all that at one go! Zaheer came out relatively unscathed, but he too had gone for a few. Afridi dispatched left-arm spinner Dinesh Mongia for two sixes and a boundary, thumped Zaheer twice to the fence, dug out a Zaheer yorker and then reached his century with a tennis forehand off Harbhajan Singh over the bowler's head.

He had a reprieve on 85, when Mongia had him caught by Yuvraj at short backward square leg off a no ball. Afridi departed immediately after his century, playing on to Harbhajan. It was only his fourth ODI century but a winning one. Dravid tried tightening the screws after Afridi's departure. Kumble bowled with three men around the bat and Harbhajan operated with a slip and short-leg. But the opening wicket stand was a whopping 131 in 14.2 overs and Pakistan could never lose the game from there.

Captain's knock

It was a captain's knock by Dravid (59th half-century) and an inspired display by Kaif (11th fifty) that steadied the rocking boat. It was controlled and calculated to say the least, where the singles were run hard, open spaces were found and the side's position assessed after every five overs.

Naved-ul-Hasan has made a name for himself in this series. His 14 wickets thus far, include Sehwag thrice and Tendulkar twice. Tendulkar departed in the third over, playing tentatively outside the off-stump to be caught behind. Hasan had brought the previous delivery into the right-hander for an leg-before appeal.

Sehwag left two overs later, bowled while playing across without having got behind the line of the ball. Dhoni exited in the seventh, driving away from his body for Younis Khan, at second slip, to pouch a low one.

Dravid was dismissed off the penultimate delivery of the innings, after having added 54 for the sixth-wicket with Mongia. It was a hardy back-to-the-wall effort, which will be remembered for long.

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