Dhoni, Yuvraj make good on Harbhajan and Kartik’s excellent bowling
Guwahati: Chasing Pakistan’s total of 239, Sourav Ganguly, with an elegant pendulous movement of the bat stroked a straight six over Umar Gul in the eighth over. Much later, with India courting victory and Shoaib Akhtar breaching 90mph, Robin Uthappa thought nothing of digging the bolter out for a four over the express bowler. As a straightforward statement of intent, there’s nothing quite like carting it over the bowler’s head.
Though India’s five-wicket win in the first match of the Indian Oil Cup was largely constructed by M.S. Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh in the middle-overs, the two shots stand out for their intent. Ganguly’s came at a critical time after Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal and some lucky reprieves for Gautam Gambhir. He took the bowler on, and set up a crucial 82-run partnership with Gambhir.
Uthappa’s on the other hand was a more psychological attack on Pakistan’s bowling linchpin. With the host chasing a decent total, Shoaib Akhtar steamed in upfront, his infinite run-up perfectly tailored for a slow build-up.
His wicket-taking delivery came in his second over, when Tendulkar misdealt with a slower one to be sent back on being plumb in front.
Gambhir tread on wafer-thin ice while edging two Akhtar deliveries between the keeper and first slip, before better sense prevailed. He was bowled for 44 by Shahid Afridi’s ultra-quick offspinner that caught the leg-stump, after Ganguly was run-out.
Man-of-the Match Dhoni assured all that he was no Samson and locks or no locks, could plunder runs at will. His 105-run partnership for the fourth wicket with Yuvraj Singh sealed the match in the host’s favour.
Yuvraj marked his arrival with a brilliantly-struck boundary against Rehman’s spin, while Dhoni used an abridged hook-shot that fetched him runs off Akhtar.
Both batsmen were severely harsh on Iftikhar Anjum and Abdur Rehman, who bowled too short. Yuvraj’s six over mid-wicket that came off Rehman was the innings’ second.
Malik was offered a chance when Yuvraj miscued a pull off Rehman, but grassed it. Yuvraj eventually perished to Rehman with a sweep that went awry. Dhoni’s dismissal was more of a pyrrhic win with the match all but completed.
Earlier, India’s start with the ball after Malik chose to bat was patchy. Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal initially prospered on Zaheer Khan and R.P. Singh’s largesse.
Akmal’s beauteous cover-drive was later followed by misjudgement that saw him dismissed leg-before by Irfan Pathan.
Butt looked ominous for the Indians, more-so after a ruler-straight boundary off Pathan in the 13th over.
His fifty came courtesy a wide one from Harbhajan Singh that he executed just above the stumps; but he was run-out in the next.
Harbhajan and Murali Kartik bowled stifling spin and Pakistan laboured on for 21.2 overs without a single boundary. Mohammad Yousuf stroked an unbeaten elegant, if not characteristic, 83 in 88 balls. Only someone with his languidness could have stroked the reverse-sweep and the paddle-sweep with such ease.
A large part of Yousuf’s runs came in the fine-leg area after he had a reprieve when on nine. Kartik’s turn found the edge of the bat and soared up towards extra-cover. Ganguly won the three-horse race to the ball but misjudged the catch.
Harbhajan was luckier when Younis Khan’s undercooked attempt at clearing long-on safely found Pathan. Not the sort to ponder on the merits of a delivery, Afridi smashed Pathan for a six over long-on, ending the painful barren period.
Tendulkar set up Afridi’s dismissal in the 39th over, bowling round the wicket. With the batsman giving himself room, Tendulkar bowled a wider and quicker one, leaving Dhoni to complete the stumping.
Captain Shoaib Malik recklessly connected a full-toss and found the ball scurrying to the fielder on the deep mid-wicket perimeter. Misbah-ul-Haq hung around for a few productive overs but was caught by Harbhajan off Zaheer.
On a sluggish pitch, the total at that time looked defendable.
Pakistan: S. Butt (run out) 50, K. Akmal lbw b Pathan 12, Younis Khan c Pathan b Harbhajan 25, M. Yousuf (not out) 83, S. Afridi st Dhoni b Tendulkar 31, S. Malik c Gambhir b Tendulkar 2, Misbah c Harbhajan b Zaheer 27, A. Rehman (run out) 0; Extras: (lb-4, w-5) 9; Total: (seven wickets, 50 overs) 239.
Fall of wickets: 1-44, 2-69, 3-104, 4-163, 5-165, 6-233, 7-239.
India bowling: Zaheer 9-0-50-1, R.P. Singh 8-1-42-0, Pathan 8-2-45-1, Harbhajan 10-0-29-1, Kartik 10-0-36-0, Tendulkar 5-0-33-2.
India: Ganguly (run out) 39, Tendulkar lbw b Akhtar 4, Gambhir b Afridi 44, Dhoni c Akmal b Akhtar 63, Yuvraj c Afridi b Rehman 58, Uthappa (not out) 11, Pathan (not out) 5; Extras: (b-4, lb-7, w-6, nb-1) 18; Total: (five wickets, 47 overs) 242.
Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-96, 3-113, 4-218, 5-225.
Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 8-0-52-2, Gul 7-2-26-0, Iftikhar 8-0-50-0, Afridi 10-0-34-1, Rehman 10-1-54-1, Malik 4-1-15-0.