S. Dinakar

Gen. Pervez Musharraf's pat for DhoniMalik proves third time lucky, gets a centuryR.P. Singh comes up with another good spell

Lahore: What a run chase it turned out to be under lights at the Gaddafi Stadium! Sachin Tendulkar guided the side after a bumpy beginning. Yuvraj Singh batted with maturity and aggression. And Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the blazing magnum.

It is not often that a batsman races to an unbeaten 72 in 46 balls, with 13 scintillating boundaries, when his side enters the last 15 overs requiring 98 for victory.

Man of the Match Dhoni did just that with scorching cover-drives, audacious pulls and whiplash flicks. This was Power Play and this was Whirlwind Dhoni.

Chasing 288 for victory, India was home and dry with 14 deliveries remaining to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match Hutch ODI series.

Not just the Indians, the Pakistani spectators in the stands too applauded the visitor's effort. Among them was the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, who lavished praise on Dhoni, joked about the wicketkeeper-batsman's hairstyle and had words of consolation for Pakistan.

Scintillating strokeplay

The astonishing strokeplay on view was a celebration of cricket, cutting across barriers.

The unbeaten 102-run sixth wicket partnership was achieved in just 79 balls.

The most significant aspect of the five-wicket victory was that both Yuvraj and Dhoni seemed to relish playing under pressure. It must be remembered that India has crumbled in such situations in the past and the two have proved that they can perform in any situation.

The surface at the Gaddafi stadium emerged a winner too. There was seam movement and bounce for the pacemen. Since the ball came on to the bat, strokes could be played as well. Though there was hardly any grass on the pitch, it was a surprisingly hard pitch.

Asif impresses again

The Indian reply began disastrously when Gautam Gambhir played on to Mohammed Asif shuffling too far across. The impressive Asif then produced a beast of a short-pitched delivery to open up Irfan Pathan and the resultant catch was well taken by Kamran Akmal. Umar Gul too operated incisively with the new ball, constantly hitting the seam.

The determined Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, stroking the ball well, steadied the innings before the Indian captain was out off a direct hit from Umar Gul from mid-on; the Indian captain simply `walked.'

Gul, who was full of energy, may have blotted his copybook by nudging Yuvraj from behind after completing his bowling stint, which included a marginal leg-before decision against Mohammad Kaif.

Inzamam erred in using most of the overs from his best bowlers, Asif and Gul, before the climactic stages. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and the inexperienced Yasir Arafat provided width to the batsmen. The bowlers were also let down by poor catching and some shocking out-cricket from the host.

Tendulkar (95, 104b, 16x4, 1x6) was beautifully balanced in both offence and defence. The batting of Yuvraj (79 not out, 87b, 10x4), in coach Greg Chappell's language, has reached a new level. His front-foot play was quite dominant and some of his straight and cover drives were flawless. At the other end, Dhoni (72 not out, 46b, 13x4) batted with instinct and courage, power and placement.

Classy and composed

Earlier, after invaluable 90s in Peshawar and Rawalpindi, Shoaib Malik finally kept his date with a century. He has this calm air about him during times of adversity and there is also a languid ease about his batting. What Malik lacks in footwork, he makes up with exquisite timing.

Malik's 120-ball 108 (11x4, 1x6) was a well-paced innings. Abdul Razzaq boomed to an unbeaten 64 off 56 balls (7x4, 2x6) and both their contributions were significant considering that Pakistan was in deep waters at 158 for six.

Malik held a crumbling innings together, allowing someone like Razzaq to free his arms. It was not as if Malik lagged behind in strokeplay as the two added 86 runs at run a ball. S. Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan went for plenty, as the final 10 overs yielded a whopping 89.

Pakistan began uncertainly under a cloud cover after Dravid won the toss. Pathan once again scalped the left-handed Salman Butt with a delivery that left him. Shahid Afridi, promoted to the opener's slot, led a charmed life before an ugly slog off Pathan signalled curtains for him.

Poor catching

The Indian catching was seen in ordinary light, with Dravid, Gambhir and Kaif (a difficult opportunity) not latching on to edges in the slip cordon. The luckless Sreesanth suffered on all these three occasions.

This did not prevent Rudra Pratap Singh in an interesting choice Zaheer Khan was named the Super Sub from joining the party. Akmal top edged a flick, while Mohammed Yousuf chased a delivery angled across him from the left-armer. Yousuf reached the 7,000-mark in ODIs.

Inzamam nicked while trying to cut Sachin Tendulkar and Younis received a good delivery from R.P. Singh that bounced more than he expected.

Agarkar sent down a creditable spell of six overs. He was replaced by Zaheer who went for 36 in four overs when Malik and Razzaq waded into the Indian bowling. Agarkar's back is a concern for the team management.

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