India crosses final barrier

Sourav Ganguly is taken off the ground on a stretcher after he injured himself.

Sourav Ganguly is taken off the ground on a stretcher after he injured himself.  

LAHORE, MARCH 24. With the delicate balance of a ballet dancer, the timing of an eagle and the nerves of a champion he held on to the ball, precariously perched on the edge of the long-on ropes. Sachin Tendulkar had plucked the catch of his life.

Inzamam-ul-Haq started his long walk back, the Indians converged in a heap and the moment encapsulated the match. Inzamam's decision to field first had boomeranged with India grabbing its chance.

India, prevailing over Pakistan by 40 runs at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday, won the five-match Samsung series 3-2. It was India's first series triumph of any kind in Pakistan. The side had to overcome the final barrier — the decisive match — in the process, ending a series of defeats in a tournament or a series clinching match.

Amidst the celebrations, there was cause for concern in the Indian camp, with Sourav Ganguly injuring his lower back while diving to stop an Inzamam drive at mid-off. The Indian captain, who had to be carried off the field in a stretcher, did not return to the field.

Pakistan did not give in without a fight and the spirited 99-run partnership for the seventh wicket in 112 balls between Shoaib Malik (65) and Moin Khan (72) proved that. The wicket-keeper batsman kept the fight going with a whirlwind 52-run stand for the eighth wicket with Mohammed Sami off only 35 balls but the task was too much for the host.

It was all over for Pakistan when Balaji breached Moin Khan's defence and soon the Indians were running to the centre of the field to celebrate a hard-earned series win.

Pakistan, in pursuit of 294, was rocked at the start by the young pace duo of L. Balaji and Irfan Pathan. Balaji struck a vital blow, castling the in-form Yasir Hameed with a well-directed off-cutter. Yousuf Youhana was trapped on the shuffle once again by left-armer Irfan Pathan who pitched the ball in line. The flashy Taufeeq Umar moved too far across to leave the leg-stump open and Pathan did not miss the stumps.

Pathan's first spell read 8-2-20-3 and the finest burst of the match ensured that Pakistan was on the backfoot right from the beginning.

Sublime form

Cricket is a lot about timing. V. V. S. Laxman not only caresses the ball with the willow but delivers in the big matches too. The 29-year-old Hyderabad batsman's 104-ball 107, his sixth ODI hundred, fuelled India to a competitive 293 for seven.

While a knee injury kept him out of the first match, Laxman, with an element of looseness creeping into his play, had trouble with incoming deliveries in the three matches he played here before rediscovering his touch in the final match.

The use of wrists that brought into play the magic of the oriental game was very much on view as the upright Laxman gathered his runs with stately elegance, finding the gaps with ease — another feature of his batting.

Walking in after Virender Sehwag had wasted yet another start — drawing back to make room to cut Shabbir Ahmed and only succeeding in nicking to 'keeper Moin — Laxman did not take long to get into his stride. In fact, he flicked the first ball he faced off Shoaib Akhtar to the fine-leg fence.

The imperious square-drive off Mohammed Sami, the majestic thump through covers off Shoaib Akhtar, the gorgeous flick off Shoaib Malik were extraordinary strokes.

Laxman, however, had a slice of luck soon after reaching 50 off 52 balls. Attempting to swing paceman Abdul Razzaq, he was put down by a charging Taufeeq Umar on the square-leg fence.

That was only an aberration, as Laxman's arms, feet and mind were in harmony and he proceeded to a hundred he will cherish for long. While not compromising on the need to play shots, the Hyderabadi tightened his game and rarely took the aerial route.

With wickets falling at regular intervals, he held the innings together. After Sehwag's dismissal, Sachin Tendulkar, in search of a big score in a Cup final or a series-deciding match, appeared in fine touch before opening the face of the blade and edging a Sami delivery to Moin.

Skipper Sourav Ganguly, who was positive in his approach, produced a few scintillating strokes and added 92 in 111 balls with Laxman for the third wicket before being snared once again in the corridor by Akhtar, Moin taking a smart catch.

Rahul Dravid did not last long, playing all over a Sami off-cutter in an attempt to drive on the on-side and Yuvraj Singh's overconfident ways against Shabbir only resulted in his long walk back.

India reached 200 in the 39th over and lost wickets in the quest for runs but Laxman reached his century with an on-drive for a single off Malik, following a delicate glide past the third-man ropes.

Laxman soon departed in an attempt to speed up the run-rate, Malik being the successful bowler. Irfan Pathan and L. Balaji then kept the momentum going, with Balaji's six over long-on off Akhtar a stunning effort.

The Pakistani bowling was a lot more disciplined this time — there were only 10 no-balls and wides in all — while the fielding was rather ordinary. Akhtar was steady without being explosive, Shabbir was a lot more consistent with his line, Razzaq filled in well as the fourth seamer and Mohammed Sami, though a touch expensive, was the most incisive of the Pakistani pacemen. Malik went for 67 with his off-spin even as Saqlain Mushtaq watched from the sidelines.

That Inzamam-ul-Haq won his fifth toss in a row might not have surprised many given the wretched run Ganguly is undergoing vis-a-vis the spin of the coin, but then, the Pakistan captain's decision to field was certainly not along predictable lines.

The Pakistan captain's move revealed a lack of confidence in his bowlers to defend a score, given that they have not managed to get the ball to reverse swing in this series.

The host made one change, leaving out Shahid Afridi who is arguably a match-winner. Taufeeq Umar came in his place to partner Yasir Hameed.

V. Sehwag c Moin b Shabbir20
(22b, 4x4)
S. Tendulkar c Moin b Sami37
(48b, 7x4)
V.V.S. Laxman c Sami b Malik107
(104b, 11x4)
S. Ganguly c Moin b Akhtar45
(64b, 5x4)
R. Dravid b Sami4
Yuvraj c Inzamam b Shabbir18
(19b, 2x4)
M. Kaif c Umar b Sami16
I. Pathan (not out)20
(12b, 3x4)
L. Balaji (not out)10
(6b, 1x6)
Extras (b-2, lb-4, w-5, nb-5)16
— —
Total (for seven wkts. in 50 overs)293
— —
Fall of wickets: 1-34 (Sehwag), 2-79 (Tendulkar), 3-171 (Ganguly), 4-183 (Dravid), 5-227 (Yuvraj), 6-253 (Laxman), 7-276 (Kaif).

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 10-1-47-1, Shabbir 10-1-56-2 (nb-3, w-1), Sami 10-1-63-3 (nb-1, w-3), Razzaq 10-0-54-0, Malik 10-0-67-1 (nb-1, w-1).

Y. Hameed b Balaji2
T. Umar b Pathan 18
(17b, 3x4)
Y. Youhana lbw b Pathan1
Inzamam c Tendulkar b Kartik38
(51b, 5x4)
Younis c Yuvraj b Pathan12
(20b, 2x4)
S. Malik c Kaif b Sehwag65
(89b, 3x4, 1x6)
A. Razzaq c Sehwag b Balaji5
Moin Khan b Balaji72
(71b, 5x4, 1x6)
M. Sami b Zaheer23
(17b, 1x6)
S. Akhtar (run out)2
Shabbir Ahmed (not out)1
Extras (b-2, lb-5, w-4, nb-3)14
— —
Total (in 47.5 overs) 253
— —

Fall of wickets: 1-8 (Hameed), 2-9 (Youhana), 3-25 (Umar), 4-58 (Younis), 5-87 (Inzamam), 6-96 (Razzaq), 7-195 (Malik), 8-248 (Sami), 9-250 (Akhtar).

India bowling: Pathan 10-1-32-3 (w-4), Balaji 9.5-0-62-3 (nb-2), Zaheer 9-0-54-1 (nb-1), Kartik 10-0-42-1, Tendulkar 5-0-27-0, Sehwag 4-0-29-1.

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