Pakistan eliminated in cliffhanger
India 271 for 7 (Gambhir 83, Dhoni 56) beat Pakistan 267 (Butt 74, Kamran 51, Praveen 3-53) by three wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The Asia Cup's marquee clash was a cliffhanger. The contest between India and Pakistan simmered tantalisingly, with one team edging ahead at several junctures only to be pulled back by timely strikes from the other. The ebb and flow went on until the match reached flashpoint during India's chase. Tempers flared, nerves frayed, batsmen resorted to the desperate, bowlers lost their radar and fielders fumbled as margins for error became non-existent. And Pakistan, fighting to stay alive in the Asia Cup, watched Harbhajan Singh, fuelled by adrenalin and his love for a scrap, heave the penultimate ball of the match from Mohammad Aamer over the midwicket boundary to trigger explosive celebrations in the Indian dressing room.
Pakistan, after the emotion subsides, will identify a period during their batting, when they let a critical advantage slip, as a factor that contributed significantly to their exit. Their top three - Salman Butt, Imran Farhat and Shoaib Malik - had built a platform from where a total of 300 was probable, but a collapse eroded their position from 144 for 1 to 159 for 4. A regular fall of wickets thereafter, and especially the loss of Shahid Afridi and Adbul Razzaq before the batting Powerplay was underway, gave rise to the possibility of a total less than 250. It needed a counterattack from Kamran Akmal to lift Pakistan to 267, a score well short of what they were on course for. It was the ninth consecutive ODI in which Pakistan had failed to last 50 overs.
This tensest of finishes - India needing three off two balls with tailenders batting - seemed improbable when Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni put on an exhibition of clinical accumulation during their partnership of 98, which left only 89 to get off the last 15 overs with eight wickets in hand. They ran hard, pierced gaps, and muscled pressure-relieving boundaries whenever the asking-rate crept over six an over. India were in control even after Gambhir's dismissal - bowled trying to cut a straighter one from Saeed Ajmal - with Dhoni, who had clouted a Shoaib Akhtar free-hit over midwicket for six to reach a half-century, taking charge.
India's advantage began to shrink between overs 38 and 41. Pakistan had 76 runs to defend at the start of this period and conceded only 15 in four overs. Rohit Sharma was then trapped by a Shahid Afridi flipper, but it was Dhoni's freak dismissal, in the 43rd over bowled by Malik, that made Pakistan the latest favourites. Malik drifted a friendly full toss down leg side, Dhoni reached away from his body and tried to paddle it fine. He was early on the shot and the ball ricocheted on to the stumps off the back of the bat. India now needed 58 off 46 with two brand new batsmen in the middle.
Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja nudged and pushed until 50 were needed off the last six overs and decided it was time to take the batting Powerplay. Afridi brought back Shoaib Akhtar, who was economical in his first spell but expensive in his second, for the fielding restrictions and he bowled an exemplary over, troubling both batsmen with quick short-of-a-length deliveries. Raina and Jadeja managed only one off him.
Jadeja was castled by Ajmal off the first ball off the 46th over and Raina was then joined by Harbhajan. Raina had struggled to make contact with Shoaib's bouncers and so he targeted Ajmal, cutting the ball to the boundary before heaving it over midwicket. That 13-run over narrowed the gap between runs required and balls remaining significantly and Ajmal hobbled off the field shortly after.
Pakistan had held the edge since Dhoni's dismissal but their grasp on the contest weakened when Harbhajan lofted Shoaib over long-on with impeccable timing, reducing the equation to 30 off 22. Shoaib, however, mixed slower balls with sharp bouncers to concede only three of the next four balls. In the 48th over, Aamer's direction failed him and he delivered two wides, but the batsmen managed only singles off the first four legal deliveries. Then Raina went deep into his crease to convert a yorker into a full ball and swung it powerfully through midwicket, finding the gap between two boundary riders.
Raina took on Shoaib in the 49th, pulling a short ball - this one didn't rise as much - for six to slash the equation to 10 off 11 balls. Shoaib, however, once again finished strongly, beating Harbhajan with consecutive bouncers off the final two deliveries. He followed up those fiery deliveries with an equally fiery verbal volley. It riled Harbhajan who responded before Billy Doctrove intervened.
With India needing seven runs off the final over, Raina took a single off the first ball, giving Harbhajan the strike. Raina tried to get it back immediately by stealing a bye but his desperate dive was beaten by Kamran Akmal's throw. Kamran was pumped: he had dropped Sharma earlier, and had a confrontational tête-à-tête with Gambhir over an appeal for a catch.
Praveen Kumar, India's No. 9, scored three off his first two balls and gave Harbhajan the strike for the penultimate delivery. Aamer ran in and pitched on a length, Harbhajan wound up, swung hard, and began to raise his hands in triumph as the ball cleared the ropes. And then he roared, and roared, and looked for Shoaib.
George Binoy is an Assistant Editor at Cricinfo