Younis special overpowers India
Pakistan - courtesy Younis Khan's scintillating hundred - showed plenty of character to make easy work of a target of 309 against India and push their case for a berth in the final on Sunday. Pakistan's openers set the platform with attacking cricket against India's battle-weary seam attack, before masterful middle-order batting from Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq helped them gallop home with 27 balls to spare. The victory not only saved the home side from an early elimination, but also brought the lukewarm tournament to life as the hunt for Sri Lanka's opposition in the final extended to another day, at least.
Pakistan's ruthless approach was similar to the defeat India inflicted on them last week. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's decision at the toss was a no-brainer as, on a typically benign pitch, Virender Sehwag began the run-glut with imperious hitting before Dhoni and Rohit Sharma crafted workmanlike half-centuries to arrest a sudden top-order jolt. India's bowlers however wilted in unforgiving conditions and Pakistan - backed by a boisterous crowd - never let the initiative slip once the openers set the launch pad.
The intimidation began with Salman Butt's treatment of Praveen Kumar - he cut, drove and whipped anything either too short or wide and Nasir Jamshed found the bowler's gentle swing and pace to his liking as well, stepping down the track to crash one back down the ground. The early hitting started to tell on the fielders as well - Ishant Sharma fumbled to concede a boundary at deep square leg and Praveen failed to sight a skier towards third man. Irfan Pathan, playing his first game of the tournament, then came under the hammer as Jamshed slammed one over his head. Irfan responded with two head-high bouncers but was duly dispatched with controlled hooks.
The only blip in the opening stand was the running. Shortly after a shy at the striker's end nearly claimed Jamshed, poor calling ended Butt's innings. Butt took off for a second run but found himself yards short of his ground.
Jamshed marched on to his fifty - in his first match against a world-class opposition - before cramps cut short his innings at 53. Younis began in his typically breezy fashion, flashing an upper cut, extra-cover drive and a reverse-sweep off Piyush Chawla to bring up his fifty and 5000 ODI runs. And though Chawla bowled Mohammad Yousuf round his legs to leave Pakistan at 168 for 2 in the 26th over, they were still on course for a win.
Younis was particularly harsh on the spinners, making good use of the sweep. Chawla and Sehwag came in for some rough treatment as Younis opened his stance and peppered the on side with several singles, twos and the odd boundary. Misbah's batting showed no signs of the pressures of captaincy as he complemented his partner's urgency by scoring at over a run a ball. Misbah slog-swept Sehwag for the first six of the match; Younis took on Chawla and carted him over the roof, hitting against the turn.
Dhoni brought the seamers back once the ball got older but there was hardly any reverse-swing to work with. Misbah had the audacity to walk across the stumps and fetch a boundary off Irfan with a delicate flick of the wrists, something Sehwag did with equal efficiency earlier. Younis punished anything short and wide outside the off stump as he brought up his fifth ODI century - also his third against India. Misbah continued his on-side bashing with swivelled pulls and aptly finished the game with a flick past wide mid-on.
The story could have been different had Sehwag carried on. He looked set to tear Pakistan apart for the second time in as many matches with a breathtaking assault, upsetting the bowlers with his improvisation. Misbah bravely persisted with the Powerplays after India had blazed 86 in ten, and Pakistan turned the tide thanks to a double-strike by Abdur Rauf which pegged back at India 91 for 3. Yuvraj Singh's brief stint at the crease was punctuated by elegant drives, before Iftikhar Anjum ended his cameo. At 129 for 4, the home side felt a surge of optimism and the crowd played along as well.
However, Dhoni and Rohit ensured the run-rate never dipped below five an over throughout their 112-run stand. Both batsmen took their time to settle in, but neither played second fiddle. Rohit, who has been struggling for form since the IPL, grafted it out at the start, but displayed sound application and urgency to score at a faster rate than his captain. As the partnership mounted, so did the anxiety for Pakistan as the prospect of a challenging chase loomed. Both brought up their half-centuries off successive balls, in the process completing their century stand, which included 68 singles. The pair set up a seemingly defendable total, but ultimately India found themselves at least 30 runs short.
A loss against Sri Lanka on Thursday will mean India will have to wait on the result of the Pakistan-Bangladesh match on Friday to know whether they progress to the final.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a staff writer at Cricinfo