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March 19, 2004
Pakistan won another closely contested game because Yasir Hameed did what no other batsman on either side could do - convert a start into something substantial. Having survived a vociferous lbw shout from Irfan Pathan in the very first over, he made the most of his good fortune to progress to 98.
It was a mixed innings, some gorgeous drives through extra-cover interspersed with some downright streaky shots through the slip cordon. What was most impressive, though, was his temperament. Despite playing in front of a raucous home crowd, he was utterly unflappable, stroking his runs with a fluency that eluded most batsmen on the first bowler-friendly surface of the series.
The other pivotal performance came from Abdul Razzaq, whose typically up-tempo cameo finished off India. Razzaq was initially clueless against Sachin Tendulkar's spin, but when it came to playing the pace bowlers, he showed that he's a cut above most, smacking even good deliveries to the fence.
India's bowlers couldn't be blamed for this defeat, having only 245 runs to play with. The damage had been done much earlier, when Sourav Ganguly guided a Razzaq delivery into Moin Khan's gloves. Ganguly's 39 was a chancy little effort, but in partnership with Rahul Dravid, he had managed to fluster the Pakistanis after Shabbir Ahmed had given them a dream start.
In between lacing some beautiful drives through the covers, Ganguly edged quite a few and also had a catch dropped in conditions where the quick bowlers bounded in with real enthusiasm. Yet again, though, Razzaq - who had bowled poorly in the first two games - was instrumental in restricting India to 244, making optimum use of the spongy bounce to finish with 2 for 44 from his ten overs.
For all the hype surrounding Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, it was Shabbir who grabbed the headlines once Inzamam-ul-Haq took a calculated punt on bowling first. Shabbir's line and length were wretched early on, but that seemed to prey on the batsmen's minds more than it did on his. Not knowing what to expect, they were surprised by the lethal deliveries that he slipped in from time to time.
As at the WACA in Perth, India's batsmen struggled with the bounce. It's a common fallacy that raw pace alone unnerves the Indians. Anyone who saw Virender Sehwag smash Brett Lee and friends all around the MCG on Boxing Day would tell you that it's just a myth. What discomfits them - and most other top-level batsmen - is steepling bounce allied to pace.
It was no surprise then that Yuvraj Singh, as poised against pace as he is awkward against spin, played Pakistan's fast men most adroitly. There was also a stunning little vignette from L Balaji, whose appetite for a scrap should thrill Indians who are rarely used to seeing such pugnacity from their tail.
Pathan bowled far better than his figures suggest, but ultimately, the hard yards that Hameed put in were enough to take Pakistan past the finish line, especially once Razzaq's big-hitting prowess - which has tortured bowlers of the calibre of Glenn McGrath in the past - ensured that the crowd would be spared anxiety attacks for the first time in the series.
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