Dravid and Kaif fashion emphatic win
India 294 for 5 (Dravid 76*, Kaif 71*, Sami 2-51) beat Pakistan 293 for 9 (Inzamam 123, Hameed 45, Zaheer 2-44) by 5 wickets
Nerveless batting by Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Kaif took India to a memorable come-from-behind victory that levelled the five-match series at 2-2. India looked gone at 90 for 4, with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly having fallen prey to wicket-taking balls, but Dravid, first with Yuvraj Singh and then with Kaif, forged two stirring partnerships that took his team to victory with five overs to spare.
Though nearly 600 runs were scored in the match, it was significant that the bowlers held sway for at least half the time. India were well served by an incisive opening spell by Irfan Pathan, then Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami bowled electrifying opening bursts to have the batsmen on the ropes. But in the end it was Dravid's temperament and technique, and Kaif's spirit, that saved the day for India. The Pakistani bowlers aggravated their cause by conceding 37 extras, including 19 wides and nine no-balls.
Dravid walked out with India well ahead of the run rate, but way down on the wicket count. Ganguly fell soon after, and the innings, which could have easily gone south, was steadily balanced by Dravid's controlled knock. Summoning all his powers of timing and placement, he scored runs with easy swings and careful nudges. When Shoaib Akhtar strayed, Dravid helped the ball along to fine leg. And when Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi bowled a wayward ball, it raced off Dravid's bat with a sweet sound.
Though India had lost four quick wickets, their cause was helped by the soaring run-rate set up by a steady stream of early boundaries. Sehwag (26 off 29 balls), Laxman (20 off 18) and Ganguly (21 off 15) all played flashing cameos, and 13 fours and a six came in the first 13 overs. Yuvraj played a vital role too, stroking 36 from 35 balls.
Gradually the match shifted India's way again, and Kaif hung around and picked up runs through deflections and some quick running. What was noticeable was that neither Kaif nor Dravid ever looked in any trouble. Lax fielding helped their cause, as did some loose deliveries. Though both batsmen had almost identical scores at the end of the innings, Kaif played a fine supporting role, and caught up once Dravid took his foot off the pedal.
Much like Dravid's match-turning innings, Inzamam-ul-Haq had rescued his side earlier in the day with a virtuoso innings after a clever spell by Pathan had given India the upper hand on a pitch that offered little assistance to the bowlers. Pakistan were in a spot of bother at 39 for 2 when Inzamam took guard, and he proceeded to play an innings that shifted the momentum in his team's favour without any obvious pyrotechnics. For the best part of the innings, Inzamam coaxed and cajoled the ball into empty spaces, but never failed to pull out the big hits he needed to keep the run-rate racing.
While tight bowling and committed fielding brought runs to a standstill at the beginning of his innings, he shifted up a gear a while later, even as Yasir Hameed was rendered strokeless. After Hameed stepped out of his crease in sheer frustration - and was stumped - Inzamam added 105 with Younis Khan, then galloped along in a 70-run sixth-wicket stand with Abdul Razzaq, as the last ten overs produced 95.
The response was electrifying. Within 15 overs, India posted 103 runs, though Pakistan had prised out Tendulkar, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly by then. The wickets were interrupted by a flurry of boundaries, as the Indians traded punch for punch, even as Akhtar, Sami and Razzaq troubled the batsmen with pace, bounce, and swing.
Under lights, Akhtar bowled at around 95mph, troubling Tendulkar and Sehwag with seaming deliveries. The Indians decided to tackle the bowling with an all-out attack, which was partly successful, but involved a large amount of luck. While Sehwag survived his nicks for a while, Tendulkar didn't. Akhtar got everything right on that one delivery - more pace, bounce, and just that hint of swing - and it kissed the inside edge on the way to Moin Khan.
Laxman had endured a torrid time this series, but here, he struck some wonderful boundaries. A cut, a punch, and a flick sent three consecutive balls from Shabbir Ahmed to the fence, but a searing delivery from Akhtar had Laxman in a dreadful mix, and he played all over it (69 for 2). Meanwhile, Sehwag's all-or-nothing approach had brought him runs quickly, but in Sami's very first over, he hung out his bat and edged a pacy delivery into the slips. Ganguly's aggressive little knock, which featured a slashed six off Sami, ended when he edged Razzaq through to Moin.
Yuvraj came out and took on the Shoaibs, Akhtar and Malik, with equal panache. Yuvraj deflected the ball, and timed it with minimum follow-through, which made his dismissal so unexpected. Pulling a short one from Sami, he saw Yousuf Youhana pluck it inches off the ground. The dumbstruck look on Yuvraj's face said it all.
But Dravid put on a rescue effort that slowly became a matchwinning one, and with Kaif for company, kept India's hopes of winning the series alive and kicking. Now it's all down to the wire, with the series level at 2-2. The fifth and final one-dayer - another floodlit encounter at Lahore - is on Wednesday (March 24 - start 0900 GMT).