The thrill of the attack
One truism that we get to hear a lot these days - ever since Steve Waugh's Australians took the modern game to a pinnacle - is how Test cricket has been improved by the values of one-day cricket, especially as regards aggressive batting and fielding. Well, in this game we saw some of the values of traditional Test cricket being applied in a one-day game.
Fast bowlers thundered in and bowled fine wicket-taking spells, with absolutely no concern for saving runs, just a burning desire to get the batsman out. It made for fantastic cricket, and even though more of Pakistan's bowlers bowled in this manner, India won because they counter-attacked superbly. This was always going to be an exciting series, because the emotions were so charged, but the cricket has been equally electric.
Irfan Pathan was the pick of the Indian bowlers, getting two early wickets, and bowling in a manner that Pakistan's batsmen will surely see more of in the Test series: left-arm over, pitching on the stumps, straightening into the right-hand batsman. Shahid Afridi, a man who surely doth attack too much, got himself out with a characteristically loose shot, but Yousuf Youhana's dismissal was well earned.
Youhana, whose initial movement is to thrust his left foot way across, often survives lbw shouts because his front foot is outside off at the point of impact. Left-arm fast bowlers also often have lbw shouts against right-handers turned down because they pitch outside leg. Pathan had two appeals turned down against Youhana because of the above two reasons, and then worked him around until he got one to pitch on middle and straighten, hitting Youhana's front foot in line with middle stump. It was classical Test cricket.
None of his fellow Indian bowlers showed the stomach for such relentless attack. Even Murali Kartik, who has bowled some fine attacking spells in one-dayers in India, flighting the ball and tempting batsmen to their doom, bowled more of a defensive line, concentrating on pitching it outside leg and denying batsmen the chance to score freely. Of course, one makes strategy according to the abilities of one's men, and it mostly worked for India, as Pakistan, after losing early wickets, had to temper any ambitions of picking up the momentum, reaching 206 for 4 in 42. But Inzamam-ul-Haq had batted magnificently in ensuring his team didn't slip off the slope they were on, and, along with Abdul Razzaq, took full toll of some uninspiring bowling at the end to take the score to 293.
Pakistan's bowlers, especially Shoaib Akhtar, then came out steaming, and picked up four Indian wickets in the first hour. But, exhilaratingly, India scored 94 in the 13 overs bowled in that time. How often do you see 94 for 4 at the first drinks interval of a one-day innings? The Indians counter-attacked brilliantly, and while they benefited from a few inside edges, and many extras - a consequence of the bowlers straining too hard to knock the batsmen over - they also played some spectacular shots.
Surely, at that stage, they'd consolidate. Instead, they continued attacking. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh, who had famously added 99 in 102 balls against Pakistan in last year's World Cup match at Centurion, now added 68 in 64 - and there were ten fours in their partnership. There was no panic, though. They backed their ability to match Pakistan's bowlers, hit Akhtar out of the attack with some classical cricket strokes, and as the wickets dried up, the runs flowed.
Yuvraj was out in the 24th over, at the end of which India were 165 for 5. Some quiet consolidation was surely called for now, and Dravid and Mohammad Kaif did, in fact, milk the bowling for a while. But they also played some beautiful textbook strokes, as they sailed to the target with 30 balls to spare, at 6.2 an over.
Dravid's calmness, Inzamam's brilliance, the hostility of Pathan, Akhtar and Mohammad Sami - it's going to be one hell of a final one-day international, and it's going to be an outstanding Test series too. If this is what India-Pakistan cricket is all about, well, give us more.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.