Salman Butt's ton steers Pakistan to victory
Pakistan 294 for 4 (Butt 107*, Inzamam 75, Malik 61) beat India 292 for 6 (Yuvraj 78, Sehwag 53) by six wickets
India-Pakistan matches have a habit of throwing up unlikely heroes. Pakistan found one today in Salman Butt, whose beautifully paced unbeaten 107 guided them to a convincing six-wicket win in the Platinum Jubilee one-off match at the Eden Gardens. Set a daunting 293, Pakistan romped home with one over to spare, winning their fourth consecutive one-day international against India.
Just 20 years old and playing only his sixth one-day international, Butt showed none of the inexperience or immaturity that might have been expected from someone so raw. Playing in front of 90,000 spectators, most of them rooting for the opposition, Butt put in a completely nerveless display, totally overshadowing Yuvraj Singh's performance earlier in the day, when he made 78 off just 62 balls to power India to an imposing total.
Butt's strokeplay through the off side early in his innings was impressive - he repeatedly drove the seamers through the covers early in his innings - but the most outstanding aspect of his batting was his composure throughout. He retired hurt due to cramps when on 68, but returned after Yousuf Youhana's dismissal 31 runs later and creamed his first ball on return to the point fence. Then, with Inzamam-ul-Haq (75) taking charge, Butt sensibly played the support act, and fittingly played the winning stroke, a flick off Ashish Nehra.
Butt and Shoaib Malik (61) put Pakistan's run-chase back on track after Younis Khan's early dismissal. Their 115-run stand came off just 20.3 overs, and both played their parts to perfection. Malik took occasional risks, went after the bowlers, and forced the pace, slapping three fours off successive balls from Irfan Pathan, and then tonking Virender Sehwag for two sixes. Butt, on the other hand, played the second fiddle, taking no risks, taking the singles, and turning the strike over.
India got a whiff thereafter, though. Malik chipped a catch to midwicket (128 for 2), Butt retired hurt, Yousuf Youhana was dismissed cheaply, and Inzamam was struggling for runs. Pathan even bowled a maiden over to Inzamam, who was completely out of sorts and hardly managed to put bat to ball. India's four front-line bowlers had all performed capably, but Sourav Ganguly now faced the tricky job of completing the fifth-bowler's quota. Sehwag had bowled six, but four more needed to be bowled. Ganguly turned to Sachin Tendulkar, and that over, the 38th of the innings, which came immediately after Pathan's maiden, effectively swung the momentum and the contest.
Fifteen came from Tendulkar's over as Inzamam hoicked and pulled fours, and Butt executed a superb late-cut. The floodgates opened, and Inzamam suddenly regained his touch, connecting with the pulls and drives that he had earlier been missing. The Indians, meanwhile, increasingly struggled to come to grips with the dew, which noticeably hampered the bowlers and even the fielders. Inzamam was finally dismissed by Nehra, but the contest had been sealed a lot earlier.
India's innings was powered by Yuvraj Singh, who proved once again why he is such a vital cog in the Indian one-day line-up. With the innings losing momentum after a superb start, Yuvraj came in and turned it around with an electrifying 78 off 62 balls. VVS Laxman (43) and Virender Sehwag (53) were the early pace-setters, but the protagonist was Yuvraj. Dropped from the Test side, he hit back with a vengeance, as India scored 115 from the last 13 overs.
Ganguly won the toss and chose to bat, and the stage was set for another pitched battle between Tendulkar and Shoaib Akhtar. There were a few early moments which whetted the crowd's appetite - Tendulkar smashed a four with a front-foot pull, Shoaib hit back a ball later when he had Tendulkar dropped. However, that lapse, by Abdul Razzaq, wasn't costly as Tendulkar failed to beat a direct hit from Younis at short midwicket (29 for 1).
Laxman and Sehwag made light of that early setback, with Laxman in especially sumptuous leg-side form. Shahid Afridi pulled it back for Pakistan, nailing both batsmen quickly. Rahul Dravid failed to do the consolidating act, and at 163 for 4 in the 33rd, Pakistan had wrested back the initiative. Then, Yuvraj cut loose.
He began with a checked straight-drive off Razzaq, and then shifted gears after the ball was changed in the 37th over. Timing the ball quite exquisitely, Yuvraj swept a six off Malik, creamed Razzaq for on-side fours, and then produced the coup de grace - an effortlessly picked straight six off Mohammad Sami. Ganguly's dismissal - miscuing a hoick off Shoaib - only increased the anxiety for Pakistan, as Kaif's amazing speed between the wickets ran the fielders ragged. Yuvraj finally fell off the penultimate ball of the innings, and it seemed he had done enough to put India on the winning trail. Salman Butt, though, had other ideas.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.