Younis stars in hard-fought win
After losing four in a row at home, Pakistan made amends with a six-wicket victory over India in the first one-day international at Adu Dhabi. The bowlers and fielders turned in an excellent showing to restrict India to 197 on a sluggish surface and, though the opposition fought hard in the field themselves, Younis Khan kept his cool to ensure Pakistan could not lose the two-match series.
Where India lost four wickets inside the Powerplay, Pakistan's senior duo of Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq stood firm. Sreesanth and Ajit Agarkar had bowled well to get rid of Shoaib Malik and Imran Farhat following a 42-run opening stand, but India soon found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. With an asking-rate of just four an over, Younis, no doubt riding on his phenomenal Test success against India, and Inzamam, with a starring role in 39 victories against India, dug in.
Younis's is a successful, gully style of batting - gliding the ball past the wicketkeeper, stealing the cheeky singles, enticing the fielders - and today Younis was in some form. The spinners found out the hard way that Younis can be something of a nightmare to bowl to - as tossed up deliveries were paddled around the corner and straighter ones eased off the face of the bat to third man. While his captain preferred the back foot, Younis continued to step out of the crease and whip the ball across to the onside. Innocuous deliveries were turned into half-volleys as he took a big stride forward and worked the ball well wide of the fielders. And when the situation arose, he managed to free his arms and strike a huge six off Harbhajan Singh to lower the pressure.
Unfazed by the situation and clearly enjoying being back in the Gulf - his average rests at 50.28 at neighbouring Sharjah - Inzamam lived up to his reputation somewhat. He moved on from his early jitters - a bad call had him hurrying to make his ground - to crunch drives square of the wicket. When he rocked back and cut the spinners, he made sure they stayed hit; when he flashed, he flashed hard but otherwise the hallmark of his innings was the soft-handed delicacy with which he caressed the ball into the gaps.
As Pakistan edged to within 50 of victory, however, Ramesh Powar and Agarkar threw in one last hurrah for India. In a fit of over-aggression, Inzamam gave Powar the charge but could only pick out the man stationed at long-on (146 for 3). Agarkar, in a fine display of swing bowling, made Mohammad Yousuf look like a novice with his away swingers before drawing an edge for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to easily take (149 for 4). Younis, however, had the last laugh as he took Pakistan past the finish line with nine deliveries to spare.
For India, Sreesanth, Agarkar and Powar all bowled impressively. Sreesanth achieved movement and consistently reached the 140kmh mark, beat Malik numerous times before getting his number, and an opening spell of 7-2-23-1 was about all his captain could have asked of him on this pitch. Agarkar kept it straight on a good length and chipped in with two wickets to keep India in the hunt. Powar tossed it up considerably and had Inzamam, uncomfortable on the front foot initially, playing for the spin before getting him later on. His was another fine return in the face of Pakistani adversity. Pity Pathan didn't get it right. He had taken three wickets in each of his last three games against Pakistan, but today Murphy's Law chased him down. Critics have noted the decline in speed, and today they were given more to talk about as Pathan showed a markdown from even the recent series against England. Movement was minimal and his radar obviously awry today.
Barring a fighting unbeaten 61 from Venugopal Rao, India turned in a dismal performance - four run-outs marred their innings - after Dravid won the toss and decided to bat. To set the tone for affairs to come, Naved-ul-Hasan mixed up his pace and forced Robin Uthappa to chip one to mid-on. Dravid, who again opened the innings with Virender Sehwag rested, was then run out in absolute chaos when he called for a second even as Malik in the deep swooped in and returned his throw. Rao Iftikhar Anjum, who would go on to hold three neat catches at deep midwicket, struck another big blow when he sucked Yuvraj Singh into a loose drive, and then Naved made his presence felt in the field with a terrific throw from mid-on to send back Pathan.
Shahid Afridi, who had thrown in a couple short ones, tossed one up on leg and Suresh Raina (40) obliged by lofting him to Iftikhar at deep midwicket in the 38th over. And there were no fireworks from Dhoni as Malik yorked him with a faster one from around the wicket. On a surface hardly conducive to lofting the ball, Malik was superb in his ability to get the ball to move from around the wicket. Perhaps most significant, though, was the coolness with which the Pakistani fielders hit the stumps. The tail failed to offer a gumption of a fight and ultimately India ended up a good 50 runs short of an imposing total.
The fatigue of a successful season - they had won 17 of 22 going into this game - may have caught up with India, but nothing can be taken away from Pakistan's fiery performance. The fast bowlers began proceedings with swift strikes, the spinners checked the runs, and the fielders backed up both with some nifty work. And in the end, Younis continued his love affair with India's bowlers.
Robin Uthappa c Yousuf b Naved-ul-Hasan12 (25 for 1)
Drove across the line for a simple catch to mid-on
Rahul Dravid run out (Malik) 20 (47 for 2)
Terrible call for a second, good throw got him miles short
Yuvraj Singh c Akmal b Anjum 7 (65 for 3)
Pushed tamely at one on off, thin edge for the 'keeper
Irfan Pathan run out (Naved-ul-Hasan) 26 (72 for 4)
Pushed to mid-on but could not beat a brilliant throw
Suresh Raina c Iftikhar Anjum b Afridi 40 (136 for 5)
Tossed up on legstump, slogged right down deep midwicket's throat
Mahendra Singh Dhoni b Malik 3 (149 for 6)
Quick yorker beat an expansive drive and crashed into leg
Ajit Agarkar c Iftikhar Anjum b Malik (171 for 7)
Tossed up on legstump, heaved away to deep midwicket
Ramesh Powar c Iftikhar Anjum b Malik 9 (180 for 8)
Short-arm jab to - yes, you guessed it - deep midwicket
Harbhajan Singh run out (Abdul Razzaq) 3 (196 for 9)
Pushed to long-on, caught napping on the second run
Sreesanth run out (Shoaib Malik) 0 (196 for 10)
Another one bites the dust in search of an impossible second
Shoaib Malik c Dravid b Sreesanth 12 (42 for 1)
Drove loosely at a wide delivery, edged to lone slip
Imran Farhat b Agarkar 30 (60 for 2)
Yorker on leg, tried to play it to the onside, missed completely
Inzamam-ul-Haq c Venugopal Rao b Powar 40 (146 for 3)
Tossed up, batsman didn't get the elevation, picked out long-on
Mohammad Yousuf c Dhoni b Agarkar 1 (149 for 4)
Outside off and seaming away, poked at it and got a thin edge
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo