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April 19, 2006
Rahul Dravid's ecstatic celebration upon affecting the run-out of Inzamam-ul-Haq told a tale. Even with eight wickets down, and the asking rate spiralling out of control, no one in the Indian camp took victory for granted until the big man was accounted for. Dravid, and several others, would have vivid memories of Ahmedabad last April, when Inzamam presided over the pursuit of 316, stroking the winning run off the last ball of the match. And it wasn't as though that was a one-off either, with Inzamam having played his part in a staggering 39 wins over India.
To be fair, he had huge dollops of good fortune this evening, with both Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh having excellent leg-before shouts turned down and a couple of chances not quite going to hand. In spite of that, his ability to play himself in, gauge the nature of the pitch and accelerate unhurriedly sent a few frissons of worry through the Indian ranks, and it was almost inevitable that it would be a misjudgment of a run that cost him his wicket.
Despite wickets falling regularly at the other end, Inzamam's 79 had provided oxygen for the embers of hope. His tussle with the two offspinners was fascinating to watch, and after initial diffidence, both Ramesh Powar and Harbhajan were punished as the soft and almost soapy ball became harder to grip.
Till he went for 21 in his final two overs, Powar had a superb outing. His ultra-slow loopy bowling frequently confused and confounded, and there was enough sharp turn to keep most batsmen guessing. His rotund figure may suggest that beer, rather than Gatorade, is his energy drink of choice, but there's no questioning the extra dimension that he has given the team since seizing his chance in Pakistan.
That extra dimension seems to be taken for granted where Irfan Pathan is concerned. The wicket of Imran Farhat gave him 100 in ODIs, in just his 59th game. The economy-rate is below five, and he gets a wicket every five overs, and yet there are those who would rather label him a bits-and-pieces cricketer. While his ability to turn a game with crisp shotmaking cannot be ignored, it's hard to keep count of the number of times he has come up with a big wicket or two in his opening spell when called upon.
Greg Chappell isn't an easily excitable man, but when he talks about Pathan, his eyes light up. On days such as this, and they come around often, you can see why. His first two overs went for 15 as India started the defence of 270 poorly, but once he zeroed in on Farhat's leg stump, he was immense. The support from Ajit Agarkar, a seasoned campaigner who has rediscovered the ability to swing the ball away at lively pace, and Sreesanth was also exceptional, ensuring that the slow bowlers came on with the chase already an improbable one.
Unlike yesterday, the bowlers also had runs to play with. While Dravid's polished 92 was further evidence of how he thrives on the pressures of leadership, the most welcome sign for India were the digits next to Virender Sehwag's name on the scoreboard. Having failed to create any impression in the series against England, it was imperative that Sehwag answer one of the searching questions being asked about a side that has now won 18 of 24 since Dravid was appointed captain.
With Sachin Tendulkar missing, a fair few opening combinations will be tried out, but when he's on his game like he was today, it's hard to see beyond Sehwag for one of the slots. There was the odd alarm against the very competent new-ball pairing of Mohammad Asif and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, but once he found his groove, Sehwag played with composure and aplomb - the loft for six off Abdul Razzaq was a none-too-gentle reminder of the destruction that he can wreak when in the mood.
The innings lost momentum towards the end, with Naved bowling a fine spell full of subtle changes of pace. Mahendra Singh Dhoni played with great intelligence for his 59, but the disdainful manner in which Yuvraj Singh thwacked 24 from just 10 balls made you wonder whether he would have been a better option at No.3. On a pitch where the vast majority of strokes were mistimed or heaved off the square, Yuvraj's wondrous sense of timing stood out, and the three fours and a six off Asif's penultimate over transformed a competitive total into an imposing one.
Despite sparks of genius from Inzamam, it was more than enough, and the drawn series a fair reflection of the capabilities of two teams that will expect at least a semi-final place in the Caribbean next year.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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