Malik, Yousuf set up important win
It was a vintage Pakistan show. The near relic formula of doubling the 30-over score worked for them, as Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf accelerated from 139 for 3 after 31 overs to score 163 in the last 19. Then the ugly side of Pakistan emerged: their pace bowlers gave away 31 runs in no-balls and free hits during India's chase. Yet they opportunistically converted two run-out chances to end up comfortable winners of a contest that stayed tense for at least 40 overs of the second innings.
For the best part of the day, it seemed another classic would be added to the long list of classics played between India and Pakistan. Coming face to face for the first time in close to a year and a half, the two teams matched each other blow for blow for 90 overs, in terms of play both inspirational and ordinary. In the end, though, India made one mistake too many, and as is often the case with these high-pressure matches it was the mistakes that counted.
Harbhajan Singh would wish this day had never happened: he failed to cover for a low-on-confidence pace attack, giving away 71 runs for one wicket (he now has 10 wickets in 15 ODIs against Pakistan), and then ran Rahul Dravid out in what was the final turning point of the match. A valiant Dravid had kept the chase alive, and despite a regular fall of wickets India needed 67 runs in 49 balls when he was called for a non-existent third and was left stranded.
The slower bowlers proved to be the difference on a day that the faster men - barring Ashish Nehra and Mohammad Aamer - refused to learn from their mistakes. India's two spinners, Harbhajan and Yusuf Pathan, went for 127 in their 20 overs and took two wickets, while Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal combined to take four wickets for 70 runs in their 18.5 overs. That despite the dew troubling them in the later half of their efforts.
What now seems like a long time ago, the stage was set for Harbhajan to come on and take charge of a remarkable comeback by the Indian bowlers after they had been carted for 51 runs in the first seven overs. At 65 for 3 after 15, though, MS Dhoni delayed the introduction of Harbhajan, and tried to get through some cheap overs from the part-timers. He needed all the cheap overs he could get from them because one of his main bowlers, RP Singh, was completely off tune (Dhoni later said it felt like he was three bowlers short).
At that time, Malik looked like going nowhere. His score at various stages of the innings read 3 off 16, 10 off 31, and then 34 off 69. But during that period he didn't throw it away, and was set by the time Harbhajan arrived. At the other end, Yousuf was his usual silken self, reaching 35 off 45 almost unnoticed, having hit just one boundary, that too off a rank long hop from Virat Kohli.
And then Yousuf signalled intent, not with a big winding shot, but with a deft late cut off Yusuf Pathan in the 32nd over. Malik followed suit, and guided Harbhajan to the third-man boundary in the next over. In the over after that both Yousuf and Malik cut Pathan for boundaries, and suddenly the Indian bowlers started getting rattled.
They made complete mockery of the view that middle overs in ODIs have become formulaic and boring. Even without looking to hit powerful shots, the two just milked the bowlers with ease. Malik became severe, welcoming Ishant Sharma back with three boundaries in one over. Dhoni then brought RP into the attack and he went for back-to-back boundaries against Malik, who had started toying with the unimaginative bowling, going over extra cover, beating third man on both sides, and also hitting the odd straight shot.
Yousuf was not exactly slow at the other end, his boundaries through point and over extra cover, both off RP, were a treat to watch. Their 206-run stand took just 188 legal deliveries and broke their own record for the fourth wicket against India. While Yousuf missed his century by 13 runs, Malik went on to get his first ton since last year's Asia Cup. Four of his seven centuries have come against India, and his average of 52.24 against them is a stark contrast to his 35.27 overall. He also crossed 5000 ODI runs during the innings, 1515 of which have come against his favourite opposition.
Following Pakistan's relentless accumulation, a charged-up Gautam Gambhir gave India's innings a sensational start, but his first error, a lazy bit of running, hurt the chase about as much as it had helped it. His 46-ball 57 had taken India to 90 for 1 in the 14th over, when Dravid hit firmly to a close mid-off, called Gambhir for a single and sent him back. Gambhir didn't make a desperate effort to dive or sprint back, and was undone by a direct-hit from Younis Khan. Replays showed a dive might have saved his wicket. All the way back Gambhir kept admonishing himself for leaving the job unfinished.
After two quick wickets fell to Shahid Afridi, Suresh Raina launched a stunning assault, hurting Pakistan's spinners who by now had started having trouble gripping the ball. The 72-run fifth-wicket stand between Dravid and Raina, who scored 46 off 41, was interrupted by a fast yorker from Ajmal that hit Raina in front of his stumps. The situation was still under India's control, with 98 runs required in 15 overs, and the Powerplay yet to be utilised.
Pathan then played an insensible shot to Aamer, edging a big heave to wide slip, and then Dravid was run out for 76, swinging the match irreversibly Pakistan's way.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo