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November 18, 2007
Shoaib Malik excelled with both bat and ball as Pakistan notched up the consolation win that reduced India's margin of victory in the one-day series to 3-2. A 168-run partnership with Mohammad Yousuf revived Pakistan's stuttering innings, and he then picked up the key wickets of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rohit Sharma as an under-strength team outlasted an Indian side that had also rested four regulars.
By the time Malik arrived in the middle, Sreesanth had struck in each over of his second spell to transform a promising start (65 for 0) into a decidedly rocky one (77 for 3). But with Yousuf in the sort of form that fetched him an unbeaten 99 in the previous game, the innings was steadily rebuilt, first with singles, and then with big hits over midwicket and through the covers.
Malik's innings was laced with some good fortune too, with top-edged pulls off Sreesanth and Praveen Kumar, the debutant, falling safe, but the manner in which he and Yousuf took on India's slow bowlers completely changed the complexion of the innings.
Yousuf was again at his unhurried, classy best. He picked the gaps on the leg side cleverly and cut the ball behind point fluently when the bowlers erred. He was well on track for the century that he had missed both in Guwahati and Gwalior, but was flummoxed when the previously expensive Yuvraj Singh spun one past the bat as he lunged forward.
Malik's 82-ball 89 had ended in similar fashion just minutes earlier, with Murali Kartik deceiving him in the flight. But Misbah-ul-Haq and the impressive Fawad Alam finished with a flourish to ensure that the exit of the two established batsmen didn't really affect the final total.
India's reply was doomed almost from the start, with Sohail Tanvir and Iftikhar Anjum doing the damage. Sourav Ganguly was among the four rested, and it was Gautam Gambhir who emerged to open with Sachin Tendulkar. He cut and flicked Tanvir for two fours, but was fortunate to be reprieved when a thick edge just brushed the fingertips of second slip. His luck didn't last though, and when he played down the wrong line, he was plumb in front.
Tendulkar got going with two gorgeous cuts for four off Umar Gul, but Robin Uthappa, promoted to No. 3, struggled in conditions where the ball moved around. Anjum was dismayed when a flashing edge was put down by Misbah at slip, but he didn't need to frown for long. With his feet statuesque, Uthappa repeated the shot, and this time Misbah's fingers weren't slippery.
Tendulkar was carrying on where he left off in Gwalior, cover-driving and flicking Tanvir with superb timing. But when he was drawn to play one that angled well away from him, Misbah was on hand once again to take the catch. That put India on the back foot, and it was backs-to-the-wall moments later when Virender Sehwag had a grotesque dart at another Tanvir delivery that angled across. Sarfraz Ahmed took his first catch in ODIs, and India were in disarray at 62 for 4.
Yuvraj struggled horribly early on, getting off the mark from the 11th ball he faced, a fortuitous inside edge for four. His timing was awry, and when Anjum thumped him on the helmet with a well-directed short ball, it exemplified India's travails. But Rohit Sharma played himself in and then proceeded to play some gorgeous shots, including a six on-the-walk over mid-off, as an 81-run partnership revived Indian hopes.
But a tame loft to long-on ended his innings, and when Yuvraj, who had overcome early jitters to post yet another 50, was given out caught off the arm, Malik and Pakistan sensed their moment. Dhoni, who appeared to damage an ankle while running a single, lost patience and miscued one to cover, and Kumar made little impact. It was left to Irfan Pathan to reduce the margin as the match petered out.
Sharma's composure and class apart, India could take some comfort from the performances of Kumar and Sreesanth. Sreesanth struggled for line and fluency against the left-hand Salman Butt, and it was Kumar who was clearly more impressive in the first spell. Bowling in the low 130s for the most part, he got some movement and troubled both batsmen with his accuracy before a couple of wayward deliveries at the end of the spell allowed the batsmen to score a few.
Sreesanth went for 20 in his first three overs, but when he returned, it was a different tale. Butt miscued a pull to short mid-on, and Yasir Hameed was also undone by steep bounce outside his off stump. Imran Nazir had been largely becalmed on his way to 20, but when a slower ball came his way outside off stump, he couldn't resist the temptation. The swipe came straight back at Sreesanth, who took a smart catch.
That was as good as it got for the capacity crowd. Malik and Yousuf wrested the initiative, and a young pace attack along with Alam - who showed nice variations despite going wicketless - made light of the absence of Shoaib Akhtar to script an emphatic victory. For Malik, the star of the show, it was the perfect note with which to end one campaign and prepare for a more testing one.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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