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The Bulletin by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
June 14, 2008
A familiar nemesis and a battle-scarred warhorse inspired a downcast bunch to brave the odds and hand Pakistan their first multi-nation title in more than five years. In front of their board chairman, who had lashed out after their previous loss, and their coach, who was criticised for his overly optimistic statements, Pakistan turned in an intense, yet controlled, performance to clinch the Kitply Cup and head home upbeat for the Asia Cup.
In an era of slam-bang cricket, Pakistan reverted to a strategy straight out of the early 1990s: win the toss, bat, see off the new ball, keep wickets, accelerate and launch a big score. From 75 for 1 in the 20th over, on a pitch where the ball appeared to be stopping on the batsmen, they soared to 315. Salman Butt cracked his fifth hundred against India, and seventh overall, but it was Younis Khan's pumped-up century that charmed - under the cosh after his two successive ducks, he chose the big stage for the comeback.
India started well but came apart in the face of the middle-over onslaught. Eight bowlers were tried but Pakistan made the most of the lack of a fifth specialist, going after the part-time spinners even though the field was spread. Piyush Chawla came into this game on the back of a morale-boosting four-wicket haul against Pakistan but ended up having a harrowing time, finishing with the most expensive spell by an Indian spinner in an ODI.
All wasn't lost yet - India had chased down a similar total against Pakistan in Dhaka ten years ago - but there was no batsman, or partnership, to hold the innings together. A constantly mounting run-rate forced some poor shot selection and Yuvraj Singh's wicket, just when he was settled enough to guide the chase, all but shut the door. And just when Mahendra Singh Dhoni raised visions of a robbery, Umar Gul produced a masterclass in death-over bowling to seal the deal. His two early wickets, earned with bouncers, were probably more important but it was the final two, nailed with yorker-length balls, that will stick in the mind. The yorker that crashed into the base of Chawla's leg stump came with the effect of a hammer knocking in the final nail in the coffin.
Vital contributions ensured India stayed in the fight but what India could have done with was a couple of batsmen with the innings-building capabilities of Butt and Younis. The pitch wasn't conducive to strokeplay early and both bided their time through the Powerplays. Once set, there was little the bowlers could do and the blistering 240 Pakistan crashed in 30 overs made up for the lost time. This didn't come about through wild bashing; rather it was because of a pair who understood the nuances of the one-day game and illustrated the value of pacing an innings.
One needs to go back more than 25 years when a Pakistani second-wicket pair added more than 200 against India. The present duo couldn't match the rate set by Mohsin Khan and Zaheer Abbas, who belted 205 in just 27 overs, but did enough to set a rock-solid platform.
Younis raised his bat to the crowd twice: the first when he had a laugh at himself for getting off the mark, on the back of two successive ducks, and the second, a more emphatic celebration, when he brought up his century. It was truly a Younis special, the sort you expect from a batsmen who's used to the backs-to-the-wall feeling. At no point was there a shortage of intent, whether he was drilling through the covers or pulling over midwicket or hustling between the stumps or even paddling fine.
If Younis nudged and glided, Butt punched and slapped. He didn't work on subtle glances and focused instead on forcing the ball through the gaps. He pulled out some of his signature strokes, like the slap through point and flick towards square leg, but the shot that defined this knock was the slog-sweep, whistling balls over midwicket. India, bizarrely, never plugged the gap - even after both batsmen peppered the midwicket boundary - and conceded 84 runs to the duo in that region.
Yuvraj chose to play in a different sort of V - between midwicket and fine leg. He was intent on sweeping the spinners and the packed off-side field prompted him to try out the slog-sweep, the flick, the conventional sweep and the vertical back-drive. He survived a close lbw appeal and a Fawad Alam caught-and-bowled chance but couldn't gauge the low bounce from Shahid Afridi, snicking to the wicketkeeper.
Dhoni held the lower order together and, typically, he chose to rotate the strike as the tailenders went for their shots. Irfan Pathan struggled to get his timing right and both Praveen Kumar and Chawla had no clue against Gul. Dhoni's two late sixes kept the flame flickering but, with nine wickets down and needing to go for broke, he holed out to deep point. He might have left it too late but the real damage was probably done much earlier in the evening.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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