Pakistan v India, 2nd ODI, Rawalpindi February 11, 2006

Upping the tempo



Virender Sehwag continued to blast away after reaching his 20th one-day fifty © Getty Images
There has been a sneaking suspicion in Pakistan, and possibly among some in India, that this one-day series presented itself as a stroll for the hosts. After their win at Peshawar, Greg Chappell had called Pakistan one of the best one-day sides in the world (his brother Ian had expressed similar sentiments) and little in their assessments could seemingly be doubted. What both their assessments overlooked, however, was India's own claim to the upper strata of international cricket and equally impressive recent form.

More so than their bowling, it is India's batting that forms the basis of their assertion. If Pakistan rarely looked out of control in their Peshawar chase, then the same can be said of India's here. On the whole, they were even more comfortable in pulling off an emphatic win. The target posed a lesser challenge but the on-and-off sluggishness in the pitch still suggested that it would not be as easy as they eventually made it appear.

It is not a bad idea, in most chases, for Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar to give you a start, for when they do, it's generally a hasty one. Their threat, for some time, has looked far more daunting on paper than in actuality. Tendulkar had questions asked of him before Peshawar but with marginally more assertion - and fractionally less hysteria - doubts could have been raised about Sehwag's one-day form. If Sehwag's one-day career had begun at Hobart against Zimbabwe in January 2004 (in the VB series), he might not have been playing still; in 60 matches since then, he averages under 29, with one hundred and eight fifties.

But something about Pakistan clearly stirs him. His 67 today bore the same traces of lazy bluster that Pakistan came up against at Cochin and Vishakapatnam last year, and at Karachi the year before; an uppercut over point for six, cement-footed drives through cover and squarer, an astounding punch on the front and the up through extra-cover and some wristy punts through midwicket and square leg. By putting on 105 in 92 balls, with Tendulkar also untroubled, he essentially settled the match. On the 50 occasions that the two have opened together, this was their ninth century stand, but only their third, coincidentally, since the Hobart match. But for Sehwag's freak run-out, the match could have ended earlier.

And if you're rid of both, well, take your pick: Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, MS Dhoni and Irfan Pathan and in no particular order either. Dhoni or Pathan could have come and blitzed the game, Kaif could have done it with more sedateness but eventually, only the method of Dravid and the beauty of Yuvraj were deemed necessary.



Irfan Pathan found good swing early in his spell and settled into a tidy spell thereafter © Getty Images

What holds people back from pronouncing India readily among the best is possibly their bowling. Pathan found good swing early in his spell and settled into a tidy spell thereafter but his support in bowling and fielding remained erratic; often, when it mattered, they were very good but quite often they were equally poor. Bowling out Pakistan for 265 suggests a strong display in the field but in truth Pakistan batted as if they had listened to their own hype. They were startlingly complacent and you can argue, in each dismissal, that they shot themselves in the foot ten times today. Was batting first a mistake? Marginally so but only in hindsight, which is a fickle gauge anyway.

It wouldn't have mattered much, so poor was Pakistan's batting; if it wasn't poor shot selection, it was some comically shambolic running, most memorably in Mohammad Yousuf's case. It will annoy them more so because they still managed to recover from 68 for four and with Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik ensconced in a 102-run partnership and with Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq to come, 300 wasn't improbable. Whether even that total would have been enough, we will never know but it will have escaped nobody's attention that for two matches running, Pakistan's bowling - the admirable Mohammad Asif apart - has looked as ineffective as India's is meant to be. Shoaib Akhtar's injury and the dropping of Mohammad Sami suddenly - after India have amassed nearly 600 runs for 13 wickets at well over six per over - takes on an altogether more serious hue.

Global battles for supremacy have now begun; Australia don't look as invincible as they did a year ago, Sri Lanka float between the sublime and the ridiculous and South Africa and New Zealand hover dangerously. Things are getting tasty around the world. Not unlike this series.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo