Led by Yuvraj Singh with bat, ball and in the field, India repelled a determined push from Salman Butt to pull off an ultimately comfortable 46-run win at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur. Butt's fourth ODI hundred intermittently threatened India's 294 but it was built without solid support and ultimately wasn't enough to prevent them taking a 2-1 series lead.
Yuvraj foiled Pakistan at key moments, first with an intelligent, elegant 77, then with a shining run out amid a gloomy fielding performance and finally with a vital wicket. The interventions were necessary for when Pakistan began the chase, their target appeared a stroll.
Perhaps it is the Kanpur air, but Pakistan's openers prosper here. Two years ago, Shahid Afridi terrorised India; today Butt gave them a fright. It had rained boundaries when India's openers were at the crease earlier, but with Butt, Afridi and Younis Khan there came a monsoon. Afridi set the tone from his first ball and though an ugly swish was his end - Irfan Pathan is on top in this battle of Pathans - the boundaries continued.
It wasn't surprising that Butt was in the mix, for against India, he generally is. He averages 45 against them, as compared to 33 overall and all his hundreds have been against them.
Of his initial strokes, not one would be out of place in a Test and if we're familiar with the wristy flourishes through off, his leg-side play was surprisingly prominent. An early pull wide of mid-on was an appetiser, a punch through midwicket in Zaheer Khan's first over, a grand main course and a clip between the two to bring up his fifty a zesty dessert.
But India soon wised up: Zaheer switched to round the wicket, the off side was tightened and Butt's cover drives made redundant. Boundaries vanished, runs slowed and wickets fell. For all their fielding comedy, India - or rather Yuvraj - managed to pull off a spectacular run out when it mattered, with Mohammad Yousuf being the lazy, familiar victim.
Spinners took over in the 20th over and a wily choke slowly fell into view: spin, bounce, little flight, gaps not easy to pierce, hurried play. Butt struggled against Harbhajan Singh in particular: he hit ten fours in his first fifty, but didn't hit another for 56 balls. Yuvraj bogged Shoaib Malik down first, before dismissing him and in this passage the result was written, though not without another nearly-there innings by Misbah-ul-Haq.
Yuvraj's earlier intervention was as decisive, with a familiar partner in crime. Yuvraj and Dhoni spell trouble for Pakistan for today they put on their fourth century stand against them in seven innings (average 99.8), and like the others, this came when it mattered most and at terrifying pace.
Pakistan had just clawed some momentum back after a poor start. Old men might struggle with early mornings, but Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were as sprightly as a pair of teens after being put in. Ganguly was blessed with a life off the first ball of the match when Kamran Akmal dropped him and it was just the boost he needed.
Duly, the pair punished Pakistan with boundaries. And just when another century stand awaited ODI cricket's greatest opening pair, Pakistan cut their losses along with their pace and brought in Sohail Tanvir. He responded with a wonderful, controlled spell, immediately finding the edge off Tendulkar, who thus fell, for the second match running, to cricket's unluckiest dismissal: caught Akmal.
A few run-light overs later, Ganguly too was gone and suddenly as Gautam Gambhir went, Pakistan strutted with collars upturned. But not for long. Yuvraj was dropped when still nervy, ironically by Butt. Dhoni and Yuvraj then took drinks, took stock and took control. Yuvraj made the first move, a spell of two runs in three overs broken by two sixes, swept and driven off Abdur Rehman. And when fun is to be had, Dhoni doesn't miss out. He matched his deputy next over, though where Yuvraj caressed balls with love, Dhoni fairly bludgeoned two sixes.
Shoaib Akhtar and Afridi were treated as one, clubbed for three boundaries in two overs. Yuvraj was choosier, sweeping Afridi for four to reach fifty and celebrating the next ball with six. Afridi the legspinner is at his peak, but Indian batsmen don't care: two wickets in three games at nearly six an over in this series is in line with a career bowling average of nearly 58 against India.
The pair brought up their century partnership in the 43rd over, and even though Dhoni went immediately after, India were set. Tanvir excelled again at the death, but was alone. Abdur Rehman was hidden for as long as possible, and when he couldn't be hidden any longer, India prospered. His last three overs went for 41, the misery of miseries for Malik being that they were the 45th, 47th and 49th of the innings. Yuvraj and the lower order picked him for sixes as a sniper might a sitting duck. In the final calculation, that period sealed it.