Pakistan scored an overwhelming 98 run victory over India at Sharjah today to stay in the running for a place in the final of the three nation Coca Cola Cup. Two standout individual performances from Inzamam ul Haq and Waqar Younis were the cornerstones of a well chiseled out team effort and with the Pakistanis also having suitably improved upon their net run rate at India's expense, suddenly it is India which is now in the most precarious position. Inzamam led the Pakistani run riot that produced 121 runs in the last 13 overs to take his side to the commanding heights of 272. And the canny Waqar Younis, who showed that he had lost none of his old cunning as he took his ODI tally to 299, snuffed out the Indian challenge with a controlled spell of fast bowling that scattered the Indian top order. Both of them appropriately shared the man of the match award.
India were staring down the barrel as they went in to bat and an inspired burst by Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram swept away Ganguly and Tendulkar in the space of five overs to leave India tottering at 20/2. The pressure had clearly got to both men and they were nowhere near as self assured as their normal selves. Both Waqar and Wasim were fired up by the certainty of having plenty of runs to play with and never gave the batsmen any breathing space as Ganguly patted a slower one back to Waqar and Tendulkar was bowled through the gate by Akram. For a batsman of his ability, Tendulkar has been castled with astonishing frequency. As has been pointed out he doesn't put his left leg out far enough to close the gap between bat and pad. And by playing forward, the chances of being given leg before are also minimal.
After that it was all downhill as Sunil Joshi was quickly given the marching orders by Younis and the rash of wickets forced Dravid and Azharuddin to close the shutters for a while. Dravid tried to get a move on as he punished Abdur Razzaq for three boundaries but after the spell of inactivity earlier, he was compelled to have a go at balls he would normally have left well alone and chased a wide one from Shoaib through to Moin. Younis was not through yet and returning for his second spell, he dispatched Azharuddin and Jadeja, the latter with a vicious in-cutter that produced a rattle of timber, in the space of three overs to douse the last smoulders of the Indian challenge. He finished with 5-31 in 10 overs and took his ODI wickets tally to 299.
All the pundits agreed that the Sharjah wicket was a good batting track and they must have been shaking their heads in bafflement when the highest score in six innings over the first three days was a modest 199. Well today the Pakistanis showed that there was no devil in the wicket and it was just inept batting that had been found out in the earlier matches. Inzamam ul Haq was in supreme touch as he blazed away to his seventh ODI hundred off just 98 balls and took the Indian attack to the cleaners in the course of an unbroken 151 run association for the fourth wicket with Yousuf Youhana.
Moin Khan won the toss and elected to bat for the third time in a row and mindful of having lost the first two, it must have been a difficult choice to make. But he trusted his batsmen to come good on the day and they certainly did the job for him with great gusto. The Indians began well as they got rid of the man in form Imran Nazir to a slower ball from Agarkar in the fifth over. Shahid Afridi started slowly and then threatened briefly but he always looked like the end was round the corner. Robin Singh then tied one end up as he bowled 10 overs on the trot for a mere 34 and when Younis Khan was third out at 121 in the 29th over, India must have entertained hopes of pegging the Pakistanis down to a manageable target.
Inzamam paced his innings to a nicety with his first fifty taking 71 balls and his second a mere 27 as he plundered the attack with the hit straight down the ground being repeatedly resorted to. There cannot be a safer place if you're taking the aerial route and Inzy just kept stepping out, picturing the spot where the ball is likely to land and taking it on the half volley past the hapless bowler. Youhana struggled to get Joshi off the square early on, even playing out two maidens, but he two joined the party in the later stages as an array of strokemakers like Moin, Akram and Razzaq were left watching from the sidelines. Both Kumble and Prasad were flogged for 17 runs in an over and at the end of it all it was only Robin and Sunil Joshi (1-42 in 9 overs) who could hold their heads high.