Shaun Pollock tried his best to take his side to a come-from-behind victory but the Africans couldn't quite recover from Mohammad Asif's incisive opening spell on an action-packed day's cricket at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium. Mohammad Yousuf and Mahela Jayawardene were the main architects of Asia's formidable 317 that, despite the brilliant Pollock, gave them a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Before the series kicked off, Pollock had announced that he would not bowl. And what a decision it was. Call it inspired or plain doggedness, he took the opportunity to record his maiden one-day hundred. It was as polished as it was composed; Pollock looked on as wicket after wicket tumbled in the first 25 overs but, with the plucky Elton Chigumbura and the gutsy Thomas Odoyo for company, he grew in confidence and threatened to take the match away.
Pollock cut, drove, pulled and ran hard with the assuredness that his team-mates lacked. Where the Asian bowlers had appeared so clinical in the first half of the innings, shoulders drooped and heads were scratched as Pollock blazed away. The final Powerplay, taken after 36 overs, yielded 48 runs as Pollock and Odoyo treated all to some fireworks. Pollock breezed through the 90s and cut Asif behind square to reach his hundred. The helmet came off, the bat was held aloft, he broke into a huge grin and the crowd roared in appreciation.
Odoyo fell for a cool 36-ball 39 in a 103-run stand but Pollock pressed on with the debutant Morne Morkel. He appeared to be cracking fours at will until, with 45 required from 18, he skied Mashrafe Mortaza to Yousuf at mid-on. He walked off to a standing ovation having scored the first hundred of the Afro-Asia Cup and the all-time highest score from a No. 7 batsman, beating Mohammad Kaif's unbeaten 111 against Zimbabwe at Colombo in 2002-03.
That was impossible to imagine when the innings began. Asif needed just two deliveries to get stuck into the Africans. After giving up a four first ball, he got one to nip back in off a length and AB de Villier's decision to shoulder arms ended in his downfall. Though he looked on as Steve Tikolo was let off by Upul Tharanga at third slip, he got his man when Tikolo trod back onto his stumps after defending another immaculate delivery. Asif's third wicket in a seven-over spell came when he sneaked one through a tentative Justin Kemp's forward defence.
As an able partner to Asif with the new ball, Zaheer Khan too showed just how much juice there was in this virgin pitch when he castled Boeta Dippennar with an inswinger and welcomed Tikolo with some superb lifters marginally outside off stump. A second wicket came Zaheer's way after he set up Loots Bosman with a bouncer and followed up with a fuller delivery which the batsman nicked to first slip.
Sanath Jayasuriya may have failed with the bat, but he picked up Mark Boucher, Albie Morkel and Elton Chigumbura, who at 87 for 7 took the liberty to free his arms and hit a robust 40 from 37 balls in a 67-run partnership with Pollock.
Earlier, after the aggressive intent shown by Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly in a rollicking 68-run second-wicket stand from just 49 balls, the guiding hands of Jayawardene and Yousuf solidified the Asian position against a limited bowling attack. Jayawardene was his usual self as he late-cut and pulled when offered the chance, and together with the reliable Yousuf stitched together a 96-run association that pushed the field back. He raised his 41st one-day fifty with a clip to fine leg off Tikolo's orthodox offspin and then launched his opposite number Kemp into the long-on stands. He tried to repeat the shot against Tikolo but mistimed it and the ball ballooned up towards silly mid-off where Pollock juggled the chance.
Yousuf took his time and was at ease in the role of supporting act. He nudged the ball in the gaps and when Tikolo gave him room he cut past point for four. After Jayawardene got to 50 he too got stuck into Tikolo and raised 8000 one-day runs. However, just when he looked like he could do serious damage at the death Yousuf offered a simple catch to de Villiers at midwicket off Albie.
In the Twenty20 game that preceded this match the Asians had dominated, but thanks to one man's determination the three-match ODI contest is now placed on a relatively even keel.