Sehwag and Raina seal thumping win
A mighty performance from India's batsmen, led by Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina, made short work of Pakistan's competitive target of 300
The 198-run stand between Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina shut Pakistan out of the game
A mighty performance from India's batsmen, led by Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina, made easy work of a competitive target of 300 and gave the team two points to take into the next round. The pair tore into Pakistan's depleted and wayward bowling attack - scoring at more than eight an over during their second-wicket partnership of 198 - as India reached the target with six wickets and 47 balls to spare, their quickest chase while facing a target of 300 or more.
The Indian approach was in stark contrast to Pakistan's methodical plan in their innings. Their openers played cautiously at the start and accelerated once the new ball had been seen off. Malik's maiden century as captain was the cornerstone of the innings and gave the batsmen who followed the freedom to innovate and bat aggressively to propel Pakistan to 299 for 4. In the end, however, they needed plenty more to challenge a trailblazing Indian batting line-up.
Pakistan's attack was weakened by a rib-muscle injury to Umar Gul, who left the field after bowling only 1.2 overs. Shoaib Malik's offspin was also unavailable because he didn't take the field after cramping towards the end of his century, which left acting captain Misbah-ul-Haq with only three specialist bowling options - Sohail Tanvir, Iftikhar Anjum and Shahid Afridi - and their flat performance cost Pakistan dearly.
Despite snaring Gautam Gambhir early - Misbah showed lightning reflexes in taking a one-handed catch to his left at gully - Pakistan were unable to contain India. After the Kitply Cup final, Dhoni had admitted that promoting Raina ahead of himself was a mistake but today Raina walked in at No. 3, instead of the out-of-touch Rohit Sharma.
Bristling with confidence after his century on Wednesday against Hong Kong, Raina began with free-flowing cover drives when offered width outside off stump by Tanvir and Anjum. He did most of the early scoring and Sehwag hadn't got off the mark till the fourth over. However, Sehwag began to gather momentum by flicking consecutively to the long-leg boundary when Anjum strayed on to his pads, and slashed two short and wide balls from Tanvir to the third-man boundary.
With Tanvir and Anjum ineffective, Misbah turned to Afridi in the 11th over. Afridi bowled one satisfactory over before Sehwag hit him for two straight sixes in his second. Raina lofted Anjum audaciously over extra cover for another six and when Misbah brought Tanvir back, Sehwag immediately glided him down to the third man for four.
Pakistan began to haemorrhage runs and by the time Malik took the field, India had raced to 100 in 14 overs. They found the boundary virtually every over: Raina lofted Fawad Alam's left-arm spin over the midwicket boundary, Sehwag hit Afridi over long-on for six once more. And when Malik, who wasn't allowed to bowl for 71 minutes after taking the field, turned to Salman Butt, Sehwag responded by charging him and smashing the ball twice into the stands at deep midwicket to move into the 90s.
Sehwag brought up his century of only 80 balls but Raina missed his, chipping Anjum tamely to Alam at cover. At that stage India needed 90 runs in 23 overs and victory was only a matter of time.
The ease with which India achieved victory was startling for Pakistan, who had worked extremely hard to build a competitive total on a benign pitch. They reverted to the caution-before-aggression approach that won them the Kitply Cup final in Dhaka earlier this month. In that game, Butt and Younis Khan did the groundwork, steering Pakistan cautiously to 104 for 1 after 25 overs before they went on to score hundreds in a final total of 315 for 3.
Today, Malik's effort was an example of how to pace an innings. He and Butt gave the first eight overs to the Indian bowlers and took no risks. By the end of the 13th over, Pakistan had only scored 38 but India's fast bowlers had failed to create wicket-taking opportunities. Thereafter, Malik began to attack, driving Praveen straight for four and then gliding him between Dhoni and short third man. He was offered width twice by Ishant and cut him through and over point for fours. Dhoni finally resorted to spin in the 20th over but by now Malik was well set and he hit Chawla for two fours through midwicket to reach his fifty off 61 balls.
Malik and Younis, who scored 59, strengthened Pakistan's grip on the game during their 129-run stand for the second wicket. Brimming with confidence, Younis swept the spinners fluently, made room to cut, lofted them over midwicket and threw them completely off line by using the reverse-sweep repeatedly. They played crucial roles in setting a challenging target but their hardworking partnership, during which they ran between the wickets splendidly, was put firmly in the shade by the blitzkrieg launched by Sehwag and Raina.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo