"I have never seen so many runs scored off the cut," said MS Dhoni after India's 54-run defeat against Pakistan in Centurion. He was referring primarily to Shoaib Malik, who cut, dabbed and steered effortlessly, collecting 61 runs through the gaps in the region between third man and point. Malik toyed with the field during his seventh ODI hundred - his fourth against India - and helped Pakistan reach a match-winning score of 302 for 9 in 50 overs.
Malik already had a formidable record against India and after today's effort his stats against the old enemy read 1515 runs (out of 5009) at an average of 52.24. He came to the crease after Pakistan had lost their openers during a fast start and then watched his captain Younis Khan fall a short while later. A promising beginning had deteriorated to 65 for 3 in the 15th over and Pakistan were in danger of squandering the advantage of winning the toss.
Malik, however, had an astute partner in Mohammad Yousuf and the pair methodically rebuilt the innings. Malik took his time to settle in - Yousuf was the brisker scorer early on - and was unperturbed by his average strike-rate. His score at various stages were 3 off 16, 10 off 31, and then 34 off 69. He didn't throw it away, though, and was set by the time Harbhajan Singh was brought into the attack. Malik greeted Harbhajan with a cut to the third-man boundary, and meted out similar treatment to Yusuf Pathan. His ability to score at will through the off side rattled the Indian bowlers.
Once Pakistan were back on course, Malik became more aggressive, hitting Ishant Sharma for three fours in an over before taking back-to-back boundaries off a mediocre RP Singh. He reached his 50 off 81 balls but brought up his 100 off only 108 deliveries. He paced his innings supremely and was deservedly the Man of the Match.