Exuberance is congratulated by experience: Mahendra Dhoni completes his first ODI hundred
Mahendra Singh Dhoni's maiden international century, a rousing 148 at No. 3, on the back of a typically belligerent 74 from Virender Sehwag, took India to a mammoth 356 for 9 and set up a 58-run win, giving them a 2-0 lead in this six-ODI series. On a heartbreaker of a pitch for bowlers 654 runs were rattled off in 94.1 overs, but most of them were India's, batting first, and the head of pressure this built up on Pakistan proved their undoing.
To chase 357 a team needs at least one batting miracle. Two Pakistani batsmen - Abdul Razzaq (88) and Yousuf Youhana (71) - got close to pulling off miracles, but fell short in the mad scramble to score quickly enough to keep the required run-rate in check. India's bowlers were more than adequate - the fast men endeavoured to stick to a decent length while the spinners took as much pace off the ball as was possible. Ashish Nehra bowled the most balls in that awkward length too short to drive and too full to pull safely, and was rewarded with four wickets. Yuvraj Singh floated the ball into the rough with enough control to snaffle three wickets.
But it was probably a run-out that did the most damage. Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was beginning to settle into his groove after Salman Butt and Razzaq had given Pakistan a start, embraced disaster. Razzaq played Sachin Tendulkar down to fine leg, and with his weight on the back foot, was reluctant to answer Inzamam's call for a sharp single. Inzamam had charged down the pitch and could not turn around before Harbhajan's throw came in at the non-striker's end. A roar of agony rang around the stadium as Inzamam bemoaned his luck, and Pakistan had lost their finest.
From there on it was a brave display of canny and aggressive strokeplay from Razzaq and Youhana, and then Kamran Akmal briefly towards the death, that kept Pakistan in the hunt. But, with every passing over, the required run-rate was creeping too far away from the realm of the manageable, and Pakistan fell comfortably short of the target.
But the game was truly won in the first half of the day. The pace was set early by Sehwag, and Dhoni ensured the tempo did not flag at any stage. India, who had reached 50 in just 5.1 overs, and then 100 in only 10.3 overs, trotted comfortably past 300 in 42 overs. It was certainly Dhoni's day - his 148, the first ODI century by an Indian wicketkeeper - barring Rahul Dravid - increased the pressure Pakistan must already be feeling in trying to level this series 1-1.
Virender Sehwag, once again, rattled Pakistan with an explosive start
Sehwag began with a streaky edge down the leg side, but soon decided that he was not going to be holding back. Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan came in for fearful tap. Pakistan had struck once, when Tendulkar was run out by a direct hit from Yousuf Youhana as he misjudged a single (26 for 1), but this did nothing to slow the rate of scoring.
Dhoni, promoted to No. 3, began with a crunching extra-cover drive, but appeared nervous, picking up boundaries with edges either side of the wicketkeeper, before settling down to show the world exactly what he was capable of. He showed the full face of the bat and drove off front and back foot with power. His intention always seemed to be to play with a straight bat, and this meant that his margin for error was much reduced.
But it was Sehwag who did the early damage. He was able to pick up perfectly good deliveries and hit them over the top, and this made the bowlers run for cover. When the second wicket fell, with Sehwag mistiming an on-side hit only to be well-caught by Butt at midwicket, India had already run away with the game, having reached 122 for 2 in just 13.4 overs. Sehwag's 74 came off a mere 40 balls, and included 12 fours and two crisply struck sixes.
Sourav Ganguly failed once more, but the fall of his wicket did not deter Dhoni, who found settled circumstances in Rahul Dravid's company to convert a blistering half-century into something more substantial. Dravid (52) kept the strike turning over, and watched with unabashed joy as Dhoni dismantled the Pakistan bowling attack. His scorching hits in the V off the fast bowlers and lofted sixes off the spinner demoralized the opposition no end. Nothing could stop Dhoni, and even when all the players on the field hit the ground in flash as a swarm of bees came into the ground, he stood tall, casually sauntering about his crease, almost wondering what the fuss was all about.
Well, the fuss was about a 149-run partnership that took India to 289 before tiredness ended Dhoni's stirring effort. One heave too many on the on side sent a catch swirling in the air via the top edge, and Dhoni's innings was terminated on 148, off only 123 balls. The Indian team stepped out to applaud Dhoni's effort, and the fans cheered lustily, having enjoyed every one of Dhoni's 15 fours and four sixes. The tail then wagged obligingly, taking India to 356, and virtually the shores of victory.
Tendulkar run out (Youhana) 2 (26 for 2)
Misjudged a quick single and was found short by a direct hit.
Sehwag c Butt b Naved-ul-Hasan 74 (122 for 2)
Well-caught at midwicket trying to clear the infield.
Ganguly b Sami 9 (140 for 3)
Cleaned up trying to work a full delivery to the on-side.
Dhoni c Malik b Hafeez 148 (289 for 4)
Top edged a big heave.
Dravid c Afridi b Naved-ul-Hasan 52 (300 for 5)
Mistimed a pull to the fielder in the deep on the leg side.
Kaif lbw b Naved-ul-Hasan 0 (301 for 6)
Plumb in front playing across the line to a straight one.
Yuvraj Singh lbw b Arshad 15 (318 for 7)
Swept and missed a full one.
Harbhajan b Arshad 11 (325 for 8)
Dragged a slightly slower delivery onto his stumps.
Zaheer c Razzaq b Hafeez 17
Caught in the deep trying to hit the last ball of the innings for a six.
Afridi b Nehra 0 (5 for 1)
Played all around a full one.
Butt c Sehwag b Nehra 36 (89 for 2)
Mis-hit an expansive
drive over the off-side.
Inzamam run out (Harbhajan/Tendulkar) 16 (129 for 3)
off for a quick single to short-fine leg but the striker did not respond
to his call.
Razzaq c Dhoni b Yuvraj 88 (176 for 4)
Tickled one down the legside into the wicketkeeper's gloves.
Malik c Sehwag b Yuvraj 12 (204 for 5)
Holed out to long-off.
Hafeez c Balaji b Yuvraj 7 (222 for 6)
Hoicked a short one to midwicket
Youhana c Kaif b Nehra 71 (263 for 7)
Mis-hit an ambitious drive on the up . Ballooned to cover.
Naved-ul-Hasan c Dhoni b Nehra 2 (268 for 8)
Tickled a delivery that was angling away from him to the keeper.
Sami c Yuvraj b Harbhajan 2 (296 for 9)
Top-edged a sweep to short fine leg.
Akmal lbw b Zaheer 41 (298 for 10)
Trapped in front.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.