What makes a winning total today? In 1982-83, New Zealand made 297 for six to beat England at Adelaide. The record remained until New Zealand bettered it by one run, also against England in 1990, although they had 55 overs in which to do it. Since then, a target of over 300 has been successfully hunted down by the side batting second 13 times. Apart from when Sri Lanka chased 312 against Zimbabwe in the 1992 World Cup, it shouldn't surprise anyone that all chases have come after 1996, the year in which Sanath Jayasuriya turned ODI batting upside down.
Inzamam-ul-Haq said, after his side almost chased 350 against India two years ago, that no total is safe anymore and he reiterated it before the start of this series. Duckworth and Lewis ensured we will never know whether or not Pakistan could have pulled off the third-highest run chase ever but they ended mighty close anyway. Inzamam of course says it with the comfort of a batting line-up as deep as any ocean. It isn't just the depth that is frightening; the versatility in it is astonishing.
Not until the dying stages of the game, in its last ten overs, did the total remotely look threatening. Until then, Pakistan were coasting; Salman Butt provided the impetus and a platform with a wonderfully punchy century, his third in ODIs and all against India. But arguably the innings of the match came from his collaborator, Shoaib Malik, in a 151-run partnership. Malik's versatility reflects, broadly that of Pakistan's. For his first 50 runs, off 49 balls, he ran hard, picked singles and on a small ground crying for big hits, made only half his runs in boundaries. His second 40 runs were bludgeoned from 18 balls and of those balls, seven were boundaries. For timing and pacing, it was criminally good and as long as he was there, he marshaled Pakistan's chase.
Even when both departed, at 233 for three, with Inzamam, Afridi, Yousuf, Younis, Razzaq all to come, it threatened to be a stroll. That they came so close to losing it and were eventually relieved for bad light which loomed through the day, was due almost entirely to Rahul Dravid's outrageously courageous captaincy. These can't be easy times for Dravid; with the Chappell and Ganguly affair still spluttering, it has been easy to overlook the predicament he is in. It's a shame for it has deflected the spotlight from a wonderfully astute captain.
When both were out, Dravid sniffed and immediately brought in his fielders. Five men were kept in the circle, long-on and long-off, on a small ground, became mid-on and mid-off, a slip was posted (and he had one even as late as the 46th over) and Pakistan were invited to hit over the top. Bowlers were used for only short bursts and the changes brought wickets. The fielding sharpened, one run-out and numerous mix-ups resulted and Pakistan nearly faltered.
He did have a good total to defend, admittedly, and the remainder of this series is as likely to rest on whose batting line runs deeper; India's is not far different from Pakistan's. They might even be more flexible and as Sachin Tendulkar methodically picked off his runs and critics, around him emerged two casually violent innings, not for the first time, from Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. With Yuvraj Singh, Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Kaif to come, India could and should have reached much beyond what they ended with. In any case, it reinforced the belief that the depth and vitality that first surfaced against Sri Lanka in particular was not just a passing phase.
To be honest, it looked from today, that if the series does hinge on a bowling performance, it is likelier to be a Pakistani one. Bowling, though essentially a bit-part occupation here, had some honest Indian representation. Zaheer, Pathan and Agarkar all toiled. But the only periods when the ball controlled and troubled the bat was when it was in the hands of Mohammad Asif throughout his spell and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan at the end of the innings.
Asif continued, in nearly every sense, from where he had left off in Karachi. He seamed the ball, bounced it, varied his length and in conceding just over three runs in an over in a match in which six was the norm, displayed an adaptability in discipline that was remarkable. Rana's finishing spell was pure ODI death; yorkers on demand, key wickets and shared responsibility for India ending well short of what they would have wanted. How much of a part they, or any bowler will play in this series though, is likely to be overshadowed by the question that began this article.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo