Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has said that the decision to give Irfan Pathan the new ball in the third ODI against Pakistan was a ploy to silence Shahid Afridi and dismiss him early in Pakistan's chase of 295.
After leading Pakistan to a thrilling victory batting down the order in the second one-dayer in Mohali, Afridi was promoted to the opening slot in Kanpur but was bowled for 12 by Pathan. Speaking after the match, Dhoni revealed that India had expected Afridi to open, given that he scored a whirlwind century off 45 balls at the same venue during the 2005 tour.
"We knew they would check the record book and field Afridi as an opener," Dhoni said. "So we decided to give the new ball to Irfan. He's among the more accurate bowlers and he proved it today."
Salman Butt gave Pakistan hope with a career-best 129, but Pakistan failed to get meaty contributions from senior players like Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. None of the others managed to cross fifty, as Pakistan fell short by 46 runs. Reflecting on the chase, Dhoni didn't feel the momentum slipping away from his side at any stage.
"In fact, I never really thought they came close to winning," Dhoni said. "The pitch was on the slower side, the ball was not coming onto the bat, the wicket was assisting the spinners and Bhajji [Harbhajan Singh] was bowling so well. It was very difficult to score off him. Zak [Zaheer Khan] also bowled well and there really was no stage when I feared that the match was slipping from us."
When asked about India's batting effort after being sent in, Dhoni praised the openers, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, for negating the seaming conditions early on to post an opening stand of 68 in just under 11 overs. Yuvraj top-scored with 77 while Dhoni himself chipped in with a useful 49 and their stand of exactly 100 in under 16 overs propelled India to a match-winning score.
"All know that the ball would seam here for the first 30-40 minutes, which it did even today. In fact, had I won the toss, we would have fielded first as well. Our openers did a good job today."
Dhoni had a special mention for Yuvraj's contribution with the bat and on the field as well, effecting the run-out of Yousuf.
"As I have told before the series, he [Yuvraj] is our trump card. The kind of shots he plays and the class he shows, it's a pleasure to have a player of his calibre. It helps when we are batting together. If I get stuck and boundaries are not easy to come by, I know he is there to score those boundaries and take the pressure off me."
Looking ahead to the next match in Gwalior, Dhoni felt there was room for improvement in the bowling and fielding. "I think we bowled better than them but there is still room for improvement in this department. The fielding however, I don't think was upto the mark. Overall, you can call it an average day in the office in these departments."