After 40 overs, Shoaib Malik had set the game up for Pakistan beautifully through a plan that is typical of Pakistan. Slow start, consolidation, and then accelerate in the end. The first two had been achieved, and Malik was in the middle of lift-off when he started cramping. He tried to continue with a runner, but failed to manage. When he retired hurt, Pakistan were 219 for 1, looking for something in excess of 320, but the change of batsmen proved to be the turning point of the match. On a flat deck, the last 10 overs yielded only 80 for Pakistan - that too with nine wickets in hand.
When Shoaib Malik retired hurt in the 41st over after a superb century, the crowd at the National Stadium didn't like the sight of Malik's replacement. It was Mohammad Yousuf, and not Shahid 'Boom Boom' Afridi who walked out. The next wicket fell, and Misbah-ul-Haq came in. When the camera caught the most popular cricketer in Pakistan in the dressing-room and showed him on the big screen, the crowd went berserk. In the end, when Afridi actually batted, it ended in a whimper: a whimper that ended in eight balls and nine runs. Yousuf, on the other hand, scored 30 off 20, and Misbah, 31 off 26.
Iftikhar Anjum might have fizzled out later, but he has made two great starts in two matches in the Asia Cup. In the first match he cleaned Irfan Ahmed up with the first ball. Today, he started his spell mid-over when Umar Gul had to pull out because of a rib injury. And Iftikhar repeated the dose against Gautam Gambhir, getting him first ball.
Iftikhar's wicket, in effect, was Misbah-ul-Haq's. Taking over the captain's duty - Malik didn't take the field initially - Misbah came up with perhaps the only moment of inspiration during Pakistan's defence. When Gambhir flashed at a short-of-length loosener from Iftikhar, Misbah - at backward point/fine gully - leapt to his left and literally plucked it like a fruit ripe for the taking. It wasn't as easy as he made it look.
After Younis Khan reverse-swept thrice in his innings to score ten runs, Virender Sehwag got one better. With his helmet off and his bald head glistening, he gave a reverse-welcome to Fawad Alam in his first over. There was no deceit, no holding back; he gave Fawad ample warning of what was coming. But it wouldn't make a difference as he took two boundaries to what would be point, and put Younis's innovativeness to the back seat.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo