India up against it after the Malik and Yousuf show
Following the trend set by South Africa in the opening match, India, another of the pre-tournament favourites lost their first game to a supposed lesser team at Centurion on Saturday. This defeat, which leaves them having to beat Australia today, would have particularly hurt coming at the hands of their old foes Pakistan, for whom Shoaib Malik made a superb 128 at just over a run a ball. Malik was well supported by Muhammad Yousuf who made 87 in a stand of 206 (a tournament record for any wicket) between the pair, as Pakistan scored 302/9 in their 50 overs.
India’s stellar batting line-up has lost some of its sparkle with injuries ruling out Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh from the competition. There are plenty of other riches though with Gautam Gambhir – doing his best Sehwag impression, Rahul Dravid and Suresh Raina all making useful contributions in India’s reply. Ultimately though the target proved too challenging and the Indian innings petered out to 248 all out with just over five overs to spare. Spinners Shahid Afridi with 2/39 from his 10 overs and Saeed Ajmal with 2/31 from 8.5 overs were the pick of the Pakistani bowlers.
A capacity crowd saw returning Pakistan captain Younis Khan win the toss and have no hesitation in having first use of a good Centurion wicket. The Pakistani top three all got starts but were back in the pavilion before the end of the fifteenth over. First Imran Nazir, after an exciting cameo of 20 from 17 balls, fell to a top-edge off Ashish Nehra. Fellow opener Kamran Akmal then dragged one on from Nehra and Younis edged RP Singh to his opposite number Mahendra Singh Dhoni. At this point Pakistan were 65/3 after 14.4 overs and it seemed India were well on top.
This brought Malik and Yousuf together and they went about slowly rebuilding their side’s innings. The 50 partnership came up off a sedate 72 balls and there was only a slight acceleration for the next 50, which came up in a further 47 balls. Shortly afterwards both reached their own fifties – Yousuf from 55 balls and Malik from 81.
The role of aggressor in the partnership now switched round with Malik accelerating to his seventh ODI ton (and fourth against India) from 108 balls – the second fifty coming in only 27 balls. Just after the pair brought up their 200 partnership, Yousuf was bowled by Nehra for 87. This left four overs to go in the innings and 31 further runs were added as wickets fell regularly. Umar Akmal became Nehra’s fourth victim of the innings when he was caught behind and Ishant Sharma took two late wickets. Overall though, Nehra apart, the Indian bowling was disappointing with Harbhajan Singh being particularly expensive.
Any early optimism the Indians had in chasing their target were dispelled when Sachin Tendulkar nicked Mohammad Aamer to Kamran Akmal for only 8. Gambhir, who was joined by Rahul Dravid, gave Indian supporters renewed hope though in blasting a fifty from only 36 balls with six fours and two huge sixes. However, calamity struck when Gambhir, who had dominated a partnership of 67, was needlessly run out for 57.
Almost simultaneously Younis, who had effected Gambhir’s run out with a direct hit, brought Afridi into the attack and he struck to remove Virat Kohli and Dhoni in quick succession. Indian hopes at that stage looked doomed at 133/4 in the 24th over. Up to the plate stepped Raina who dominated a partnership of 72 in only 11 overs with Dravid as India got the required run rate down to just over a run a ball. Suddenly it was Pakistani fans who were worried until Ajmal trapped Raina leg before for 46 from only 41 balls. This left India needing an eminently gettable 98 from 90 balls and despite the loss of Yusuf Pathan, the target was further reduced to 67 from 49. At this point Dravid was called for a non-existent third by Harbhajan and was run out for a well made 76 by Umar Gul’s throw. India knew the game was up and after that the last three wickets fell for the addition of only ten runs.
India now go into today’s match with Australia knowing they are in the last chance saloon. If they lose they will join their fellow erstwhile pre-tournament favourites South Africa out of the tournament. For Pakistan the future looks rosy with an exciting blend of experience and youth. If they continue to catch fire at the right time then don’t be surprised if they repeat their success of winning the World T20.
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