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India ease to five-wicket win
India ease to five-wicket win

India 242 for 5 (Dhoni 63, Yuvraj 58) beat Pakistan 239 for 7 (Yousuf 83*, Butt 50) by 5 wickets

India had the best of Pakistan in a lacklustre contest on a slightly demanding pitch, restricting them to 239 and then knocking off the runs through a string of contributions from the top order, winning with five wickets in hand. It was not the most spectacular cricket, but it was sensible from India and perhaps a touch too circumspect from Pakistan, whose batsmen did not do enough, and whose bowlers were committed and disciplined but rarely penetrative.

When Shoaib Malik won the toss and chose to bat it appeared to be a sound decision, given that the pitch was dry, on the slower side, and threatened to break up in the second half. And when Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal got off to a breezy start, it appeared that India would have their work cut out. Akmal square drove crisply for boundaries when he was offered width and Butt used his wrists to guide the ball into gaps with excellent timing.

The fall of Akmal's wicket, however, when he was declared lbw to an Irfan Pathan ball that pitched outside leg, changed the complexion of the innings. Younis Khan was uncomfortable batting on this pitch - with the ball not coming on truly - and grew increasingly disturbed as India's spinners checked the flow of runs.

Soon after reaching a well-paced half-century, Butt did himself no favours when he charged down the pitch after the ball speared off the leading edge towards cover, only to be sent back by his partner and run out. At least while Butt was at the crease runs came from one end, but with Mohammad Yousuf joining Younis the runs just dried up.

The singles came easily enough, with Yousuf knocking the ball away into the leg side with soft hands, but Younis' frustration reached such proportions, especially after sweeps and reverse-sweeps failed, that he holed out to long-on for a 58-ball 25. For a painful 21.2 overs Pakistan could not manufacture a single boundary, and this might have prompted Malik to promote Shahid Afridi up the order.

Even Afridi could not plunder as he would've liked and though he managed a front-foot pull over long-on, his 31 off 32 balls before being smartly stumped as he charged down the pitch to Sachin Tendulkar was a bit short of what Pakistan needed. Malik then added to the pressure, heaving a leg-stump full-toss straight down midwicket's throat.

Fortunately for Pakistan, while wickets fell at one end, Yousuf had crept to his half-century and with about five overs to go took it upon himself to increase the tempo. He paddle swept Pathan fine and then drove RP Singh inside-out over cover. The late charge took Yousuf to an unbeaten 83, off an acceptable 88 balls, and Pakistan to 239 for 7 from 50 overs.

With probing bowling and tight fielding Pakistan might well have given India a serious run for their money chasing 240, but instead they bowled without much purpose and out-did India in the poor fielding standings to let the game slip out of their hands. At no point in the course of the chase were India under serious pressure, and Pakistan were waiting for an India collapse that never came.

Shoaib Akhtar gave Pakistan some hope early on when he trapped Tendulkar in front with a slower ball, with only 14 on the board. But Sourav Ganguly and Gautam Gambhir then added 82 for the third wicket to take India towards safety. Neither Ganguly nor Gambhir was in total control at the crease, with some streaky strokes eluding the fielders, but when the opportunity was there to score both batsmen backed their instincts and it paid off.

Ganguly was quick to go after anything that was a bit wide, slanting and angling his bat to get the ball through cover point and third man. Gambhir opened the face of his bat so much that he edged between keeper and slip twice consecutively, but was undeterred. Once the ball lost its hardness and Shoaib gave way to less pacy bowlers, Gambhir knuckled down and cover drove with confidence. His timing and placement were excellent, and the ball went along the ground more often than not.

It was against the run of play that India lost their next two wickets. Ganguly played one down to fine leg and headed for a single that Gambhir did not want, and could not turn around and regain his crease in time. Ganguly had made 39 but looked good for more. Gambhir too should have got more than the 44 he managed, but failed to pick an offbreak from Shahid Afridi and was bowled round his legs.

Then came another partnership, of 105, between India's captain and vice-captain and this all but sealed the deal. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had come out in the mood to give the ball a thrash, sluggish pitch notwithstanding, and he succeeded. There were some streaky boundaries, but for the best part the ball boomed off the middle of the bat and there was not much Pakistan's bowlers could do. He found an excellent ally in Yuvraj Singh, who hit the ball as hard as anyone, and looked to be positive against the spinners and the quick men.

Both Yuvraj and Dhoni reached the half-century mark, and with only 22 needed for victory Pakistan broke the partnership. Yuvraj (58) slog-swept Abdur Rahman, the left-arm spinner, but did not quite get hold of the ball and failed to clear Afridi in the deep. Soon after, Dhoni (63) flashed at Shoaib, who returned to the attack in the 45th over, and India wobbled at the doorstep of victory. Only 15 were needed for victory at that stage, and you wondered why Malik had not re-introduced Shoaib earlier. Robin Uthappa and Pathan knocked off the remaining runs and the five-wicket win gave India a 1-0 lead in this five-match series.



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