Such is the lopsided nature of the scheduling for this ODI series, that while the yawning gap between the first 2 matches made you wonder whether there were transportation problems in Pakistan, these back to back matches will give a lazy bum like me the ideal opportunity to combine the review of one and the preview of another.
Let me admit at the onset, that India's victory at Rawalpindi came as a huge relief to me as I'm sure it would have to the Indian team. I did mention that I expected India to rise to the occasion, nevetherless, the victory though not unexpected is extremely significant. For the obvious reasons - the difficulty of bouncing back from a 0-2 deficit, the fact that India had yet to win a game on this tour and the impatient and fickle nature of the common Indian fan. Not for them the fact that basically the first ODI was an extremely close affair and that Pakistan had beaten India less over a whole test series than in one innings.
So coming to the match, I think Shoaib Malik's run out was the turning point of the match. Sreesanth's throw from the deep was fantastic. More on the lad, later, but at that point of view Pak seemed to be cruising along destined for a 300 score. That in itself was thanks to a pretty average display by India in the field and with the ball. Indeed India's performance in the field was extremely spiky - long periods of listlessness interspersed by moments of brilliance. Pathan got India off to a great start by picking up Butt but Sreesanth oscillated between extremely encouraging and disappointing to leak a few runs. But overall he bowled with a lot of heart and skill and very little luck. But Pathan brought India right back with the wicket of Akmal and the suicide of Yousouf and the soft dismissal of Inzy put India decidedly on top.
It could have been so much better had Shoaib Malik not chosen to kick the ball and all concepts of sportsmanship and the spirit of the game away. Man, this is the team who talked about sporting behavior just 2 days ago and that **$#*#)q*^)^#$%& comes up with such a pitiably pathetic display !! If that was not cheating at its worst I dont know what is. This guy better stay away from me or I'm likely to do him grievous bodily harm and I don't care if I sound too crude or unsophisiticated here.
I wonder if after the Inzy incident in the last game the Indians chose to act with more restraint because I was pretty sure Yuvraj wanted to appeal, but Dravid asked him to let it go. Indeed fitting that Malik should miss out on his hundred and that his team should go on to lose. This was not the only controversial incident though - there were incidents of missile throwing at Ajit Agarkar in this game and Irfan Pathan in the last one. Maybe the hospitality of the Pakistanis was limited to just 1 series and is beginning to get run out here ??
So Malik got poetically run out for 95 but India were still looking at a mountain to climb where arrogance cost Afridi his wicket. Some sections of the Pakistani crowd were demanding that Afridi show no mercy to the Indians and in particular Pathan (I stress on particular) because let's face it being a Muslim and a Pathan at that these issues tend to be more sensitive. It was indeed great to see Pathan obtain revenge. That's this X-factor about this guy that I like. He was not quite at his best in this game (as indeed this entire tour) yet he manages to deliver the crucial punch more often than most. All 3 wickets today were EXTREMELY vital and though he bowled pretty average stuff in between, his Man of the Match was well-deserved.
But Pakistan's endless list of all-rounders meant that the Indians couldn't afford to relax even with Afridi back in the pavillion and the wicket of Razzaq was also very crucial. The direct hit from Raina was a beauty - though the throw in itself was relatively simple, it needed to be a direct one. The off side cordon really looks very strong these days with Yuvraj, Kaif and Raina and that is likely to be a great asset for India come the World Cup. I mean seriously this could be one of the best off-sided fields in the World. Oh what an irony that India should boast of a fielding talent among the best in the business !!
And these youngsters are not just brilliant fielders but extremely confident ambitious kids - the India shining generation kids who love to give back as they get it. As I said Yuvraj was eager to appeal for the Malik kicking incident and when that pain in India's back Younis finally got out jumping around the crease the way Kaif jumped up imitating him was a fantastic thing to see. Having said that India does need to find a way to tackle Younis Khan. I refuse to believe he is as good a player as his scores suggest and that he has no weakness. There must be one. We just have been unable to find it. Something for Dravid and Chappell to ponder.
Talking of Dravid and Chappell I thought some of the captaincy today was pretty disappointing, in particular the way he allowed Malik and Younis cheap singles early in their innings. Then the idea of putting a slip towards the end overs was also befuddling. I am all for attacking new batsmen but honestly no bowler ever looked likely to take an edge on this wicket. It seemed more like a bowled/lbw kind of wicket at least once the ball lost its shine. So this slip fielder was not only wasted it put extra pressure on the likes of Sreesanth to keep the ball way outside off thus negating his chances of attacking the stumps.
265 was a reasonable total but one which needed a good start. Sehwag and Tendulkar did just that. After a long time I was very happy with Sachin's innings. I liked this innings much better than that 100 and Im glad he proved my pessimistic predictions wrong. Perhaps I should keep making them more often. The best part of Tendulkar's innings was the quality of the strokeplay. The lofted off drive off Asif was a class act - a statement that the Master had finally come to terms with the challenge posed by the young tyro. Also the hook off Rana Naved was pure delight to watch.
Great as Sachin's innings was the knockout punch was delivered by Sehwag very early on, delivered perhaps so hard that he had to sacrifice his shoulder for that but with that 6 and the carnage that followed in the rest of Rana Naved's over he put Pakistan completely on the backfoot. Surprisingly they never tried to hit back and just hoped for the mistakes which never really came. In fact it was a surprise Pak chose to field first given the records of the 2 sides particularly India in recent times. Perhaps he was looking for the wicket to turn, perhaps he was counting on a better batting performance. But it was a move that backfired big time.
Sehwag's dismissal was a fluke, nothing more and by that time the platform had been well set. Extremely nice for Veeru to get a score though. After all, the vultures had been circling round him for no real reason - after all he had scored at 30+ at a strike rate of 85 for the entire home season which is pretty close to what Gilchrist does anyway.
Then Messrs. Reliable Dravid and Yuvraj batted with such calm and composure that victory was very much a formality right from the start of their partnership. This has been a career-making tour for Yuvi as far as the test spot goes and probably will establish him as the single most important ODI player in the lineup finally occupying the coveted #4 spot and deservedly so.
It has been a rather long review and left me with very little time to actually go ahead with the promised preview of the match starting in less than 80 minutes. Ill just say here that Lahore is likely to be another belter so I expect a 290-ish score. I back India to win, to carry the momentum, mostly batting second again. Sehwag will not play and this might sound surprising but I dont think it will be too much of a bother because the beauty of this new look Indian team is that everyone is willing to contribute to make up for someone else on a particular day. That has been evident not just in these 2 games but the entire home season. I hope Gambhir comes up with a good knock which he is capable of.
Also looking forward to seeing Sreesanth progress even more.