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Bridge too far across line of control
- Inzamam’s brilliant century goes in vain as Pakistan fall five short - Sehwag hits whirlwind 79

INDIA
349-7 (50 ovs)
PAKISTAN
344-8 (50 ovs)
MoM: Inzamam

Karachi: When did one last see the Indian and Pakistani flags flutter together' When was the last time Indian players applauded a full house on Pakistan soil before walking off the field'

This was not about winning or losing. For the people of Karachi, it was an opportunity to prove to the world that their city was not unsafe for foreigners. And they did not let it go by. In all senses, there could not have been a better start to this revival series.

Virender Sehwag’s blitzkrieg, Rahul Dravid’s calculated attack, Inzamam-ul-Haq’s brilliant hundred, the tantalisingly close match with the hosts falling five short of the runs needed in the last over to get a tie — it has been worth the wait for the Karachi aficionado.

Moin Khan missed what Javed Miandad successfully did in Sharjah in 1986. A six off the last ball of the match was all they needed but Moin holed out to Zaheer Khan at extra cover.

As the Indians ran to grab a souvenir, Sourav offered a silent prayer before joining teammates in the huddle. “I’ve said before I don’t believe in history,” Sourav said later.

Another of Sourav’s bold decisions — to try out Nehra in the final over — proved effective. The left-arm pacer, who had gone for 55 runs in his previous nine overs, hardly looked inspiring. But the Indian skipper chose to stick to a regular bowler than use Sachin Tendulkar or Sehwag.

Pakistan owe it all to their skipper. Inzamam was just superb today — the timing perfect, the awesome shot selection and, to top it all, his running between the wickets of top quality. His ninth hundred (122 off 102 balls, 12x4, 2x6) and 135-run partnership for the third wicket with Yousuf Youhana (73 off 68 balls, 5x4, 4x6) set the tone for the chase after the early loss of the openers.

Then came the 109-run stand with Younis Khan that had raised visions of a Pakistan victory. It was during this middle-over spell that India nearly lost the match.

The bowling lacked discipline and variation. Murali Kartik looked hardly effective and it would be wise to try out rookie Ramesh Powar in the next game.

Mohammed Kaif, however, made a useful ‘return’. A positive 46 runs was followed by a brilliant catch that claimed Shoaib Malik and effectively ended Pakistan’s hopes.

“The catch was the turning point,” admitted Inzamam. “It brought us back,” was Sourav’s observation.

At one point it seemed Kaif and Hemang Badani, running in from long on and long off, would be involved in a head-on collision. Both, however, returned unscathed as Kaif held on to the ball.

Strangely, Pakistan did not gamble upon having a bouncy track despite the presence of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami. The fear of a backlash weighed heavy on their minds, though little did they apprehend that preparing a patta could be even more threatening.

Sachin and Sehwag went on a rampage early as Shoaib and Sami battled nerves and erratic line and length. The struggle to extract pace on a dead track cost Shoaib dear as he bowled an 11-ball opening over.

Sachin took the opportunity to pick Shoaib for special treatment after having survived being caught at square-leg of a no-ball. A top-edged six of an intended pull earned him a six but it seemed Sachin was out to win a psychological battle more than a cricketing one. Sehwag, meanwhile, took care of Sami.

The Delhiite grew in confidence as Sachin fell. Rana Naveed-ul Hasan’s first over yielded 24 as there seemed no stopping Sehwag. Such was his dominance that 41 runs were scored after Sourav came to the crease, the Indian skipper having to wait all the while to get the strike.

The second-wicket pair added 73 in 40 balls — Sourav’s contribution being a mere six. Rana finally had the last laugh with a fuller length delivery with Sehwag falling to a pre-determined stroke.

The show prompted the legendary Hanif Mohammed to say, “the way this Indian side is maturing, it could soon be the world beaters.”

He also felt that the current batting line-up was “possibly” one of the best to have visited Pakistan. “Even in 1952, India had a strong side with the likes of Vijay Hazare and Vijay Manjrekar.

But this side has three experienced players in Sachin, Sourav and Dravid. They are the pillars and the others are also coming up fast. Once they settle down, it will be awesome.”

All the early initiative seemed lost once Sourav and Yuvraj sacrificed their wickets in consecutive overs. Dravid (99 off 104 balls, 8x4) had held fort all along and finally found company in Kaif.

The groundwork for the run-a-ball 118-run fifth-wicket partnership was built around some solid running between the wickets. An over ambitious shot cost Dravid another hundred but he surely made his presence felt.

Sourav termed as “ridiculous” the Match Referee’s decision to fine both teams for bowling two overs short. He said the rule “has to be changed for the side bowling second”.

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