| Salman Butt sinks to the ground after reaching his century during the third ODI in Jamshedpur on Saturday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Jamshedpur: After being at the receiving end for the past week, Pakistan got everything right at the Keenan. The visitors, in fact, produced the perfect game and won the third ODI by 106 runs.
To begin with, Inzamam-ul Haq won the toss. Then, young Salman Butt scripted a wonderful 101 and was around till the 41st over... Finally, MoM Rana Naved-ul Hasan bent his back and broke India's spine with a career-best six for 27.
Coming after the thrashing in Kochi and Vizag, the victory must have tasted sweeter than the proverbial manna.
The face-off, incidentally, had moments of drama: When Irfan Pathan was taken off for hurling two beamers at Yousuf Youhana and when Inzamam introduced Shoaib Malik and his brand of off-spin which has been under scrutiny.
In a chat with The Telegraph, though, Match Referee Chris Broad clarified the ICC 'hasn't' barred Malik from bowling till his review-appeal is taken care of.
The Englishman, who hasn't had many uneventful days in the last four weeks, added: 'Today, at least, neither the umpires nor I found anything wrong with the action.'
While Pakistan had many heroes, the hosts were left with a long list of failures. Of course, any team can have an off day ' only, the Indians can't allow the momentum to be seized entirely by Pakistan.
In any case, a 2-1 lead (in the Pepsi Cup) is, at best, fragile.
Unusually, neither captain Sourav Ganguly nor deputy Rahul Dravid attended the post-match Media conference. That duty fell on local icon Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
He did an excellent job, answering every question with maturity, but that's besides the point. If Sourav was 'preparing' for a date with Broad, Dravid ought to have faced the Media.
Dhoni, for his part, assured India would bounce back and, very sportingly, accepted he could have avoided becoming a Rana victim. 'I need not have gone for that pull... Apsos hua,' he said.
Till that top edge felled him, Dhoni was firing on all cylinders and it seemed another sledgehammer-innings was moments away.
Dhoni also spoke of 'taking positives' out even from a defeat... Asked whether he felt weighed down by his maiden home turf appearance, he replied: 'The pressure vanished once I took the field...'
India's problems began early, in the second over itself, when the underrated Rana induced the in-form Virender Sehwag to cut fatally. 'Yes, it was a planned dismissal... Humko bahut jyada khushi hui,' he remarked.
Sachin Tendulkar, too, failed to stay ' he hasn't, by the way, reached double figures even once in this series ' and Sourav made yet another guest appearance.
The captain did begin with a lovely off-drive, raising hopes of finally coming good, but fell in a manner (taken in the slips) hardly unknown to him. And his critics.
Among the other specialists, Dravid was somewhat unlucky to get a brute of a delivery from Mohammed Sami. Once he exited, six for 82, the stadium began emptying. Fortunately, there wasn't any addition to the solitary missile directed at Rana early on.
Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, for a change, had enough overs to make an impact, but went the way of their peers.
Towards the end, Pathan lashed a career-best 64 off 80 balls (2x4, 4x6), but the effort merely had that playing to the galleries value.
Pathan's innings, however, didn't wash away his sins of the morning and those who felt Ajit Agarkar should have played didn't change their opinion.
For India, the awful day ended with Rana yorking Ashish Nehra on 213. On a belter, they got belted.
Earlier, there was a useful contribution from Youhana (43) and a quickfire 23 from Inzamam. The innings, though, was constructed around Butt's second century and his awesome 145-run partnership for the second wicket with Malik.
Butt, who scored a fantastic unbeaten 108 in the Platinum Jubilee ODI at the Eden last November, eventually got upstaged by Rana. Yet, if Pakistan manage to soar again, they will have to thank this pin-up opener for fuelling that.
That Butt is a superb team man as well got underlined when he sacrificed his wicket, following a mix-up, allowing the fresher and much more experienced Youhana to remain in the middle.
Butt's 101 came from 116 deliveries (10x4). Malik's 75 came off 79 balls (7x4, 2x6). Nehra returned the best figures: Three for 57.
So poor was India's over-rate that the Pakistan innings continued till around 27 minutes after the scheduled end. The curtailed lunch meant Sachin and Sehwag had appreciably less time to focus on a difficult job ' chasing 320.
As we saw, the stumbling began all too quickly.