Islamabad: The Tezgam Express, the Quetta Express and the historic Khyber Mail link Rawalpindi to all corners of Pakistan. Yet, the city’s most famous name is Rawalpindi Express who has put the town in the lexicon of cricket.
As Pakistan failed miserably in their effort to stop the marauding Indian batsmen, Shoaib Akhtar was left to cool his heels in the dressing room. The bowling was made to look pedestrian once Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar set up the brilliant start.
If Pakistan missed Shoaib, Bob Woolmer wasn’t willing to show it. “If he is injured, no question of missing him,” the coach retorted later, trying to hide his disappointment.
In hindsight, Pakistan might have decided to field, on winning the toss, if Shoaib was available. His loss was surely India’s gain as Irfan Pathan produced an inspired spell to put the hosts under pressure right from the word go.
Despite some resistance from Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan, they never really recovered as India cantered to a seven-wicket victory, their first on this tour, to level the Hutch Cup 1-1. The hosts will now have to deliver in the third match in Lahore on Monday, with Shoaib still remaining doubtful.
“The bowlers set it up for us,” conceded Rahul Dravid.
Man-of-the-Match Pathan couldn’t hide his happiness either.
“My bowling was under pressure for the past few weeks. I’m happy I was able to swing it today' I’m delighted that my effort has ended in a winning cause”.
President Pervez Musharraf, who watched the opening session for more than an hour, was witness to the Pakistan debacle. He departed when Malik and Younis were trying to repair the damage after being reduced to 68 for four.
Somehow the hosts never seemed to be in the match. They were completely outplayed by a more confident and determined India.
The manner in which Sehwag and Sachin began the chase was amazing. Sehwag, firing on all cylinders, cut Rana Naved-ul Hasan over point for a six and finished off by taking 22 runs off that over. He judged the length of the balls unerringly and despatched it with aplomb. His 67 off 60 balls was an innings marked with typical class and grandeur.
Sachin (42 off 43 balls) may have been slightly slow off the blocks, but once he found his feet, the runs started flowing around the park. Three exquisite boundaries off one Umar Gul over signalled that the little champion was ready for the challenge. The openers departed after stitching together a partnership of 105, before passing on the baton to Dravid and Yuvraj Singh.
Dravid (56 off 100 balls) was his usual self, but Yuvraj’s batting on this tour has been a real revelation. With supreme confidence, he negotiated everything the bowlers offered him. The self belief and calm assurance that his presence in the middle exudes is bound to put the opposition in a quandary.
His unbeaten 82 off 89 balls is sure to send Woolmer scurrying back to the drawing board. His 118-run stand with the captain for the third wicket put it beyond Pakistan.
More than the Indian bowling, it was the home batsmen’s ineptitude and wrong shot selection that cost them dear. From the moment Pathan lured Salman Butt to edge the second delivery of the day, it seemed that Inzamam-ul Haq’s decision would backfire.
In slightly overcast conditions, Pathan got the ball to move around. That hint of swing was enough as Pathan again got into the act, this time Kamran Akmal playing onto his stumps.
If Pathan inflicted the initial shock, the batsmen who followed only complicated matters. Lack of application and terrible running between the wickets ' there were four run outs in the Pakistan innings ' simply made their job all the more difficult.
That they still managed to reach 265 was entirely due to the superb efforts of Malik and Younis. The pair added 102 runs for the fifth wicket that gave the innings some respectability. Malik missed out on another century after being dismissed for 90 in Peshawar. That he relishes the Indian attack is no secret and his 95 off 110 balls was another reminder of his potential. Younis had laid the foundation with his 81, but unfortunately there was none to build on it.
The Indians decided to go in with four pacers with Sachin and Sehwag sharing the fifth bowler’s quota. If Pathan was excellent in his opening spell (7-1-27-2), Zaheer Khan failed to sustain the good start after removing Inzamam. Ajit Agarkar was hardly penetrative despite the two wickets and Sreesanth’s desire for that extra bit of pace is not paying the dividends.
The real improvement has been the fielding. With increased enthusiasm the reaction is more spontaneous and positive and the fielders are getting the direct hits on target more often. The trio of Yuvraj, Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina are proving to be dangerous for the opposition. Even a lethargic like Zaheer is throwing his body around in an effort to save that extra run.