| Yuvraj Singh in Lahore on Monday. (AFP)
Lahore: Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni must have felt at home when they walked back to the pavilion. There were more Indian flags fluttering at the Gaddafi than ever seen at any time on this tour. Dressed in Indian colours, a handful even chose to perform the bhangra.
The music was blaring, the mood was perfect and the few hundreds that made it here from all corners of India simply got into a tizzy. Long before Dhoni had hit the winning runs ' a ferocious hook off a Abdul Razzaq delivery that crashed into the third man fence ' it was clear that the visitors were ahead in their chase and set for the 2-1 lead.
Any lingering doubt in their minds as India were reduced to 190 for five were set to rest by the marauding Jharkhand wicketkeeper-batsman. He negotiated everything Pakistan threw at him with 'lan and picked the gaps with amazing precision.
If Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj had done the groundwork with some intelligent play, Dhoni grabbed the limelight with an unbeaten 72 in 46 balls which included 13 boundaries, a typical demonstration of his enduring skill and indomitable will.
The fall of two quick wickets, when chasing 289, was bound to spoil the desired momentum, but Sachin’s presence at the crease meant things never went out of hand. Bothered by cramps midway through his innings, Sachin nevertheless controlled the pace with alacrity and often forced the bowlers into submission.
Sachin seems determined to give Shoaib Malik a huge challenge when deciding the Man of the Series. His 95 came off 104 balls and besides the 16 fours it contained a six off Rana Naved-ul Hasan that went through Mohammed Asif’s hands at third man.
The mind games were also being played. Naved-ul tried to initiate a war of words with Sachin, but the Master Blaster was more professional and experienced to fall for the bait. The umpire had to step in as the Pakistan captain was told to ask his bowlers to keep their cool.
If Pakistan had a star in Malik when they set the imposing target, it was an allround effort that did the trick for India. Yuvraj’s unbeaten 79 cannot be undermined. His presence was needed at the crease when Dhoni was on fire and he made sure there were no glitches. The unbroken sixth-wicket pair put on 102 runs in 79 balls.
The Hutch Cup is increasingly turning out to be a feast for batsmen and a graveyard for the bowlers. Only the ones with superb control over line and length and the ability to move the ball in the air and off the seam will stand out. Irfan Pathan and Asif are the prime examples while the Sreesanths and the Naveds will continue to suffer.
The Indian bowlers had let the advantage slip in the last 15 overs. A total of 122 runs came during that period with Malik and Razzaq tearing the attack into shreds.
The Indian thinktank’s decision to go in with Zaheer Khan as super sub made little sense. Since the team decided to field first on winning the toss, why have a bowler as the super sub' It only implied that the captain didn’t have faith in his four pacers and was expecting failures.
Dravid later said that he was confused at the toss, but he certainly should have been more judicious in making decisions.
The start, though, was encouraging. Pathan and Co. used the bounce on the wicket to dislodge their top-order. Pathan also got the ball to move around as Salman Butt left to the second ball of the day. Sreesanth was somewhat unlucky, Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal’s snicks being put down by the fielders.
As the home batsmen struggled against Pathan and Rudra Pratap Singh, one man stood tall. With scores of 90, 95 and 108, Malik is proving to be a handful for the visitors. His fifth hundred and second against India was laced with 11 boundaries and a six.
As every other batsmen, including Inzamam-ul Haq, failed to show the desired application, Malik kept his cool and carried the innings. Except for the dropped chance on 12, when Gambhir at second slip let go an opportunity on his right, Malik was in control.
It was only in the later stages of his innings that he opened up. The arrival of Razzaq gave him the much-needed assurance and the pair stitched together 86 in 79 balls for the seventh wicket.
Once Malik was dismissed, Razzaq’s unbeaten 64 (56 balls, 7x4, 2x6) ensured that the momentum was not lost in the death overs. If Malik had built on the foundation, Razzaq gave the finishing touches.
But all that proved too little for Dhoni’s belligerence.