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Series in kitty as young guns fire
- Man-of-the-Match Rudra Pratap bags 4/40 Dravid (59) hits game’s lone half-century

Multan: It’s not just about winning a series. For Greg Chappell, it’s about judging whether the team is on the right track for Mission 2007. Thursday’s performance here is sure to strengthen his belief that the nucleus of the side has been identified and only a few areas need to be ironed out in his quest for the ultimate success.

Consider Rudra Pratap Singh and Suresh Raina. The youngsters have shown the right attitude and spirit to carry forward Chappell’s dream. To make a comeback after losing the Test series was no easy task and the young guns have made it possible through self-belief and application.

If Pakistan were reeling under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s onslaught in Lahore, the youngsters ensured that the momentum was not surrendered on Thursday. Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth pushed Pakistan to the wall with a disciplined line in the opening session. Then, as the hosts tried to wriggle out, Rudra Pratap ran through their middle order.

Chasing 162 wasn’t an uphill task, but it suddenly looked slightly difficult after Dravid left and India were reduced to 133 for five. Raina (35 not out off 34 balls, 6x4), though, showed immense maturity and a cool head that defied his age, to steer India home.

These youngsters have the enthusiasm and drive to achieve anything. To them, no cause is a lost one.

The “development process”, as Dravid calls it, has made it possible for the players to focus on improvement while not worrying too much about the result. That certainly has made them look more relaxed on the field and the results are showing. Winning the Hutch Cup is only a step in the right direction. As Dravid assured at the media conference, there will be no let-up and “the opportunity to learn and explore” will continue in the final match in Karachi.

The early fall of Sachin Tendulkar made no impact since Dravid (59 off 72 balls, 9x4) anchored the innings with ease. The captain, who hit the only half-century of the match, found an able ally in Yuvraj Singh (37 off 57 balls, 6x4), the pair adding 85 for the third wicket in 106 balls.

The Punjab left-hander, who was formally named vice-captain for the remainder of the tour in Virender Sehwag’s absence, led for a brief while when Dravid was out of the field. He has been another revelation on this tour.

Long before the winning runs, people had started trooping out. The fall of two early wickets had ignited some passion among the fans, but once Dravid and Yuvraj settled down, they knew it was all over.

The trade bandh that affected normal life, seemed to have come as a welcome relief as people thronged the stadium in the morning. If the Indians were reaping the benefits of spot bowling and concentrating on a channel during practice, the home batsmen have to be blamed for hastening their doom. The overcautious and defensive approach meant the Pakistan batsmen went into a shell from which they found hard to come out.

The trend was set once the first two overs produced maidens. Dravid’s decision to field, to utilise the moisture and lateral movement, must have played on the batsmen’s minds.

Salman Butt was eager to escape the ignominy of a third consecutive duck while Kamran Akmal kept himself in check in the initial stages. Pakistan’s game plan was to keep wickets intact so that they could go for runs in the later stages. What they didn’t calculate was the Indian attack’s ability to knock off the top order with precision.

Pathan again showed the way and Sreesanth kept it going at the other end till Rudra Pratap took over. If the number of wickets taken was the criterion, Sreesanth wouldn’t have made the XI. But his utility and accuracy can’t be questioned.

Rudra Pratap’s wicket-taking ability is sure to take him a long way. He always hits upon the right length and the ability to swing the ball always gives him that extra edge. He missed out on a hattrick, but the four for 40 (10 of those runs conceded were via wides) was enough to earn him the Man-of-the Match award.

Sachin, too, played his part in restricting the batsmen. He removed Inzamam-ul Haq when the Pakistan captain threatened to play a stellar role in his hometown.

The fielding, too, was of a high standards Dravid, Raina and Pathan were superb with their catching. The ground fielding, too, was enterprising. It was a day when everything clicked for Team India.

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