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A win at last, in a thriller

New Delhi: On Saturday afternoon, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had rued over the lack of variety in Indian attack, saying that Pakistan were far superior in that department.

Twenty four hours later, the Indian bowlers struck with vengeance to give the hosts a morale-boosting 10-run victory, in the third and final one-dayer.

India had already lost the series, but the capacity crowd at the Kotla, who braved the biting cold to fill up the stands long before the match started, must have returned home a satisfied lot. Not because India made it 1-2 escaping the horrible 0-3 scoreline, but because the team played like a teamů Fighting it out together, giving everything they had for a victory over the arch-rivals.

Dhoni, the captain, has been subjected to criticism of late. But the man who led India to two World Cup triumphs was at his best on Sunday. The clever bowling changes and the appropriate field placements, Dhoni was right on the ball.

Equal credit must also go to the fielders for defying the testing conditions and throwing themselves at almost everything to save that precious run. The likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja were no less than live-wires at the Kotla, on Sunday.

Few expected the Indians to defend the total of 167, scored in 43.4 overs, after their batsmen once again collapsed against a tidy Pakistan attack. But the bowlers took up the challenge in helpful conditions and made the visitors struggle for every run. With a chilly wind blowing across the ground and a thick fog cover in the evening sky, batting was not easy. For Pakistan, the chase became harder as the Indians bowled in right areas.

While Ishant Sharma took three wickets, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravichandran Ashwin took two each. Debutant Shami Ahmed had the wicket Saeed Ajmal.

Bhuvneshwar and Shami, began well and had the two openers — Kamran Akmal (0) and Nasir Jamshed. Akmal was leg before to Bhubneshwar’s swing. Younis Khan struggled before being castled by the same bowler.

Shamihad an extremely impressive first spell (5-3-12-0).

The Indians kept up the pressure and never allowed the Pakistan batsmen to settle down. In fact, the victory could have come earlier had not Dhoni and Rahane dropped catches.

The Indian bowlers bowled their hearts out, especially after Pakistan were reduced to 125 for six when Umar Akmal (25) was stumped by Dhoni off Jadeja.

For Pakistan, captain Misbah-ul Haq (39) and Jamshed (34) were the top run-getters. The dismissals of Misbah and Akmal turned the tie in India’s favour.

The story, however, was not too rosy when Indians chose to bat after winning the toss. While the Pakistan bowlers — pacer Mohammad Irfan (two for 28) and off spinner Saeed Ajmal (five for 24) — stole the limelight, pathetic batting by the Indians, once again, worried their fans.

After the top order failed, Dhoni and Suresh Raina (31) raised visions of a recovery with a 48-run fifth wicket partnership. Just when the two looked set for a big partnership, Ajmal trapped Raina leg before. Ajmal’s figure was his career best in ODIs, but Raina’s was the only big wicket in his kitty.

Dhoni also couldn’t carry on much longer, though, at one point of time, he looked good enough for a big knock. He started cautiously and opened up in the 28th over by hitting Mohammed Hafeez for two consecutive sixes over mid-wicket and long-on. He hit the third off Gul, before succumbing to the same over. He tried to play an aerial shot through the point region and was caught by Umar Akmal. Dhoni (36), who ignored a sore back to lead the team, was again the top scorer.

Less said about the others is better. Pak pacers Irfan and Junaid Khan once again made good use of the new ball and did not allow the Indians to make a good start. Rahane (4), who replaced the out of form Virender Sehwag, was out while trying to play a fuller delivery from Irfan, edging it to the wicketkeeper.

Gautam Gambhir (15) looked uncomfortable throughout his 27-ball stay at the wicket. After Virat Kohli (7) departed, Yuvraj Singh (23) raised hopes with some lovely strokeplay, but had his off stump broken by Hafeez. Then came the Dhoni-Raina recovery.