Rawalpindi: The self-belief and willingness to confront adversity always bring out the best in a genius. It was baptism by fire when Sachin Tendulkar made his debut more than 14 years ago. On this Revival Tour, he seems determined to make another mark.
After being set a target of 330, any other batsman would have taken that extra offensive approach, but Sachin remained cool and composed as he set about the task. It’s unfortunate that his deeds got buried under the glow of a 12-run Pakistan victory here on Tuesday night, that helped the hosts restore parity in the five-match series.
Sachin’s was a memorable innings, his 37th hundred bearing the hallmark of a class batsman. He was aware of the task in hand and batted responsibly. He never allowed the bowlers to dominate and the way he planned his innings was exemplary. His 141 came off 145 balls and included 17 boundaries and a six. In the process, he not only completed 13,000 ODI runs, but also became the first Indian to score a ODI century on Pakistan soil.
The most dominating part of the innings was the 105-run fourth wicket partnership he stitched together with Rahul Dravid in 90 balls. The Pakistan bowling was made to look pedestrian as Inzamam & Co. started looking clueless.
India stayed in the fight till Dravid and Yuvraj Singh were at the crease. Once the vice-captain was bowled by Mohammed Sami for 36 and Yuvraj went trying to force the pace, it was curtains for the visitors. A combative ninth-wicket stand between Ramesh Powar and L. Balaji revived hopes somewhat, but that was not enough.
The start was enterprising. Virender Sehwag was his usual self, guiding the ball through gaps and clearing the infield sometimes, as the openers put on 56. V.V.S. Laxman failed to prosper and Sourav Ganguly seemed tentative. The Indian skipper survived when Shoaib Akhtar dropped him off Sami but could not make most of the let-off. In an effort to take on the spinners, he was foxed by the flight.
Local boy Shoaib’s 100th ODI turned memorable only towards the end. Besides dropping the catch, he hardly struck the right length to trouble the Indian batsmen and went for 29 runs in his four-over first spell. He missed a hattrick in his eighth over. But the over-enthusiasm only resulted in an attempted beamer at the debutant Powar.
It wasn’t a bowler’s day. As others struggled, Ashish Nehra put to rest doubts over his fitness with an inspired spell. Nehra’s three-wicket haul —Inzamam-ul Haq, Younis Khan and Moin Khan — was an otherwise superb effort in an insipid Indian attack.
If the Indians had wrested some advantage with Yasir Hameed’s run out and Nehra’s consecutive wickets in the middle overs, they surrendered it all with some wayward bowling in the last five. Shoaib Malik and Abdul Razzaq clobbered 50 in the death overs as the hosts went well past the 300 mark.
The foundation had been laid with an 138-run opening stand as Hameed and Shahid Afridi tore into the attack with consummate ease. Balaji’s inexperience came to the fore while Zaheer Khan’s reputation was torn to pieces.
Afridi, playing his first match after the World Cup, was determined to make his presence felt. He never allowed the bowlers to settle into a line and ensured the batsmen made full use of the field restrictions. His 80 came off just 58 balls and included four sixes and ten fours.
Hameed was content with rotating the strike as Afridi ran roughshod and took up the cudgels only after the latter left. That the pace of the innings was not lost was his top priority and he showed great sense of opportunism during his 86 off 108 balls.
The attack was so savage — 110 runs came off the first 15 overs — that Sourav had to fall back on his irregular bowlers in a bid to slow the pace. Yuvraj provided the breakthrough with his second ball but there was no appreciable slide in the flow of runs from the other end.
Yuvraj, his confidence boosted by the sudden wicket, bowled through his full quota as the young Balaji found it tough to get used to the conditions. Both Balaji and Zaheer struggled to bowl that fuller length as the batsmen had it easy on this slow track.
Amazing was Zaheer’s showing. The pressure of having to lead the attack weighed on his shoulders and it will take a while before he recovers from this battering (72 runs in seven overs).
Though none of the Pakistan batsmen were able to flourish after the opening stand, they ensured the early momentum was not lost. That was enough as India paid for the indisciplined showing.