Peshawar: Sourav Ganguly’s mood said it all at the end of the day. The skipper was the only Team India member to be present at the prize distribution ceremony. His role over, Sourav walked back to the dressing room in apparent disgust and agony.
Back in his hotel room, the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign was on till the Indian team took a late evening flight to Lahore.
It was one toss Sourav will repent losing for a long time to come. Pakistan pounced on the advantage, their four-pronged pace attack taking the sting out of Indian batting with an inspired display that left them dazed.
If Shoaib Akhtar was lethal, Shabbir Ahmed and Abdul Razzaq, though, proved to be more successful. Mohammed Sami was erratic.
Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji bowled well in tandem, reducing Pakistan to 65 for four but Razzaq once again came to Pakistan’s rescue with an unbeaten 53. The Indians were left ruing the absence of a fourth medium pacer.
“We didn’t have the option. It wasn’t physically possible,” was how Team India coach John Wright put it.
Ashish Nehra is out with a split webbing while his replacement Amit Bhandari is yet to arrive. That left the skipper battling it out with his limited options.
The four-wicket victory that gave Pakistan a 2-1 lead in the five-match series has now put the pressure back on India. The visitors must win Sunday’s game in Lahore to keep the series alive.
Pathan, back in the side for Nehra, was accurate and Balaji provided good support. Zaheer was once again erratic as the conditions had eased slightly in favour of the batsmen.
India lost the match once more in the middle overs, with the bowlers failing to find the breakthrough.
They also lacked the aggressiveness that was Pakistan’s forte.
The conditions were perfect for swing and seam movement early in the morning and Inzamam wasted no time in asking the Indians to bat.
Thereafter things went according to plan. Shabbir Ahmed ripped the Indians apart, exploiting the bounce and pace of the wicket.
It was 37 for three in the eighth over with the top three back in the pavilion. Sachin Tendulkar hung out his bat unprovokingly, Virender Sehwag failed to keep his square drive down and V. V. S. Laxman lived dangerously for 20 balls before making his exit.
It wasn’t a pretty sight as the batsmen flinched, faced with good pace bowling. Shoaib was the silent crusader at one end while Shabbir reaped the benefits at the other.
Shoaib’s pace was threatening and the bounce he generated was awesome. The nicks and mere pushes raced to the fence like a bullet.
The batsmen didn’t dare to take any unnecessary risk against him. His four-over first spell went for only 16 runs. The odd glare was exchanged and the odd word spoken.
More importantly, he managed to gain the psychological advantage.
Shabbir reaped the benefits first as the batsmen took undue risk and had to pay dearly against him.
As Shoaib came on for his second spell, the well-settled Sourav (39 off 41 balls, 5x4, 1x6) paid the price against Abdul Razzaq.
The 68-run fourth-wicket stand between Rahul Dravid (33 off 86 balls) and Sourav, was built around some intelligent running between the wickets and their ability to constantly play into the gaps.
Sourav was more enterprising but luck once again eluded him. The half-hearted stroke was a poor show of judgement.
Though the top-order failed, Yuvraj Singh (60 off 76 balls, 7x4, 1x6) and the tail consolidated some very useful partnerships.
The courage shown by the Balajis and the Pathans were exemplary and spoke highly of their eagerness and dedication to contribute at every given opportunity.
Yuvraj’s was a responsible innings, the willingness to play according to the situation while shelving flamboyance for discipline. A flicked six over fine leg off Shoaib will stand out as will Balaji’s over boundary off Mohammad Sami.
Shoaib was more offensive in his three-over final spell but that did not deter the batsmen from stepping on the accelerator. But the 74 runs added in the last ten overs proved too little.
Yasir Hameed was unlucky to miss a well-deserved century, falling two short of his hundred.
Inzamam-ul Haq and Hameed added 91 for the fifth wicket and then Razzaq, who survived a chance when Sachin let him off, and Moin Khan took them to victory.
The short boundary at the ground — Sourav’s request for extending the ropes by another five yards was rejected — made their task easier.