| Pathan took 3/28
Dambulla: A rusty India rode Rahul Dravid’s gritty century to launch their Asia Cup campaign with a comfortable 116-run victory over minnows UAE at the Rangiri Stadium on Friday.
Dravid, nicknamed ‘The Wall’, stood firm after an early scare with a heroic 93-ball 104 to steer India to a competitive 260 for six, before Indians seamers dismissed the UAE batsmen for 144 in 35 overs in the opening floodlit encounter of the six-nation tournament.
India were far from their clinical selves with the top order stuttering and the team needing the services of Sachin Tendulkar to break the brief resistance by the UAE middle order. But that’s understandable as the team was coming off a break. Dravid continued from where he left off in Pakistan, carving out his ninth one-day hundred in his 230th one-day International.
This was India’s highest total in Asia Cup, improving upon the 254 (44 overs) against Sri Lanka in Dhaka in 1988-89.
Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji ripped through the UAE top order to leave them tottering at 45 for six. Mohammad Tauqir delayed the inevitable before Tendulkar polished the tail off.
Tauqir added 52 for the seventh wicket with Asghar Ali and the partnership was broken when Anil Kumble had the latter rapped on the pads. The wicket made Kumble the highest wicket-taker in one-day Internationals for India, surpassing Jawagal Srinath’s tally of 315.
Playing their first match in three months, Sourav Ganguly’s men seemed patchy and short of match practice under conditions that were not exactly suited for stroke-making.
Only Dravid showed authority as he shared a crucial 88-run stand with his skipper, which helped the team to wriggle out of a precarious 65 for three.
Sourav made 56 at No. 3 but, like other top-order batsmen, suffered from rustiness. The captain needed 102 balls for his half century and was lucky to be dropped twice in the slips.
The UAE had all their 11 players making their debut but the ACC Trophy winners in Kuala Lumpur last month made up for the lack of experience with their spirit and combined effort.
Their bowlers used the slow paced wicket and windy conditions at Dambulla to keep the free stroking Indians under a tight leash.
Rizwan Ahmed picked two for 69 but the Emirates team enjoyed their best phase when Ali Abbas Asad and Asim Saeed bowled a marathon 15-over opening spell in which they tied down the Asian powerhouse to 58 for the loss of two wickets.
The swashbuckling Virender Sehwag returned to the pavilion after making a three-ball duck, following a mix-up with Tendulkar.
Tendulkar (18) did not last long as left-arm medium pacer Saeed beat him with his huge in-swinger and Fazal Usman completed a diving catch at short mid-wicket.
V.V.S. Laxman opened his account with an elegant six over square leg but the slow pace brought his downfall as he spooned a simple return catch to off-spinner Mohammad Tauqir after making 14 off 21 balls.
But things changed for the better for the Indians with the arrival of Dravid who controlled the pace of the innings with his hard running between the wickets.