Kanpur: It was Yuvraj Singh’s day. No one could steal the limelight from him. It was no surprise that the moment he stepped out of the dressing room it evoked a near stampede among the fans who had till then waited patiently near the bus.
Salman Butt may have given India a fright but that wasn’t enough to prevent the hosts from taking a 2-1 lead in the IndianOil Cup.
Almost three years ago, Butt’s unbeaten 108 had won Pakistan the Platinum Jubilee match at the Eden. On Sunday, the 23-year-old’s career best 129 ended in a losing cause as Yuvraj’s allround brilliance stopped the visitors 46 runs short of the target.
Yuvraj is fast turning out to be Pakistan’s biggest nemesis. The Man of the Match’s elegant 77 off 95 balls and the 100-run partnership with Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the fourth wicket provided the impetus after a mid-innings slump.
Then as Pakistan appeared steady in their 295-run chase, he ran out the lazy Mohammed Yousuf before removing Shoaib Malik during an equally impressive spell.
In the end, Pakistan were left to rue Yuvraj’s dropped chance on 26.
Shahid Afridi failed to replicate his 1995 heroics at the Green Park and though Butt provided a solid foundation, he lacked the fireworks or the flamboyance to intimidate the Indians.
Butt’s wristy strokeplay was stopped with an imaginative change of line by the bowlers and a double covering on the off side.
Zaheer Khan was imposing despite coming into the attack after Rudra Pratap Singh and Irfan Pathan. Harbhajan Singh once again proved his credentials and the Pakistanis found the going tough. The boundaries dried up and they succumbed under pressure.
Butt and Misbah-ul Haq had raised some hopes, stitching 80 runs for the fifth wicket but once Murali Kartik got through his defences, it was curtains. Pakistan lost the plot in the middle overs with the Indian slow bowlers doing an excellent job.
The visitors needed someone to step on the gas as Butt provided assurance at the other end. His fourth century — all against India — included 17 boundaries and came off 142 balls.
Malik’s decision to bowl will continue be debated though Dhoni said he too would have done the same. Going by past record and the slow and low nature of the wicket, it did come as a surprise.
The start was not devoid of drama. Sourav Ganguly’s nervous poke at the first ball of the match from Shoaib Akhtar — a gentle loosener — was grassed by Kamran Akmal low down to his left. Both Sourav and Sachin lived dangerously as Pakistan’s new ball bowlers managed some life out of the wicket.
As the old hands settled down and the moisture evaporated, runs came thick and fast. Sachin announced his intentions with a couple of boundaries through covers off Gul and then Sourav came down the track to hit the pacer for a mighty six over long on.
The onset of Sohail Tanveer, however, put paid to the openers’ hopes. His probing spell brought down the scoring rate. The left-arm pacer used the natural angle against the right-hander to induce Sachin to edge to the wicketkeeper and then brought one back to send the well-settled Sourav’s stumps into a tailspin.
The pressure was suddenly telling on India as Tanveer and Shoaib, in his second spell, managed to keep the batsmen on a leash. Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh tried to consolidate the innings as the spinners got into the act.
Gambhir got into an unprovoked war of words with Afridi. Umpire Ian Gould had to mediate to calm their frayed tempers. It was enough to disturb the batsman’s concentration as Gambhir left soon after.
The coming together of Yuvraj and Dhoni, however, spelt doom for Pakistan. Dhoni took some time to gauge the pace and bounce of the wicket but thereafter there was no looking back.
Yuvraj showed the way with two huge sixes in a Rehman over. Dhoni joined the party in the very next over from Malik with stupendous hits over long on. It was mayhem as Malik struggled to stop the flow of runs. The hundred run partnership for the fourth wicket came in only 92 balls.
Malik was forced to fall back on Shoaib and he responded well, dismissing Dhoni for 49 (52 balls, 4x4, 2x6). The fast bowler has been a revelation. In what is a do-or-die series for him after the recent controversies, Shoaib has cut down on his natural pace to concentrate on the basics.
He bowled in three short spells and excelled on a wicket that offered very little assistance to the pacers. Had he not put the skids on the flourishing fourth wicket stand, it could have spelt further disaster for Pakistan.
Harbhajan and Pathan provided some entertainment towards the end.