Pakistan level series in a thriller at Ahmedabad
Sachin Tendulkar nearly repeated his heroics of a decade ago
by conceding just two runs in the first five balls he bowled to Inzamam in the final over of Pakistan's innings. When the over began, Pakistan needed just three to win. Inzamam however broke the hearts of millions of Indian cricket fans and a toss related jinx this series
by smacking the final delivery for a boundary, ensuring that the series was still up for grabs
. Pakistan's successful chase of India's total of 315 is certainly among the top efforts in one-day history
. The bandwagon moves on to Kanpur for the fifth one-dayer on Friday.
Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat first. The start of the game had been delayed for an hour due to some over-enthusiastic ground staff watering some areas on the pitch. The game was then declared to be a 48 over farce. Sehwag and Tendulkar got off the blocks quickly with Sami and Rana being hit around the place. The fifty came up in the 8th over and both batsmen were scoring at nearly the same rate. Sehwag was then out to a brilliant piece of fielding by Younis Khan whose direct hit ended a promising knock at 29. Dhoni came in and then almost immediately started playing his shots to ensure that the run-rate did not drop. Razzaq was the only bowler who got away without punishment as India went past 100 and then reached 150 in the 26th over of the innings, bowled by Kaneria. It was Kaneria's first over and Dhoni greeted him with a six over long-off. Tendulkar, at this stage, had been warned a couple of times for running on the wicket. That did not seem to disturb him too much as he reverse swept Kaneria nearly for six and then went one better by belting the ball over long-on, thereby hitting a cameraman on his head and putting him out of action.
Dhoni's breezy innings ended on 47 when he was caught down the legside by keeper Akmal off Shoaib, a few deliveries after Akmal had messed up a stumping opportunity. Ganguly then came in, determined to end his run drought
. Tendulkar got to his 38th one-day century even as Ganguly struggled to bat anywhere as fluently as he is capable of. After reaching the milestone, he suffered from cramps and Sehwag came out as a runner. Ganguly was then run-out, attempting to take a non-existent single when the ball had only gone as far as short fine-leg. Tendulkar was too tired at this stage and inevitably, he got out the very next over, attempting to sweep one from Shoaib Malik. It ended a superb knock of 124 in 130 balls. At this stage, India were 248/4 in the 42nd over. Dravid and Yuvraj combined in a superb partnership of 40 runs in just around 4 overs combining quick running and big shots. Dravid was out attempting to hit a six, the ball landing with the deep midwicket fielder. He made 19 in just 13 deliveries. Kaif came in and barring a boundary, didnt contribute much. Yuvraj capitalized on some crappy bowling from Shoaib Malik in the last over of the innings, ending up with 35 off 26 and India reached 315. Surely Pakistan could not chase that!
Afridi and Butt certainly had other ideas as after a quiet start, Afridi went berserk, hitting Nehra and Balaji, who had replaced Pathan in the side, at will. The fifty came up in the sixth over but he carried on in his own uniquely mad ways. It was too good to last and a few wild heaves later, he lofted a ball from Balaji straight to Tendulkar at mid-off. Salman Butt, in good form, hit some nice shots on both sides of the wicket, especially the legside through squareleg as Pakistan reached the 100 mark in the 14th over. Murali Kartik, who was playing instead of Harbhajan, trapped him lbw in his very first over. Inzamam had still not come out to bat, with Razzaq batting at #3 and Shoaib Malik coming in at #4. Then followed the partnership which ensured that Pakistan were on track for a victory. The two put on 76 runs, maintaining a runrate in excess of 6 an over. They were content to take a few singles and twos and also hit a boundary now and then to relieve the pressure. Razzaq then got out, hitting a full-toss from Tendulkar straight to Murali Kartik on the deep-midwicket boundary.
One over later, Yuvraj dropped a simple catch off Shoaib Malik, who was on 34 at that time. Inzamam had come in to bat following Razzaq's wicket and looked in great nick. Malik's fifty came at more than a run-a-ball and he had only hit two boundaries till then. Murali Kartik got the much needed breakthrough for India when he had Malik caught by Balaji on the long-off boundary. At this stage, Pakistan needed 63 to win in just over 9 overs. Youhana came in and didnt last too long, pulling a short one from Zaheer to Balaji at fine-leg. Pakistan began to panic at this stage and Younis Khan was run out a couple of overs later. Thirty five were now needed off six overs with Kamran Akmal, Sami, Rana and Kaneria left to bat along with Inzamam, who was steadily marching towards his fifty. Ashish Nehra's fielding skills are rather well known. So perhaps even he would not have bargained for playing a part in two runouts, the second one being a direct hit to end Akmal's tenure. At this stage, all India needed to do was to get Sami out to put more pressure on Inzamam to hit the runs. Instead, the bowlers bowled a few wides and no-balls, in addition to the batsmen being lucky with a few edges. Inzamam reached his half-century in the 46th over and Nehra bowled a horrible 47th over, leaking 7 runs when Pakistan needed 10 to win. Tendulkar's heroics with the bat, and ball, were ultimately not enough.
Inzamam got the man of the match award for the way he got Pakistan to the target. I think Shoaib Malik would have been a good choice, considering he took three wickets as well. Ganguly's choice of bowlers at various stages in the game was quite bizarre. Nehra had never looked like taking a wicket and he bowled 9 overs for 75 runs, including conceding 13 runs in his last two overs. In contrast, Sehwag bowled just one over. If the team cannot defend 315, there must be something wrong with the bowling and fielding. When India were at 194 in the 32nd over, they really should have got a score around 325-330. Yet, Ganguly pottered around for a while and India lost some crucial momentum. I would not be surprised
if the series ended at 3-3.