India all the way

M. S. Dhoni stumps danger man Shahid Afridi off Sachin Tendulkar.-AP

M. S. Dhoni played a composed innings, while Yuvraj Singh launched a fierce assault on the Pakistan bowlers. The two guided India to a comfortable victory. Nandita Sridhar reports.

The performances were there, but the contest was missing in the first ODI between India and Pakistan for the Indian Oil Cup at Guwahati. With the clashes between the two teams fraught with the ‘contests within the contest’ presupposition, the match could offer just the thrill of Indian performances and an Indian win.

The curator of the pitch predicted a run feast, while the ground history pointed to a difficult time for the batsmen in the morning session. “It was not very difficult, but quite a difficult wicket to bat on. We weren’t sure how the ball would turn and how much it would bounce,” said India captain M. S. Dhoni after his match-winning innings.

Notwithstanding the nature of the pitch, Pakistan’s batting lacked purpose, which reflected in its failure to score a boundary for 21.2 overs.

Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik operated in tandem against Pakistan’s two best batsmen, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, and creditably tied them down. The run-flow was clogged and Pakistan laboured on.

Sachin Tendulkar delighted with his leg-spinners. He bowled wide and round the wicket throughout the 39th over despite being smashed for a four. Afridi gave the bowler a good view of the stumps while making room to play his shots. This prompted Tendulkar to bowl quicker and wider, which beat the Pakistani and Dhoni completed the stumping.

The Indian spinners came in for praise from their captain. “The spinners bowled according to the field. The pitch might have helped the bowlers, but putting the ball consistently in one area is tough. On this wicket, you had to pitch the ball where it was getting more turn. If you bowled a bad ball, the chance of opposition scoring a boundary was high. Kartik and Harbhajan are pretty good at this and Sachin got us some wickets as well,” said Dhoni.

In comparison, the Indian batsmen found it easy to handle the Pakistani spinners. Abdur Rehman and captain Shoaib Mailk were carted around by Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni.

The Indian skipper played a composed innings and was content picking up the singles. Yuvraj’s assault was a tad fiercer, with his half-century studded with a characteristic six off Rehman over deep mid-wicket.

Dhoni’s decision to move up the order was in line with his flexible approach to batting position. “I’ve said in the past that I need someone to fit in my place at No. 6 or 7. We needed a left and right-hand combination. Afridi was bowling off-breaks to left-handers, and leg-breaks to right-handers. That encouraged me to promote myself,” said the captain.

The teams matched each other in their near-shambolic fielding efforts. The outfield at the Nehru Stadium did not allow the players the luxury of diving, but some regulation fielding lapses fell way below international standards.

Malik blamed his team’s defeat on poor fielding. “I think 230-240 was a good target. It was defendable. The difference was that we dropped catches. If we had taken them, the result would have been totally different. Fielding let us down,” he said.

Gautam Gambhir, selected over Virender Sehwag, justified his inclusion with a 44, but only after two risky shots off Shoaib Akhtar. He edged two successive deliveries that both wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal and first slip Younis Khan failed to react to. Gambhir’s shot selection dramatically improved thereafter, and he combined well with Sourav Ganguly for an 82-run partnership. The two left-handers particularly exposed the inadequate off-side field.

Akhtar’s much touted comeback tour (after the solitary match against South Africa) had a decent start, but not enough to win the match for his team. His slower delivery to dismiss Tendulkar was beautifully disguised. He sent down super-quick deliveries, but subsequently his pace became predictable and easier to score off. His dismissal of Dhoni came a little too late for Pakistan.

Despite the bowlers struggling, Malik defended them. “We looked at the pitch and picked our best bowling attack. A fit Shoaib is an asset. He is our best option and is bowling quick and running in quick. I can’t blame my spinners also. Especially when our fielding didn’t back them up,” said the Pakistan captain.

THE SCORES

First ODI, Nehru Stadium, Guwahati, November 5. India won by five wickets.

Pakistan: Salman Butt (run out) 50; Kamran Akmal lbw b Pathan 12; Younis Khan c Pathan b Harbhajan Singh 25; Mohammad Yousuf (not out) 83; Shahid Afridi st Dhoni b Tendulkar 31; Shoaib Malik c Gambhir b Tendulkar 2; Misbah-ul-Haq c Harbhajan Singh b Khan 27; Abdur Rehman (run out) 0; Extras (lb 4, w 5) 9; Total (seven wkts. in 50 overs) 239.

Fall of wickets: 1-44, 2-69, 3-104, 4-163, 5-165, 6-233, 7-239.

Pakistan bowling: Zaheer 9-0-50-1; R. P. Singh 8-1-42-0; Pathan 8-2-45-1; Harbhajan Singh 10-0-29-1; Kartik 10-0-36-0; Tendulkar 5-0-33-2.

India: S. C. Ganguly (run out) 39; S. R. Tendulkar lbw b Shoaib Akhtar 4; G. Gambhir b Shahid Afridi 44; M. S. Dhoni c Kamran Akmal b Shoaib Akhtar 63; Yuvraj Singh c Shahid Afridi b Abdur Rehman 58; R. V. Uthappa (not out) 11; I. K. Pathan (not out) 5; Extras (b 4, lb 7, w 6, nb 1) 18; Total (five wkts. in 47 overs) 242.

Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-96, 3-113, 4-218, 5-225.

Pakistan bowling: Shoaib Akhtar 8-0-52-2; Umar Gul 7-2-26-0; Iftikhar Anjum 8-0-50-0; Shahid Afridi 10-0-34-1; Abdur Rehman 10-1-54-1; Shoaib Malik 4-1-15-0.