Slow pitch, low scores

Inzamam's men found the right answers, though, on a sluggish pitch for a hard-earned six-wicket win in Abu Dhabi in the first match. The victory arrived in the 49th over.

Ahead of the two-match DLF Cup series, Inzamam-ul-Haq spoke about the need for Pakistan to close out matches from tight situations. In other words, his side had to `finish off games.'

Inzamam was right when he looked back at the ODI series in Pakistan this year. Despite India's thumping 4-1 verdict, the matches were close.

But then, India found match-winners at crunch moments and Pakistan did not. When India had its back to the wall in Lahore, Mahendra Singh Dhoni settled the issue with his thundering blows.

"The result might suggest that India won comprehensively, but the reality is that India did well in pulling off matches from tough situations, while we failed to maintain pressure," said Inzamam.

The two-match series at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium — an ultra modern marvel in the desert — in Abu Dhabi was being principally staged to raise funds for the earthquake victims of the two countries. Despite a gruelling season of seemingly limitless matches, the cricketers could not say `no' to a good cause. Official India-Pakistan matches were also returning to West Asia.

India entered the competition as the in-form ODI side that had swamped Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England this season, apart from rallying to draw 2-2 against a competitive South African side.

Pakistan's form had been less consistent. Despite the presence of a wealth of all-round talent, the side had tended to falter at key moments.

Inzamam's men found the right answers, though, on a sluggish pitch for a hard-earned six-wicket win in Abu Dhabi in the first match. The victory arrived in the 49th over.

The pitch being on the slower side, stroke-making was never easy. The ball was not coming quickly enough on to the bat for the batsmen to attempt shots on the rise, so productive in the shorter version of the game.

The nature of the wicket ruled out totals in excess of 300, commonplace in India-Pakistan games. On the pitch at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, the ball had to be worked around for runs.

There was a measure of turn for the spinners but it was slow in nature. In the second innings of the day-night encounter, the pacemen were able to achieve some movement due to the evening dew factor.

Those batsmen who could play the ball late and bring their supple wrists into play were better off on the surface. Younis Khan, the Man of the Match, made runs and he did so by rolling his wrists over the ball and drilling it through the gaps. His unbeaten 71 was an effort where Younis revealed his ability to adapt, to both the conditions and the situation.

India's Venugopal Rao kept his place for the ODI series in the West Indies by grinding out an innings of 61 off 93 balls. Importantly, his knock surfaced at a moment of crisis for India.

Rahul Dravid elected to bat, but the Indian innings was soon in a mess. Robin Uthappa swung across the line to a slower delivery from Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and was held at mid-on.

With Virender Sehwag either dropped or rested — so was Mohammad Kaif — Dravid opened the innings once again. The skipper appeared to be settling into a rhythm when he was run-out.

Irfan Pathan, who walked in at No. 3, was a victim of a brilliant direct hit at the non-striker's end from Rana Naved-ul-Hasan at mid-on, but this was an afternoon where the Indian running between the wickets left a lot to be desired.

Venugopal's tenacity and Suresh Raina's flair enabled India stage a mini-recovery after key man Yuvraj Singh fatally nibbled at a Rao Iftekar Anjum delivery outside the off-stump.

However, even on a pitch of this nature, a score of 197 was never going to be enough for India. The lean and hungry Mohammad Asif bowled brilliantly with the new ball, although the quality of his effort was not reflected in his figures.

Rana Naved-ul-Hasan varied his pace well and was more consistent than for most part this season. Rao Iftekar Anjum was steady, as were the spinners Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik.

Despite the setback, there were some positives for India. The team fought well on the field. S. Sreesanth and Ramesh Powar were outstanding with the ball.

Sreesanth is operating with increasing rhythm and control. There was very little margin for error for a paceman on this slow pitch, but Sreesanth gave very little away, either in width or length.

The fact that he is consistently able to bowl outswingers makes him a distinct threat with the new ball. He is also using the crease cleverly, often surprising the batsmen by changing the angle or sending down the odd well-directed short-pitched delivery.

As the ball becomes older, he has the ability to reverse it. Sreesanth is bowling at a lively pace and holds much promise. Opener Shoaib Malik was his victim on this night, the batsman done in by the away movement.

Off-spinner Powar is cast in the classical mould. He dares the batsmen with his flight, and, ideally, bowls outside the off-stump, adjusting his line according to the degree of spin he is able to achieve.

He is not intimidated by reputations, and does not resort to a flatter arc if struck for a boundary or a six. The Pakistanis play off-spin exceptionally well, and to Powar's credit, he kept the batsmen guessing. The bowler from Mumbai had Inzamam, who batted well for his 40, taken in the deep.

The experienced Ajit Agarkar also bowled with verve, achieving lateral movement and getting the ball to swing into the batsmen. Importantly, he did not stray down the leg-side. He did consume Mohammad Yousuf with a peach of an away going delivery; earlier he had castled opener Imran Farhat with a sizzling yorker.

If India glimpsed at an opportunity, Younis Khan and wicket-keeper batsman Kamran Akmal ensured that Pakistan, gradually but surely, would reach the target. A couple of close leg-before decisions went against India, but Pakistan was the deserving winner.

THE SCORES

DLF Cup, First ODI, India v Pakistan, Abu Dhabi, April 18, 2006.

India: R. Uthappa c Yousuf b Naved 12; R. Dravid (run out) 20; I. Pathan (run out) 26; Yuvraj c Akmal b Iftikhar 7; S. Raina c Iftikhar b Afridi 40; Y. Venugopal Rao (not out) 61; M. Dhoni b Malik 3; A. Agarkar c Iftikhar b Malik 12; R. Powar c Iftikhar b Malik 5; Harbhajan (run out) 3; S. Sreesanth (run out) 0; Extras (lb-3, w-5) 8. Total: 197.

Fall of wkts: 1-25, 2-47, 3-65, 4-72, 5-136, 6-149, 7-171, 8-180, 9-196.

Pakistan bowling: Asif 8-1-24-0; Naved 9-0-51-1; Iftikhar 7-1-24-1; Razzaq 6-1-13-0; Afridi 10-0-42-1; Malik 10-0-40-3.

Pakistan: S. Malik c Dravid b Sreesanth 12; I. Farhat b Agarkar 30; Y. Khan (not out) 71; Inzamam c Venugopal Rao b Powar 40; M. Yousuf c Dhoni b Agarkar 1; K. Akmal (not out) 24; Extras (lb-15, w-7, nb-1) 23. Total (for four wkts., in 48.3 overs) 201.

Fall of wkts: 1-42, 2-60, 3-146, 4-149.

India bowling: Pathan 9-1-46-0; Sreesanth 9.3-2-34-1; Agarkar 10-0-33-2; Powar 10-1-27-1; Harbhajan 10-1-46-0.

A Special Correspondent