Dambulla: It was a case of who dares wins. For India it was Harbhajan Singh’s plundered six over midwicket that theoretically, has set up an Asia Cup final against neighbours Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
It was also a great advert for the 50 over game as some of the game’s administrators along with certain media personalities are attempting to downgrade the format in favour of cheap popularity. They will need, however, to rethink their strategy at international level.
High on adrenalin throughout his 11 ball innings during the last tumultuous half hour of the game, Bhajji’s slog over midwicket off Pakistan fast-medium seamer Mohammad Aamer followed a verbal wrangle between the highly competitive Indian and the Pakistan show pony firebrand Shoaib Akhtar in the fourth game of the 10th version of the Asia Cup.
Words had flowed after the run out of Suresh Raina and the sneaky Shoaib was adding extra vernacular to the inflame the decision in what was a highly-charged last over. As always, big mouths come off second best, for when Harbhajan pulled the short of a length delivery - the fifth of the 50th over – for his second six in a total of 15, he hauled off his helmet and bellowed in the direction of third man where the reinvented fast bowler Shoaib was sulking.
India chased down the 268 needed by scoring 271 for seven and clambered their way to a three-wicket victory over a deflated Pakistan yet there were strategies that were put in place, helping India overcome the stiff target in what was a highly entertaining game.
India’s captain MS Dhoni had hinted on Thursday that he might promote himself in the order to help the trio of inexperienced batsmen led by Virat Kohli, who is assuming a huge responsibility by taking over the Rahul Dravid role. A young man filling such big boots needs to have a special talent. The specialist guidance by Dhoni was important, especially as man of the match Gautam Gambhir laid the foundation with a well-worked, stylish innings of 83.
The important part here was the strike rotation with first Kohli the Dhoni, the third wicket partnership of 98 ending only when Saeed Ajmal spun one past the bat. It was lethal strike for Pakistan. Yet as Lasith Malinga slammed the venue’s floodlighting, so too did Gambhir.
During the post-match media conference, he indicated he struggled to see the spinners because of the lights. He didn’t blame this for his dismissal, but you sensed as with Malinga, there are areas with light factors which are upsetting the players.
Pakistan though will rue some of their bowing tactics After the narrow defeat by Sri Lanka in the opening game, they were desperate to make an impact in the tournament.
While their 267 was a more than competitive total, it would have gone past the 300 but for some excellent ground fielding by the Indians. They were certainly a lot more energised and that became an important factor towards the end of the innings.
There are going to be those who would have argued that Afridi should have taken the power play earlier, and he would have had a sound reason not to take it from the 41st over. Afridi was batting at the time and a spurt at this stage would have put pressure on India.
As it is their bowling and fielding in the early overs was ragged. The bowling of Ashish Nehra didn’t help Dhoni’s efforts either as he again bowled the wrong length – as he did against Sri Lanka. He was leaking runs to all parts of the field as Salman Butt, in particular had fun with his bowling.
Yet the batsmen had to be mindful as well. The pitch was slow and on the low side, with several batsmen on both sides miscalculating the bounce, Virat Kohli as an example.
The Pakistan openers owed the profitability of their partnership to the inability of Nehra and Praveen Kumar to find the length needed to trouble the batsmen, and with Nehra unable to get the correct length, there were serious problems for Dhoni to find someone who could plug the leaking run drain.
There was nothing spectacular about the batting styles: none of the flashy flamboyancy that has been expected of the batsmen although Shoaib Malik rotated the strike with Butt as they accumulated a second wicket partnership of 73 before a mini collapse halted the innings mid-stride in the 29th over when Malik was the first of three batsmen to fall in a matter of 32 deliveries when only 15 runs were added to the total.
It was amid this early implosion that Umar Amin failed to use the bat bequeathed by Sachin Tendulkar to any use and the innings stutter at this stage left Pakistan needing someone to stitch a quick half century together. This was where Kamran Akmal came in handy and his cavalier approach is what Pakistan had been searching for since the departure of Butt left his side struggling to build partnerships.
It was typical Akmal batting, a la T20 fashion as the batting powerplay gave him licence to slog, taking liberties with three sixes help in powering him past the half-century mark.
There was always the impression that it came too late and Pakistan were 20 or so runs short.
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