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Pakistan snatches victory off the last ball

By Sanjay Rajan



TOUGH TIMES: Sourav Ganguly's unhappy run with both the bat and match officials continued. — Photos: S. Subramanium

AHMEDABAD, APRIL 12. In a humdinger of a finish, Inzamam-ul-Haq kept his nerve to guide Pakistan to a last ball three-wicket win over India in the fourth ODI and level the six-match Pepsi Cup series 2-2 at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium here on Tuesday.

Batting first has its advantages in one-dayers and it was only logical that the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, opted to take first strike. The wetness in the wicket, due to excessive watering, resulted in the contest being reduced to 48-overs-a-side. However, this did not aid seam movement and instead, the ball tended to stop and come. And it did not take long for the Pakistan captain Inzamam to move to short covers from first slip and shift Younis Khan from the slip cordon to short midwicket, both catching positions.

The red soil pitch at Motera played true to tradition as a venue of high-scoring encounters with the host rattling up 315 for six. Sachin Tendulkar notched up his 38th century, his first for the season.

But the Pakistan batsmen came good when it mattered most and Inzamam (60 not out) was adjudged Man of the Match for his sterling display at the end. Pakistan needed three off the last over and Ganguly, who initially called L. Balaji, had a sudden change of mind and signalled for Tendulkar. With 47,000 fans screaming Tendulkar bowled two dot balls. Inzamam picked up a brace off the third before Tendulkar bowled two more balls which couldn't be scored off.

Final delivery

The contest boiled down to the last delivery. Tendulkar asked Mahendra Singh Dhoni to move back and got the fielders into single-saving positions. He, however, delivered the last ball a little short and Inzamam gleefully cut it to the fence. For the first time in the series a side had won when chasing a target.

Pakistan retained its winning combination from Jamshedpur, while the host effected two changes — a fit Balaji returned in place of Irfan Pathan while left-arm spinner Murali Kartik came in for off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, down with a side strain.

With Tendulkar striking form and Virender Sehwag in majestic touch, it was not surprising that India got off to a sound start — 65 by the 10th over — against the medium-pace pair of Md. Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, who were inconsistent. Sehwag was the first to go while backing up too far. Younis Khan, at short mid-wicket, had missed a direct hit earlier but made no mistake this time.

Tendulkar looked tentative at the start with Abdul Razzaq beating him time and again. But he started to dominate once he got his eye in. The second-wicket stand of 129 off 139 deliveries between Tendulkar and Dhoni (47) saw the host reach a commanding 194 by the 32nd over. The period between the 15th and 25th overs was the least productive, just 41 coming in those 10 overs. Razzaq, who bowled his quota at one stretch, was at his probing best during this phase.

Dhoni is a positive player. However, the Jharkhand cricketer would do well to use his backfoot to get across and get behind the line of the ball. To his credit, the young man is blessed with immense power and reach.

Restrictive

In a move to restrict the flow Inzamam brought on Shahid Afridi even before specialist leg-spinner Danish Kaneria. Afridi displayed a fair amount of control while attacking Tendulkar's leg-stump from round the wicket. Kaneria tried it rather unsuccessfully later on.

Off-spinner Shoaib Malik had Dhoni caught behind, trying to play down the leg-side in his very first over, and Tendulkar reached his century in the company of Ganguly, who fared only slightly better than his previous visits to the middle during the series. It must, however, be said that he lasted long enough to help put on 48 from 8.2 overs with Tendulkar.

At 242 for three in the 41st over, the home side was all set to roar through the home stretch, but one felt that India finished at least 20 runs short despite Yuvraj Singh's power-packed 26-ball 35.

Shahid Afridi (40) fired at the start and Salman Butt (48) brought the side's 100 by the 14th over. Promoted to No. 3, Razzaq (44) helped the side to 183 by the 29th over and Malik (65) guided the side to 253 at the end of the 38th over. The equation was simple: Pakistan needed 63 from 60 deliveries, with seven wickets in hand, and Malik and Inzamam in the middle.

Both Malik and the Pakistan skipper had reprieves earlier. Kartik replaced Tendulkar in the attack and Malik gave him the charge, setting off a collapse which could only be put down to Pakistan's unpredictable nature. The experienced Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan, and the gutsy Kamran Akmal left in the space of four overs, leaving Inzamam to get 21 from 25 deliveries with Sami's support.

The fifth contest will be held at Kanpur on April 15.

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