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Yusuf Pathan plays a match-winning knock

S. Ram Mahesh

India fights back with crucial partnerships, takes 2-1 lead in series

— PHOTO: AFP

THAT WINNING FEELING!Yusuf Pathan and the tailenders played their roles to perfection to script a memorable victory for the Indians.

CAPE TOWN: For the second straight match, completed in heavy-yellow light, India and South Africa produced a nerve-shredder. Who says being shorn of top batsmen and playing on two-faced, two-paced wickets aren't ideal? Much like the second ODI at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, the third ODI here at Newlands on Tuesday had a captive audience hooked on its every twist and turn.

And like the second ODI, it was India which held its nerve. There were three vital phases in India's pursuit of South Africa's 220: the second-wicket partnership of 52 between Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli; the controlled explosion of Yusuf Pathan (and his alliance with Suresh Raina); the clever hitting of Harbhajan Singh towards the end.

The game changes

The Rohit-Kohli stand steadied India after it was reduced to four for one — Dale Steyn taking a freakishly athletic return catch to send back M. Vijay — and Harbhajan's feisty innings, and his partnerships with Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, helped India cover the last mile, which is often the longest.

But it was Yusuf who played the game-breaker, powering India from 93 for five to 182 for seven. His plan, as he revealed after the match (and which was apparent during his innings), was deceptively simple: “I went in thinking that I will play my shots, that I won't be in any hurry to play those shots, and that I will wait for the balls in my area”.

In each of these statements is distilled the essence of batting under pressure and transferring this pressure to the opponent. First, his trust in his natural game — “I will play my shots” — second, his understanding that there is often more time than is believed — “I wont be in any hurry to play those shots” — and third, his knowledge of his own game — “I will wait for balls in my area”.

Smith acknowledges

By now, most people know Yusuf isn't a dense hitter.

But the clarity of thought and the precision of execution in his 59 (50b, 6x4, 3x6) was exceptional. South African captain Graeme Smith said, “Every batsman struggled to score freely on this surface, and Yusuf went better than a run a ball,” said Smith.

“He timed the ball sweetly, which every other batsman struggled to do, so he was the real difference.”

Yusuf, known to have a problem against the short ball, decided to avoid it, wearing it on the body or moving out of its way.

When it was within his hitting arc, and that's a considerable area given his reach, he punished it. After keeping out of the way of Steyn's short-pitched deliveries — Steyn wasn't at full throttle — Yusuf cut the fast-bowler for four.

His next three fours had elements of fortune: one was edged; the other two, both sweeps, were mis-fielded on the boundary. What followed was an intimidating show of intent. Yusuf launched Johan Botha for three sixes (in four balls) between straight and wide long-on. He chose to challenge the man on the fence, beating him comfortably. The South Africans knew they were in a contest.

Smith might have profited from attacking Yusuf with Morne Morkel, South Africa's best bowler on Tuesday.

Morkel's lift from a length was nasty and uncomfortable, but he didn't get enough deliveries at Yusuf. Morkel removed Raina, who had helped Yusuf add 75 in 12.1 overs, and pulled off a spectacular catch at third-man to dismiss Yusuf.

There was still considerable work to be done. But Harbhajan picked his six-hitting moments shrewdly; Zaheer and Nehra were brave and lucky. Thanks to them, India has a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.

SCOREBOARD

South Africa: 220 in 49.2 overs.

India: Rohit b Morkel 23 ( 45b, 2x4), M. Vijay c & b Steyn 1 ( 8b), V. Kohli c de Villiers b Morkel 28 ( 41b, 5x4), Yuvraj lbw b Duminy 16 ( 27b, 2x4), M.S. Dhoni c de Villiers b Botha 5 ( 12b, 1x4), S. Raina c de Villiers b Morkel 37 ( 47b, 4x4), Yusuf c Morkel b Steyn 59 ( 50b, 6x4, 3x6), Harbhajan (not out) 23 ( 25b, 2x6), Zaheer c Smith b Tsotsobe 14 ( 25b, 2x4), A. Nehra (not out) 6 ( 10b, 1x4); Extras (lb-5, w-6): 11. Total (for eight wickets in 48.2 overs): 223.

Fall of wickets: 1-4 (Vijay), 2-56 (Kohli), 3-61 (Rohit), 4-69 (Dhoni), 5-93 (Yuvraj), 6-168 (Raina), 7-182 (Yusuf), 8-208 (Zaheer).

South Africa bowling: Steyn 10-1-31-2, Tsotsobe 10-0-41-1, Parnell 8-0-53-0, Morkel 10-0-28-3, Botha 7.2-1-48-1, Duminy 2-0-9-1, du Plessis 1-0-8-0.

Power Plays: One (1-10): 36/1; Bowling (11-15): 20/1; Batting (43-47): 27/1 .

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