Virender Sehwag resembles -- and not just in his physique -- nothing so much as a tub of dynamite. It sits out there, and you -- if you are the fielding side -- tiptoe around it, careful not to touch off any hidden trip wires and trigger an explosion.
Who knows what the tripwire is? Maybe he read one of those columns suggesting he should be sacked. Or maybe he thought Rana Naved, with his pace, had no business bouncing him outside off.
Whatever -- the batsman who till fifth over had seemed as harmless as last year's Diwali cracker, exploded. With both feet off the ground, he swatted the ball over point for six, going at it with so much vim he put his shoulder out of joint.
Physio Greg Foster came out to do the repairs, Sehwag went oooh-aaah through the process, then went back to his crease, smashed a straight drive, flicked through midwicket, then blasted one more through the covers for luck. 22 in the over, and Rana Naved off the attack.
Respect is an alien term for him, seemingly. In the second over of the innings, he had aimed a wild hoik at Mohammad Asif. Tendulkar came racing down the track to plead with his partner. Perhaps aware from experience that Sehwag is not a particularly good listener, Tendulkar then made it his business to farm as much of Asif's bowling as he could.
Came the tenth over, and a Tendulkar drive was stopped for just one; Sehwag got to face Asif -- and promptly blasted him through point, then midwicket.
He gives the impression of a man with only mayhem on his mind -- but his innate shrewdness comes through in the way he throttles back once he has the field spread. With the fielders back on their heels expecting another blast, he softens his bat and takes singles at will -- 19 singles and a two punctuated his 10 fours and one six in an innings of 67 off 60.
The value of his knock is best reflected in this -- by the time he was out in the 18th over, he had reduced the ask to 143 in 32 overs, at a run rate of 4.46 against the original asking rate of 5.32.
A rare touch of laziness caused his dismissal. Rahul Dravid had edged Razzaq behind the keeper; the two took a brace, Sehwag called for the third but ran rather casually. Umar Gul meanwhile raced around the field, produced a superb sliding stop and, with the keeper out of position, produced a perfect parabola of a throw onto the middle of middle stump.
Sachin Tendulkar initially was content to go along in Sehwag's slipstream; however, once his partner throttled back, Tendulkar took on the onus of blasting the ball around -- a lofted drive over mid off, off Asif, was out of a playbook he seemed to have forgotten; a clever whip to fine leg, and a scorching on drive of Umar Gul, were standouts in an innings that, despite Sehwag's fireworks, stood out in its own right. He was just getting into the sort of touch where he looks capable of carrying on for ever, when his tendency to get cute got the better of him. A nothing ball from Razzaq, in the off corridor, saw Tendulkar open the bat face for a clever glide to third man where the fielder was wide -- trying to play it fine enough to beat him, the batsman managed only to glide it off the face of the bat for Kamran Akmal to hold on the dive.
That brought Yuvraj and Rahul Dravid together, the Indian think tank obviously deciding that since the openers had reduced the ask to conventional proportions, conventional cricket would do it from there.
Yuvraj produced an early flutter when he mishooked Razzaq, putting it up in the air and splitting the difference between point, mid off and the desperately racing bowler -- but from that point on, eased into his trademark mixture of drives and the occasional fierce pull, in an innings that underlined his current form and confidence.
Rahul Dravid has a tendency to seem becalmed. You get to thinking he is merely standing there, finding the fielders with clinical precision -- yet, throughout the third wicket association that shut Pakistan entirely out of the game, he consistently outscored his partner. He does that with percentage cricket -- his knock of 56 off 61 (his 66th ODI 50) contained 28 singles and four twos, against just 21 dot balls. He looked good to take the game home, but fell against the run of play when he reached out to drive a Shoaib Malik delivery that was just not there for the shot, and managed only to scoop it up for the bowler to hold on the follow through.
The impressive thing about the third wicket partnership was that without the explosiveness of the Sachin-Sehwag stand earlier, Yuvraj and Dravid managed to keep the run rate constant. It had touched 6 in the 5th over; it never fell below that mark for the rest of the chase.
Kaif and Yuvraj took it home with 7 wickets, and 6.5 overs, to spare. Watching the team -- not so long ago billed the worst chasers in the business, now pulling off its 10th straight win on the chase -- romp home, you couldn't help but wonder. Recent columns have been pretty harsh on the Indian bowling. No variety, no consistency, no bite, no bark -- that pretty much is a précis of available punditry.
What then of the home team? In game one, seven bowlers between them gave away 325 runs. Here, as many as eight bowlers bowled, without making the slightest impression. Shoaib Akthar is out with a dodgy ankle, certainly -- does that then mean that Pakistan's bowling is essentially a one-trick pony?
Inzamam, in this game, missed a rather obvious bet. In the 18th over of the innings, he had two new batsmen at the crease -- another quick wicket, and it could just have set off some alarm bells. Yet, instead of attacking with his premier bowler, the Pakistan skipper allowed Mohammad Asif to gather rust on the boundary lines, while a motley crew rotated through the bowling crease to no effect. In fact, the Asif no-show is especially curious when you consider that Rana Naved, who went for 32 in his first three, and another 9 when he was tried for a second spell, actually got a third spell -- while Asif, who ended his first spell with impressive figures of 28 in six overs, was never tried again.
India, in retrospect, had Irfan Pathan to thank for the win -- his early strikes and the pressure they caused ensured that Pakistan didn't have sufficient wickets in hand towards the latter part of the innings to make a go of it; in the event, if they fell at least a good 30 runs shy of where they needed to be -- and presented India with a comfortable chase on a good track -- the left arm seamer merits much of the praise for that.
What a difference an inch or three makes -- Irfan Pathan, who had for most of the Test series and again in the first ODI been guilty of bowling a tad too short, added inches to his length today. And it paid off, in a spell of 3/43 in ten overs in course of which he first rocked Pakistan with two early wickets, then came back to remove Shahid Afridi at just that moment in the game when a big-hitting exhibition could have taken the game completely away from India.
Pathan started with a length ball that swung and seamed, forcing an uncertain push that almost became a return catch. He then recalibrated his line a fraction, pitched the next one on same length but on off and Salman Butt, aiming the drive, found the edge through to the keeper (0/1).
A third slip in place in helpful conditions, and it could well have been 0/2, with the bowler making one kick off length to find Shoaib Malik's edge through the vacant hole where that fielder should have been. Malik looked a touch tentative early on but Kamran Akmal, with two fluent cover drives that negated swing and seam with effortless assurance, was getting into an ominously familiar groove when Pathan struck again -- a slower ball angled across the right hander tempted Akmal into the cut. The batsman was playing for the angle to take the ball away, but Pathan straightened it, cramped the shot for room, found the thick under edge onto the stumps (43/2).
Sreesanth had been bowling with impressive aggression and no luck at the other. In his fifth over, a good bouncer rattled Mohammad Yousuf. The next ball was a great flick off the pads that Tendulkar dived at square leg to stop, but couldn't reel in. Yousuf took the one, then charged down for a two on the misfield; Tendulkar, meanwhile, chased the ball down at midwicket, aimed for the keeper's end, realized the opportunity was at the other, and bent a throw around the umpire to catch Yousuf off his ground (46/3).
Inzamam at the wicket is, even in the direst of circumstances, characterized by a mountainous calm. Here, though, he seemed a tad edgy -- you had to wonder if he was maybe weighed down by his dismissal in the first ODI, and the controversy -- most of it of his own making -- that has swirled around it since. He greeted Zaheer Khan with an uncharacteristically clumsy pull; to the next ball, he walked across the crease looking to flick, but the incoming delivery pitched on leg found the leading edge to lob into mid-on's hand (68/4).
That set up the best phase of Pakistan's innings -- and the worst of India's.
The consensus, at the end of the first ODI, was that India was at least one good bowler short -- this when the team had fielded five bowlers. So, of course, this time round they dropped one bowler.
Not only did that leave the team with insufficient cover if one of the four seamers went off the boil, it also meant that a full ten overs had to be squeezed out by part-timers.
In the first 25 overs, the four regular bowlers had kept things relatively tight, forcing Pakistan into rebuilding mode after losing four batsmen inside the first 15 overs. Tendulkar came on at that point, Sehwag followed him after an over, and between them, the 'fifth bowler' not only went for 65, but eased the pressure on Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik.
Younis Khan was his usual self, nurdling the ball around and hareing between wickets. Malik continued to impress. Last time round, he was in brutal mood; here, he batted well within himself, focusing more on accumulation and waiting for the bad ball to really go after. For the second game in a row, a century seemed his for the taking -- only for superlative fielding to leave him five short.
Sreesanth, whose fielding on the day in the outfield was electric, raced around at third man to cut off a well executed cut, picked up and rifled a pinpoint throw over the top of the stumps to catch the batsman out of his ground, just one delivery after he had brought up a 100 run partnership with Younis off 119 deliveries.
170/5 in the 34th over, and the platform was in place for Shahid Afridi to take the game away -- if, that is, he did not succumb to hubris. As he walked out to bat, the camera picked out a telling placard held up by a spectator: 'Afridi, don't spare the Indians, especially Pathan!'
Afridi has had a thing going with Pathan ever since the Faisalabad Test, in course of which he famously told the left arm seamer 'Your ball doesn't even get to the batsman, now you want to bat?'
Here, a wild charge and wilder heave at Pathan bowling his last over did for him -- the ball flared off the thick outer edge to present Kaif a comfortable take somewhere in the region of extra cover.
Given that India was a bowler short, you would think Ramesh Powar should have played with Raina as supersub; the Indians, however, seem to reckon that Raina in the field is worth an extra bowler -- and he delivered on that assessment, attacking a Razzaq drive at mid off, picking up and flinging down the stump before the batsman could make his ground.
With wickets falling and the Indian seamers keeping things tight (Sreesanth, in his second spell, gave away just 12 in his three overs), Pakistan labored through the end overs; the pressure producing more wickets. The 46th over produced just three runs, Rana Naved was struggling to get the ball off the square against Sreesanth, and Younis Khan, who had till that point played with composure and very good skill, tried to compensate by going after Agarkar. A good slower ball, however, foxed him into scooping the drive to Kaif at cover (242/8; Younis 81 off 98). Agarkar almost struck with the next ball when he got Umar Gul's inside edge only for Dhoni to react late and flub the chance; Gul -- batting for only the 2nd time in 17 ODIs -- rubbed it in with a driven four to the next ball.
Pakistan's progression tells the story of an innings that prospered in fits and starts after a rocky beginning: 22/1 in 5 and from then on, in five over spells, 47/3, 77/4, 95/4, 114/4, 149/4, 178/5 and, at the end of 40 overs, 206/6. Younis Khan's wicket in the 47th over hampered the real big push at the death; Rana Naved felt the need to slog, but managed only to hit Agarkar high and straight to the sure-handed Suresh Raina at a deepish mid on. And yet another needless second run attempted brought the Pakistan innings to a close on 265, with four legitimate deliveries left.
The score is more than par for the ground -- but given the state of this pitch, you get the sneaky suspicion that Pakistan, which made 59 in the death overs, is at the least 30 runs short of where they needed to be.
There's been much criticism of the Indian bowlers, but on the day, all four seamers played their part reasonably well, with Pathan being the stand-out performer. Clearly, those three extra inches, that little extra effort, makes a huge difference.