A cracker in Peshawar

Two scintillating hundreds which weren’t even the best innings of the match; an outstanding, tight spell of bowling from an unfancied performer; a bizarre and controversial dismissal; and a match aggregate of 639 runs. The first ODI between Pakistan and India at Peshawar had it all – all except an out-and-out winner. Pakistan triumphed by seven runs on the Duckworth-Lewis method – but this disappointing ending only added further intrigue to a simply astonishing match.

The umpires called a halt to proceedings with three overs remaining in the Pakistan innings, and 18 runs still required – this with only three Pakistani wickets remaining, following a collapse of sorts by the home side. India had earlier racked up a huge 328 all out on a fantastic batting wicket, which could have been more had they not lost their final six wickets for only 23 runs.

The innings was dominated by Sachin Tendulkar’s 39th ODI hundred, an innings of complete control in the face of a tricky spell from seam bowler Mohammad Asif. Pakistani opener Salman Butt responded in kind with a scintillating hundred of his own, with Shoaib Malik hitting a blistering 90 off only 69 balls to give the innings the required momentum.

India’s innings began with the early departure of Virender Sehwag, becoming the first of three victims for Asif, who found surprising movement early on given the nature of the pitch. The skies were murky, however, and there was sufficient swing present for Asif to trouble pinch-hitter Irfan Pathan greatly, to the extent that he even played and missed five times in one over.

The other Pakistani bowlers could not match Asif’s control, however – Umar Gul’s return to international cricket was a disastrous one, his introduction proving the cue for Pathan to launch into a counterattack, smearing Gul for 35 runs from his three overs. Tendulkar was little more than a passenger for a time, as Pathan blasted twelve boundaries and a six in reaching a run-a-ball 65. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, spearheading the home side’s bowling attack in the absence of Shoaib Akhtar, dismissed Pathan in the 16th over – this brought a promotion up the order for MS Dhoni, in an effort to maintain India’s run rate. He did not disappoint.

Dhoni spanked 68 off only 53 balls, cover-driving the Pakistani bowlers at will, and feasting on anything even a touch too full. He notched up a half-century of runs in boundaries, before departing to the returning Asif. All the while, the man at the other end had been gradually accumulating – that is, until just after the halfway mark, when he stamped his authority on the innings in awesome fashion. He sent off-spinner Arshad Khan high over long-on for his first six, then set about racing into the 80s with a succession of boundaries off the spinners.

His procession towards his century was just that – his aggression toned down once Dhoni departed, and he calmly notched up the 74th century of a truly sparkling international career. His masterclass in the art of playing the anchor role had allowed the likes of Pathan and Dhoni to explode around him – and there was more to come from new batsman Yuvraj Singh.

Singh hit a valuable 39 at number five in the order, promoted ahead of captain Rahul Dravid to great effect. He was the only one of the Pakistani middle-order to fire, however, with the bottom six batsmen managing only 35 runs between them as India lost their way in the final ten overs, managing to score at only a run a ball during that period.

However, their total of 328 was nevertheless an imposing one, despite the friendly nature of the pitch. Mohammad Asif was the pick of the Pakistan bowlers, taking 3-30 from 9.4 overs, proving that with sufficient control and the ability to swing the ball, even a dead pitch can be no obstacle to efficient bowling.

Pakistan’s reply began with a fluent 50 partnership for the first wicket, before Kamran Akmal departed for 25 in the 8th over. This brought Shoaib Malik to the crease to join Salman Butt, and the two of them struck up a scintillating 150 stand in what seemed like no time at all. Butt cut, drove and stroked his way to a wonderful 3rd ODI hundred – all against India – as the new-ball pairing of Pathan and Sreesanth struggled to find any accuracy or penetration.

Butt’s innings was another lesson in the art of anchoring a run-chase, as he cleverly worked singles in between his 15 boundaries – his century came off only 109 balls, despite no conscious effort on his part to score at a fast rate. Malik’s innings, however, was of a completely different nature.

He began edgily, but was soon into his stride, unfurling a wide range of shots in punishing the generous Sreesanth further. He progressed to a rapid fifty off only 49 balls – but that was only the beginning. He struck Ajit Agarkar for three successive fours in the 31st over, and then tore into the left-arm spin of Murali Kartik, twice blasting him into the upper rows of the stand at long-on in an astonishing display of carefree hitting which brought him 40 runs from only 18 deliveries once passing his fifty.

His brutal effort came to an end as soon as he reached the nineties, as he chipped Zaheer Khan to captain Dravid at mid-wicket. Shahid Afridi came in at number four in the order and promptly sent Sreesanth soaring over long-off in trademark fashion, before departing for a quickfire 17, run out by some sharp work from Mohammad Kaif.

Mohammad Yousuf will regret the shot he played in holing out at long-on off the bowling of Zaheer; Inzamam-ul-Haq will regret further his temporary loss of sanity in blocking a threatening throw from SuperSub Suresh Raina with his bat, resulting in his being given out for obstructing the field. With all-rounder Abdul Razzaq falling shortly afterwards, driving at Agarkar, the game looked finely poised, with Pakistan needing a run a ball in the last three overs.

Rana Naved-ul-Hasan joined Younis Khan at the crease, and the anticipation was of a tense climax to one of the most eventful ODIs in recent memory – however, rapidly-fading light robbed the crowd of a suitable ending to a titanic contest. The Pakistani batsmen were offered the light with three overs remaining – and, realising they were seven runs ahead on the by now infamous Duckworth-Lewis method, jumped at the chance to avoid negotiating a nervy final three overs.

India 328 all out (49.4 overs)
S Tendulkar 100, MS Dhoni 68, I Pathan 65
Naved-ul-Hasan 4-62

Pakistan win by seven runs (D/L Method)

Pakistan 311-7 (47 overs)
S Butt 101, S Malik 90
A Agarkar 2-58

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