“We haven’t been able to put pressure on them because we have not really batted well. So they will be tested at some point, but they are a very balanced side,” Dhoni had said. Until India started bowling in wintry conditions after posting just 167 — the second time in this series they were bowled out for less than 200 — there was no sign of the hosts turning the screws on their arch-rivals.
The pressure exerted by a sharp Pakistan bowling unit had seen the Indian batting line-up crumble again. India’s opening bowlers had little to defend. Right-arm medium pacer Shami Ahmed was making this debut and Bhuvneshwar Kumar was playing only this third ODI. This wasn’t turning out to be a classic India-Pakistan encounter. Rather, it looked like a one-sided contest, a re-run of Chennai and Kolkata.
Kumar strikes twice
When Kamran Akmal, pushed up the order to open the innings, was trapped by Bhuvneshwar Kumar with an inswinger in the third over there was no cause for panic. Experienced Younis Khan was clean bowled by Kumar in the sixth over, but this too could at best be a minor setback. The runrate was crawling — Pakistan were 22 for 2 at the end of the 10th and moved to 37 for 2 by the end the 15th. But Nasir Jamshed, carrying the confidence of making two tons in two games, was still at the wicket and was joined by Misbah-ul-Haq. Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik and Mohd Hafeez and the dangerous Umar Gul were still to bat.
At almost the corresponding stage in the Indian innings, Ajinkya Rahane, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh had all been dismissed. Dhoni and Raina had combined to resuscitate the innings with a 38-run partnership before two wickets fell at 111. Jadeja’s 27 allowed the last four wickets to add 56. This Pakistan line-up had posted 250 at Kolkata, and had chased down 228 with six wickets to spare in Chennai. Then again they weren’t put under pressure.
More than the early loss of Kamran and Younis, the Pakistanis were pegged back by some brilliant fielding in the circle. Rahane, Raina, Jadeja stopped shots headed for the boundary as India lifted their game. In chilly conditions Ahmed and Kumar got the ball to move both ways, Ishant Sharma backed up his younger bowling partners’ efforts with a first spell of 6-0-7-0. Ahmed, who Ishant replaced, went at less than 2.5 runs an over and when Kumar finished his 10 overs in one spell Pakistan were going at just over two runs.
Misbah-ul-Haq was caught by the leg-slip, in place because Ravichandran Ashwin was turning the ball from around the wicket. Two overs later Malik was trapped in front by a delivery that moved in as Ishant bagged his first wicket and Umar Akmal, struggling to find the boundaries, stepped out to loft Jadeja but was stumped by Dhoni.
Suddenly there was a change in momentum as Pakistan’s batsmen struggled to rotate the strike. The batting powerplay didn’t yield desired results — just 12 runs coming off it for the loss of Malik and Akmal. The fielders were stopping everything and the partisan crowd were sensing an India win.
Gul hit the first ball of the 47th over back to Ishant and for the first time in this game there were more runs to get then balls to face - 24 off 23. In the very next ball, in an attempt to clear the fence, Gul was caught by Jadeja at long on. Six balls later Saeed Ajmal edged Shami Ahmed to Dhoni. The last few minutes of this match was typical of tense finishes involving India and Pakistan. A tail-ender, Junaid, cracked under pressure and was run-out, another, Mohammad Irfan, should have been run-out but Ishant Sharma missed the stumps from inches away.
At one end, the last remaining batsmen, Hafeez, found consecutive boundaries in the penultimate over to raise hopes of a whitewash. But Hafeez, whose off-spin adds balance to the squad, wasn’t to win it for his side tonight. He wanted to hit into the deep mid-wicket stands but only found Yuvraj Singh at mid-wicket.
Pressure, like Dhoni said, can unsettle even the most balanced of teams.