By MR Mishra
A spirited India clinched a sensational 10-run victory in a low-scoring thriller to avoid a series whitewash and restore some pride in the third and final One-Dayer against arch-rivals Pakistan at Delhi on Sunday.
The Indians were first bundled out for a paltry 167 in 43.4 overs but relied on a brilliant bowling display under pressure to stop the visitors at 157 in a nerve-wracking day-night contest, held in extremely chilly and windy conditions.
Fortunes fluctuated from one team to the other till the very end before the hosts finally brought some cheer for their fans with the dramatic victory, which reduced their margin of defeat to 1-2 in the three-match series.
It was another poor batting display by the Indians who never really got going as the Pakistani pacers Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan caused early damages before Saeed Ajmal joined the party with a career-best effort of five for 24.
But the host bowlers made amends in the end to fashion the win.
The Pakistanis, chasing the small target, were in a spot of bother as pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar rocked the innings with the early dismissals of Kamran Akmal and Younis Khan, but the visitors recovered through a gritty partnership between captain Misbah-ul Haq (39) and Nasir Jamshed (34), who were the top contributors for Pakistan.
However, the Pakistan innings collapsed again, giving the hosts an opportunity to come back into the game.
A nearly fully-packed holiday crowd, defying the chilly winds which blew right through the day, turned up at the Feroze Shah Kotla and were lucky enough to see a change in India's sliding fortunes.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (36), Suresh Raina (31) and Ravindra Jadeja (27) got the starts but could not translate those into big knocks, though the heavy wintry conditions made batting a little difficult.
Ishant Sharma, after making a hash of a run out attempt, dismissed Mohammad Hafeez to bring about India's triumph, triggering scenes of wild celebrations in the stands.
The win also meant that India avoided a series whitewash on home soil which would have been their first in 29 years.
The Pakistani innings began on a disastrous note as opener Kamran (0) and the experienced Younis (6) fell cheaply with paceman Bhuvneshwar claiming both the wickets to reduce the visitors to 14 for two by the seventh over.
While Akmal was trapped leg before with an incoming delivery, Younis was bowled by another inswinger as he attempted a loose drive.
But Jamshed, who has been in tremendous form with two back-to-back century, and captain Misbah played cautiously to steady the innings though both of them survived some anxious moments.
With the conditions assisting the quick bowlers, Dhoni chose to use Bhuvneshwar for ten unchanged overs and the young Uttar Pradesh seamer bowled his heart out, but could not add to his tally of two wickets.
The pair put on 47 runs before off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin provided the breakthrough for the hosts in his very first over by evicting the in-form Jamshed.
Jamshed paid the price for trying to play a pre-meditated sweep shot to a flighted ball on the off and middle stump and umpire Billy Bowden had no hestitation in adjudging him leg before. His knock of 34 came off 64 balls and had five fours.
Misbah departed soon after with Ashwin doing the damage while Shoaib Malik (5) fell to Ishant Sharma, who trapped him leg before. Ravindra Jadeja then accounted for Umar Akmal (25) with Dhoni stumping him.
From a comfortable 113 for three, Pakistan suddenly slumped to 125 for six to add some drama to the proceedings and raise hopes of a dramatic Indian victory.
Mohammad Hafeez, who came down the order, was dropped by Rahane off Ashwin, a costly lapse which prevented India from tightening their grip on the match.
Barring a few shots, Gautam Gambhir's (15) stay was also uncomfortable before he gifted away his wicket by guiding a widish delivery off Irfan straight to point.
Local boy Virat Kohli (7) made a promising start with a boundary off Irfan, which got the spectators off their seats.
But he was soon scalped by Junaid in the slip cordon.
With both the pacers bowling in tandem, Misbah let the two bowl an extended seven-over spell each.
After 14 overs, India were reeling at 43 for three and the crowd had only five boundaries to enjoy.
Two of those five shots came from the blade of flamboyant left-hander Yuvraj Singh at the start of his innings. The introduction of Umar Gul gave India their best over as the paceman was spanked for 18 runs.
India's joy, though, was short-lived as off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez castled Yuvraj with a faster one that spun from the middle before taking the bails off.
Brief Scores: India 167 all-out in 43.4 overs (MS Dhoni 36, Suresh Raina 31, Yuvraj Singh 23; Saeed Ajmal 5 for 24) bt Pakistan 157 all-out in 48.5 overs (Misbah-ul-Haq 39, Nasir Jamshed 34; Ishant Sharma 3 for 36 ,Bhuvneshwar Kumar 2 for 31) by 10 runs
Man of the Match: MS Dhoni
Man of the Series: Nasir Jamshed
First Published: January 6, 2013, 7:37 pm