India were the deserving winners the way they turned the tide in the final two games at Lahore after trailing 1-2 in the series. They played tough, uncompromising cricket and squeezed Pakistan out of the contest.
One man of whom I have been critical about chose the grand stage to underline his importance and V.V.S. Laxman did so most stylishly. He showed that in his fragile frame lies a tough mind. He played a highly pleasing innings and his wristy strokes were a delight.
Laxman has always been known for his timing and some of his wristy strokes indeed can take your breath away. His stylish century pushed India to its eventual score of 293 which proved far too much for Pakistan under lights. His innings was the kind of knock which I enjoyed thoroughly for it was a celebration of senses. Batting elevates itself to an art form when this elegant batsman is at the crease.
I thought Pakistan had done well enough when they asked India to take first strike and proceeded to produce a highly disciplined effort. There was no profusion of no-balls and wides as had been the case in previous games. The bowlers, it appeared, had learnt their lessons and realised the difference of extras was the critical factor in the results. They were thus not wayward yesterday and it immediately made an impact on the Pakistan innings.
Shoaib Akhtar led the way with an impressive opening spell and largely contained a powerful Indian line-up. The rock solid Rahul Dravid and his prototype Mohammad Kaif were not allowed to get going.
Pakistan should not be faulting its bowlers though I must admit there were far too many runs in the final three overs which pushed India towards the 300-run mark.
In just a matter of two weeks, I have become a great admirer of Irfan Pathan. The youngster has attitude and oodles of confidence which is surprising for a cricketer as young as Irfan. It was his spell which broke the back of the Pakistan innings. It was an eminently chaseable total under lights but Irfan inflicted so enormous a damage that Pakistan never recovered despite the heroics of Moin Khan and Shoaib Malik.
I also cannot overlook L. Balaji who has proved an ideal foil to Pathan as a new-ball partner. The delivery off which he dismissed Yasir Hameed was the best ball of the match. It pitched at the right spot and jagged back sharply to knock the off-stump out of the ground. Yasir was also guilty of appearing casual and late on his stroke.
Still you cannot take it away from Moin and Malik for fighting so valiantly and keeping Pakistan in the hunt till the end. They took a heavy toll of India's non-existent fifth bowler and going by the nature of matches in the series, there were many in the stands who were expecting a close finish.
They almost produced it but credit to India for keeping their cool. It was reflected in the cool catch which Balaji took off Malik at deep mid-wicket or when Yuvraj Singh threw down the non-striker's stumps to catch Shoaib short of his ground.
India were the deserving winners of the one-day series because they had better discipline than their hosts. One-day cricket is all about sticking to the basics and attending to those little details which make a huge difference in the end.
Pakistan relied on their bowlers to come good but indeed it was their batsmen who produced a better effort than was imagined. Pakistan gave away too many extras in the first four matches and it had a critical bearing on the final outcome of the series.
The tour is far from over and Pakistan have enough time to make amends in the Test series which begins with the first game in Multan on Sunday. Their bowlers should reflect where they went wrong and it is critically important they find an answer to their no-ball problems. They have a high-voltage pace attack and extra balls mean extra strain on the fast bowlers' resources who actually should be fighting to retain every ounce of their energy.
The way it was in the one-day series, I feel the Test match clashes should be equally engrossing.
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