India v Pakistan, 3rd ODI, Ahmedabad

More steel, less flash

The Wisden Verdict by S Rajesh

Shoaib Malik's efficient methods proved crucial in Pakistan reaching the target AFP

The last time a one-day match was played at Motera, West Indies were exactly in the situation that India found themselves in today. They amassed what looked like a matchwinning score of 325, with one of their openers, Chris Gayle, smashing 140. Then, they watched helplessly as India chased down that target in a canter, with 14 balls to spare. Pakistan didn't quite win so easily, but in Inzamam-ul-Haq they had just the man for the occasion. It was a fabulous knock under pressure, and it ensured that the team which deserved to win did so, even if they contrived to make it much tougher than it should have been.

After the game at Jamshedpur, the first word which came to mind when describing Pakistan's batting effort was clinical. For the second time in consecutive matches, that adjective was an apt description of their performance with the willow for much of their innings today, though that discipline wasn't quite there when they bowled. Since Bob Woolmer has come on board, there has been a significant emphasis on strenghtening the basics the fielding, the running between the wickets, the fitness. There have been lapses, but overall, this Pakistan outfit is much more solid, and far less flashy, than their predecessors.

On another swelteringly hot day, it would have been easy for Pakistan to avoid the singles and twos, and concentrate on the boundaries, especially after having spent three-and-a-half hours in the field. Instead, they ran as if that was the only way of scoring runs. Sample these stats Shoaib Malik made a run-a-ball 65, and only 12 of those runs came in boundaries. And how many dot balls did he play? Only 16. Between overs 14 and 34, Pakistan scored 120 runs that's exactly six an over, yet there were only four fours during that period. It was so efficient and without fuss, it was almost boring to watch. This approach might result in fewer spectacular fireworks from a side famous for it, but it will also fetch them more success.

For the Indians, though, this will be a tough loss to recover from. Sourav Ganguly made one early change from the script used in that game against West Indies in 2002 he had chosen to field after winning the toss in that game but no-one can blame Ganguly for his decision today: the team batting first has been winning in this series, and despite the excess moisture on the pitch which caused an hour's delay, the track looked a belter when play finally began. What Ganguly will find much tougher to justify is his promotion to No. 4 in the batting line-up after the outstanding start that the top three had given the team.

Ganguly might have opted for the move to prove a point about his batting, but all he managed was eat up 33 balls in scoring 18 runs in a match in which all batsmen scored at around a run a ball or more. With the innings already 32 overs old when Mahendra Singh Dhoni got out, logic would have suggested that Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif be the chosen ones to play the next 16 overs, with Ganguly coming in only if absolutely required to. Ganguly's stay at the crease not only checked the momentum, it also meant Sachin Tendulkar was struggling for strike he faced only 21 balls when Ganguly was at the crease.

It's important that Ganguly run into form in the long term, but what was more critical at that point was to do what would have given the team the best opportunity to win the match. Ganguly coming in at No. 4 certainly wasn't the answer.

Sachin Tendulkar was at his fluent best as he produced a splendid hundred AFP

The final result also put in the shade an outstanding batting effort by Tendulkar. Plenty has been written about his form, but unlike Ganguly, who seldom even looks like buying a run, Tendulkar has been middling the ball well, was consistent in the Tests, and had only failed a couple of times a big score was round the corner, and it was hardly surprising that Pakistan felt the heat today.

From the first ball, which he clipped magnificently to square leg for four, Tendulkar's fluency was there for all to see the feet were always in position, he hardly played and missed, and he never missed out on a loose ball. What stood out, though, was the manner in which he dismantled Danish Kaneria, negating his leg-stump line with a meaty reverse-sweep, and twinkle-toed footwork which allowed him to get inside the line and smash straight hits. Unlike many of his recent innings, he didn't hold back after reaching his fifty his second half-century came in just 43 balls, and was probably indicative of the fact that he had read the pitch as one on which no total would be safe. He was proved right.

A final word about the crowd. It was an outstanding match, but most of the Pakistani moments including the winning hit were greeted with absolute silence, or at best stray claps. What grated the most was the loud chants of "Ganguly hai hai" when the teams were walking back after the match, at a time when Inzamam should have got a standing ovation for guiding his team as expertly as he did; instead, all he got was calls of "Aloo, aloo". The result might not be to the crowd's liking, but it sets up the series magnificently for the two final games at Kanpur and Delhi.

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo.

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