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Malik has final word in 5th ODI

This contest was all about extracting some positives and Pak walk away with most of it, writes Subhash Rajta.

cricket Updated: Nov 19, 2007 11:40 IST
Subhash Rajta

This contest was all about extracting some positives, about gaining a psychological edge before the Test series, and Pakistan walked away with most of it. They won the match, their bowlers for once dominated the Indian batsmen and their skipper Shoaib Malik ended his run-drought. India, on the other hand, gained little, except for testing their bench strength.

Malik, who has invited stringent criticism for his personal form and uninspiring leadership from all quarters, hit an assured 89 to help Pakistan put up a challenging 306, and then marshalled his troops well to bowl India out for 275. The series went to India, 3-2.

Things, though, weren't looking rosy for Pakistan when the low-on-confidence skipper came in. Pakistan had suddenly lost three wickets to S. Sreesanth after getting off to a rare good start with Imran Nazir and Salman Butt putting on 65 runs for the first wicket. But Sreesanth, who was erratic in his opening spell, came back strongly and struck three telling blows to remove Butt, Yaseer Hameed and Nazir in quick succession, leaving Pakistan tottering at 77 for 3.

Pakistan again seemed slipping into trouble, but the skipper was in no mood to give up without a fight. Malik may have been scratchy through the series, but he looked in good touch right from the start. He first repaired the innings in the company of the prolific Mohammad Yousuf with some hard running and intelligent placing, and then cut loose to launch the final assault. Yousuf, on the other hand, was elegance personified and played yet another fine knock of 74 and shared a splendid 168-run partnership with the skipper.

Malik's innings showed how badly Pakistan missed runs form his blade in the series. Pakistan had partnerships earlier as well, yet they failed to post imposing totals as they were built at a rather slow pace. They were dependant on the skipper and Shahid Afridi for the much-required firepower towards the end; and with both failing so far, the visitors suffered heavily.

The difference on Sunday was Malik's knock as he didn't let the momentum slip. He ran hard, punished the part-time bowlers and then opened up to set a platform from where the following batsmen could launch the final assault.

The bowlers for once then ran through the Indian batting line up. They bowled with aggression and India were soon tottering at 62 for 4. In between, Sachin Tendulkar threatened to repeat his Gwalior showings with some blistering strokes, but didn't last long. Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and Virender Sehwag too fell without making much of an impact.

A partnership between Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh, both of whom struck half centuries, raised some hope. But the fall of Sharma and the doubtful dismissal of Yuvraj and the fall of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who operated with a runner after twisting his ankle, ended India's challenge. Eventually, India found some solace in the performances of Sharma and debutant Praveen Kumar.