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Pak pack a tweak

Offie Ajmal plays a major role in halting India's free-flowing charge. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay writes.

cricket Updated: Mar 31, 2011 00:36 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

India didn't deem it necessary, Pakistan did. And with happy returns too. While MS Dhoni decided against using his second specialist spinner, Shahid Afridi went ahead with his tried and tested slow bowling combination which strangled the Indian batsmen in the middle overs.

Despite doing a creditable job in two previous World Cup appearances and giving the shaky bowling unit cohesiveness, young R Ashwin was reduced to a spectator, watching two of his kind in the Pakistani ranks put the brakes on the vaunted Indian batting order.

Leading Pakistan's spin attack was off-spinner Saeed Ajmal. Together with Mohammad Hafeez and Afridi, Ajmal played a leading role in bringing the Indians down to earth after a smooth takeoff; despite losing Virender Sehwag, India were sitting pretty at 99 for one after 15 overs.

Runs dry up
A study of the innings shows the next 25 overs produced a modest 101 runs for the loss of four wickets. The spinners bowled 20 of those overs, took whatever advantage they could of the sluggish wicket, and put the batsmen under pressure. Not that there was alarming turn off the surface, but the variations in angles and flight kept the batsmen guessing.

Hafeez was the surprise pack. Not a great turner of the ball, this off-spinner varied his length cleverly and got the better of Gautam Gambhir, who was beaten in flight as he charged down the wicket and was stumped. Gambhir was trying that too often, and to Hafeez's credit, he was unafraid to give the ball air.

Brilliant Ajmal
Ajmal was clearly the most skilful of the lot. One of the few off-spinners in contemporary cricket whose doosra doesn't raise the eyebrows of the match officials, Ajmal used his stock ball with enough guile to confuse even Sachin Tendulkar. He had no clue about the one that spun away in the 11th over, but somehow avoided getting stumped.

Leg spinner Afridi, the most successful bowler of the tournament, went wicketless, although Tendulkar was dropped twice off his bowling. He didn't let those dropped catches affect his morale, and soldiered on like a true leader.