What should have been a cakewalk for India got a bit difficult as darkness set in quickly at the Nehru Stadium here on Monday. Needing 240 to win the opening ODI of the five-match series against Pakistan, India were on course with two decent partnerships. But, with darkness falling early, Robin Uthappa was left having to test his eyesight against Shoaib Akhtar bowling at 153kmph.
He came out on top with a straight one over the bowler's head and an edge to third man and India completed an easy win.
Uthappa's eyesight was not the only difference between the two sides. There were some butterfingers involved as well along with some good batting by skipper MS Dhoni and his deputy, Yuvraj Singh. A 105-run partnership for the fourth wicket that was a blend of solid hits and good composure had almost done it for India when both departed in quick succession, 15 short of victory.
The other partnership was backed by luck. The Indian run chase was just seven overs old and Akhtar had already accounted for Sachin Tendulkar. That was when two times in two balls, Gautam Gambhir edged the ball between wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal and Younis Khan at first slip. Pakistan, thus, failed to seize early initiative.
Gambhir, preferred over Virender Sehwag, justified the choice as he went on to play some delightful strokes before being castled by Shahid Afridi for 44. In their stand of 82 off 84 balls, Sourav Ganguly contributed 39, possibly a lot less than he would have wanted, especially after surviving a couple of inside edges that flew to the fine-leg boundary. He also would have wanted to make up for dropping Mohammed Yousuf on nine - the Pakistan star went on to score an unbeaten 83 off 88 balls. Ganguly was run out after sent back by Gambhir.
After being given a steady start by Salman Butt and Akmal, Pakistan lost their way in the middle overs after Butt was run out by Yuvraj. Butt brought up his fifth ODI half-century with a couple to midwicket and looked good for another big one before he was caught short after some quick work by Yuvraj at mid-off.
A blanket fell on the scoring rate soon as Younis was joined by Yousuf. At one stage, there was a gap of 22 overs before Pakistan got a boundary; also, the two did not run hard enough to keep the runs flowing.
A six by Shahid Afridi over midwicket off Zaheer Khan, who got the treatment from Butt early on, got Pakistan back on course. Afridi, who contributed a quickfire 31, came in after Younis lofted a Harbhajan delivery straight to Pathan at long-on. Afridi, successful when he first gave Tendulkar the charge, was foxed in his second attempt by a quicker one wide of off-stump and Dhoni did the rest.
Skipper Shoaib Malik did not last long, holing out to midwicket, and it was only a late charge by Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq that helped Pakistan to a competitive total. Their task was made easier by some ordinary fielding by India.