“I have never seen as many cut shots in a whole Test match as many I have seen in last couple of hours”, said MS Dhoni. The reason behind such a statement by Indian cricket team captain was the innings and partnership of Muhammad Yousuf and Shoaib Malik.

[caption id="attachment_1348" align="alignright" width="300"]Shoaib Malik’s128 runs proved decisive for the match (Photo: Getty Images) Shoaib Malik’s128 runs proved decisive for the match (Photo: Getty Images)[/caption]

Both men joined hands when team was about to demonstrate its signature middle-order collapse. The match started when captain of Pakistani cricket team won the toss and elected to bat. The leftover of the ICL came back and embraced by the PCB. Star of such leagues, Imran Nazir and Kamran Akmal, opened the innings and exploded the Indian opening bowling by scoring 28 runs in first four over at an average of seven an over. Imran Nazir contributed most in this total with this cracking backfoot drives and the high elbow straight drive that was by far best shot of that tournament. These shots imbued Nazir with confidence – so much that he became overconfident and played a devastating stroke causing ball going up like a rocket and caught by Harbhajan Singh like a balloon.

Captain came to the pitch and kept the momentum of score going. However, containing bowling of Nehra disturbed Akmal and he tried to play a cut shot with literally no footwork when the ball was declared as dead the bails were off the stumps followed by the inside edge from the bat. Former captain Shoaib Malik joined the skipper and for coming six over’s scorecard was almost dead. The commentator Sanjay Manjrekar mentioned that there was no boundary for last seven overs right when the sentence ended Younis Khan went on backfoot and played a cracking cut shot to add another boundary in the total. This long 12-run partnership was broken by RP Singh who attacked around the wicket from the corner of side crease. Khan tried to drive the ball but it kissed the outside edge of the bat and went straight to Dhoni’s gloves.

Yusuf was the next man in and that was the beginning of the 10th highest runs fourth wicket partnership of ODI history. Both Yousuf and Malik played strokes in all directions of the wicket and satisfied every bowler Dhoni introduced. The main feature of the partnership was sweeping number of cut shots played by the duo. Pakistan struggling at 65 with three wickets down were now at a stable position of 271. The 206-run partnership included 87 runs of Yousuf and 110 runs of Shoaib Malik.

On the last ball of 46th over Nehra bowled a deceiving slower delivery making Yousuf to go for cut shot too early and lost his wicket. Next two men, Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal, only added four runs to the total where Akmal went back with a duck. At the end of 49th over Malik also handed over his wicket when he charged down the track but lifted a straight shot too high that Pathan’s hands were the only destination for it. Pakistan already touched the 300-mark by then.

In final over Pakistan only added one run to the total and lost wickets of Umar Gul and Mohammad Amir. Pakistan set 302 as the target for India and looking at the batting line of India it looked not too easily defendable total. Nehra was the highest wicket taker for India with four wickets.

Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar opened Indian innings very carefully and played a sensible filed cricket for four overs. Nevertheless, on the first ball of the fifth over the youngest fast bowler in Pakistani side showed the ‘don’ of cricket what ‘dawn’ of a new star looked like. Tendulkar had no answer to Amir’s sharp out-cutter and gave his wicket away. The early breakthrough gave confidence to the bowling side.

[caption id="attachment_1349" align="alignright" width="300"]Mohammad Amir dismissed “Little Master” Sachin Tendulkar (Photo: Getty Images) Mohammad Amir dismissed “Little Master” Sachin Tendulkar (Photo: Getty Images)[/caption]

Rahul Dravid, ‘The Wall’, was the next man in. While Gambhir was looking in great touch with his aggressive strokes, Dravid supported him and the pair added 67 runs to the total. Dravid pushed the last ball of the 14th over towards mid-off where Younis Khan swooped on the ball and converted into a direct hit. Third umpire pressed the red button to direct Gambhir to go back to the pavilion. Gambhir was in very aggressive mood as he completed his half-century in just 35 balls with six fours and two sixes, and his dismissal brought the Pakistani fans back to the edge of the seats.

India were 90 for two when Virat Kohli came in. The run rate went down after that and India crossed the 100 runs mark by the end of fifteen overs. Dravid and Kohli tried to keep the wickets and score at a constant rate. The experienced Gul struggled hard against this pair and replaced by Shahid Afridi who was on cloud nine because of recent bowling form. Kohli came down to loft the ball high in the long off where Gul was waiting to take a dramatic catch. Dhoni was the next man in but his presence did not last long as a flipper by Afridi hit his pad and Umpire Simon Taufel raised his index finger.

When things were looking in Pakistan’s favour Suresh Raina joined Dravid for fifth-wicket partnership and the two did almost the same what team Pakistan did while defending fourth innings. Raina was exploding his batting skills and strokes to make ball reach boundary on every loose ball and Dravid was supporting him with his signature keep calm and carry on attitude. In the 32nd over Dravid completed his fifty and on the other end brutal attack of Raina continued with an average of one boundary an over. In the 33rd over Raina hit two consecutive fours followed by a huge six which made Shoaib Malik completely helpless. At this point captain Younus Khan put his trump card on the table – Saeed Ajmal. Raina was disturbed by two consecutive dot balls by Ajmal and there was no boundary in that over too out of his frustration he showed awful footwork to an almost Yorker-like quick delivery from Ajmal, the huge shout for the lbw was successful and the danger man was on his way back to the dressing room, dejected over the umpire’s decision.

The last recognised batsman in Indian playing eleven was Irfan Pathan, who came to rescue his team when Pakistan was looking like making a comeback. Younus Khan wanted to keep the pressure on so he gave ball to Amir placing an attacking fielding with a slip. The planning clicked as speed, angle, and swing combination of Amir was lethal for Pathan to survive he was taken in the slip by Misbah-ul-Haq.

On the other end, Dravid kept playing graceful shots to keep the run rate moving. But he was not supported well by Harbhajan Singh on the other side. The required run rate was exasperating enough to run Dravid out on a quick throw of Umar Gul. The dismissal of Dravid was literally the last nail in India’s coffin. India was now seven down at 238 whereas another 65 runs were needed on 48 balls.

RP Singh swung the bat to a slower one by the master of slower one Rana Naveed and Yousuf who is normally not very dependable as a fielder took a neat catch in the mid wicket. One ball later, the tall guy Ishant Sharma fell victim of a quick landing Yorker of Naveed that uprooted off stump and also disturbed middle and leg. At the end of the 44th over Pakistan were one wicket away from victory and a secure spot in the semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy.

Saeed Ajmal started the 45th over against his counterpart Harbhajan Singh, first ball rolled on his pads, the second ball was missed by him completely while attempting to sweep. The third ball Ajmal bowled outside the off stump and Harbhajan took advantage of it scoring a boundary towards point. The fourth ball was the end of the story for India and successful conclusion for Pakistan. Under the influence of overconfidence, Singh attempted reverse sweep, Ajmal’s magic deceived him completely and ball ended up hugging the stumps, and Centurion Park saw Pakistan’s first victory against India at that venue.

September 26, 2009 marked as Pakistan’s second victory over the archrival in the ICC Champions Trophy, and strengthened the unbeaten streak of Pakistan. Shoaib Malik was declared as man of the match for his century though the victory indeed was the result of combined team effort and attacking captaincy of Younis Khan.

The journey of Pakistan vs India in ICC Champions Trophy is going to an end in 10 days; interestingly it will end at Edgbaston stadium where it started nine years ago. Now time will tell if Pakistan keep their upper hand intact or India manage to take revenge. One thing is sure that there is something magical about the clash of these neighbours that made game’s ticket sold out in 26 minutes and 48 seconds.
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