Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh slammed solid half-centuries to guide India to an emphatic five-wicket victory over Pakistan in the first one-day international here on Monday.
Skipper Dhoni top-scored with 63 and Yuvraj made 58 as India surpassed Pakistan’s total of 239-7 with 18 balls to spare for a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
Left-handed Yuvraj and Dhoni applied themselves remarkably well on a low, slow pitch as they took no risks during their 105-run stand for the fourth wicket to ensure a comfortable win.
Yuvraj hit one six and six fours in his 31st half-century and Dhoni eight fours in his 17th. When Dhoni was caught behind off paceman Shoaib Akhtar, India were just 15 short of win with five wickets in hand.
”The start we got was excellent. Our bowlers bowled according to the field. Murali Kartik and Harbhajan Singh have been doing well consistently and the conditions favoured the spinners,” said Dhoni, named man of the match. ”The pitch was doing a bit and we knew if we got settled down, we could go after the bowlers later.”
Pakistan earlier rode on impressive half-centuries from middle-order batsman Mohammad Yousuf (83 not out) and left-handed opener Salman Butt (50) to reach a respectable total after winning the toss.
Akhtar briefly raised Pakistan’s hopes of defending the total when he troubled the Indian top order in a sharp four-over opening spell, but was unlucky not to get more than one wicket.
His eagerly awaited duel with record-breaking Sachin Tendulkar (four) ended early as he trapped the Indian leg-before in his second over with a slower delivery that kept a bit low.
Akhtar then came close to removing Gambhir early in the batsman’s innings, the ball going between wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal and first-slip Younis Khan and then eluding the outstretched right hand of the slip fielder for fours.
The lapses proved costly as Gambhir (44) went on to add 82 for the second wicket with Sourav Ganguly (39).
”I think a target of 240 was defendable on this surface, but we dropped two, three catches,” said Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik. ”We were struggling a bit in the field. We learnt a lot from today’s game. There are still four more matches to go and we hope to do better.”
Indian spinners Harbhajan, Kartik and Tendulkar earlier played major roles in restricting Pakistan.
Part-timer Tendulkar grabbed two crucial wickets, while off-spinner Harbhajan and left-arm spinner Kartik conceded just 65 off their combined 20 overs.
Tendulkar dismissed hard-hitting Afridi (31) and Malik (two) just when Pakistan threatened to go for big shots.
India looked in command after tight spells from the spin trio, but Yousuf kept his end intact and helped his side score 74 in the closing 10 overs.
Butt, dropped for the recent home one-day series against South Africa, did the bulk of scoring in the initial overs and executed some handsome strokes against new-ball bowlers Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh.
Yousuf initially struggled to score freely against spin and offered a chance on 10 when he mistimed a shot off Kartik, but Ganguly was a bit late to reach the ball running to his right in the covers.
The Pakistani batsman made the most of the chance and went on to complete his 58th half-century. He hit seven fours in his 88-ball knock. — Sapa-AFP