A spirited India clinched a sensational 10-run victory in a low-scoring thriller to avoid a series whitewash and restore some pride in the third and final cricket one-dayer against Pakistan on Sunday.
The Indians were first bundled out for a paltry 167 in 43.4 overs but relied on a brilliant bowling display under pressure to stop the visitors at 157 in a nerve-wracking day-night contest, held in extremely chilly and windy conditions in New Delhi.
Fortunes fluctuated from one team to the other till the very end before the hosts finally brought some cheer for their fans with the dramatic victory, which reduced their margin of defeat to 1-2 in the three-match series.
It was another poor batting display by the Indians who never really got going as the Pakistani pacers Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan caused early damages before Saeed Ajmal joined the party with a career-best effort of five for 24. But the host bowlers made amends in the end to fashion the win.
The Pakistanis, chasing the small target, were in a spot of bother as pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar rocked the innings with the early dismissals of Kamran Akmal and Younis Khan, but the visitors recovered through a gritty partnership between captain Misbah-ul Haq (39) and Nasir Jamshed (34), who were the top contributors for Pakistan.
However, the Pakistan innings collapsed again, giving the hosts an opportunity to come back into the game.A nearly fully-packed holiday crowd, defying the chilly winds which blew right through the day, turned up at the Feroze Shah Kotla and were lucky enough to see a change in India’s sliding fortunes.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (36), Suresh Raina (31) and Ravindra Jadeja (27) got the starts but could not translate those into big knocks, though the heavy wintry conditions made batting a little difficult.
Ishant Sharma, after making a hash of a run out attempt, dismissed Mohammad Hafeez to bring about India’s triumph, triggering scenes of wild celebrations in the stands.
The win also meant that India avoided a series whitewash on home soil which would have been their first in 29 years.
The Pakistani innings began on a disastrous note as opener Kamran (0) and the experienced Younis (6) fell cheaply with paceman Bhuvneshwar claiming both the wickets to reduce the visitors to 14 for two by the seventh over.
While Akmal was trapped leg before with an incoming delivery, Younis was bowled by another inswinger as he attempted a loose drive.
But Jamshed, who has been in tremendous form with two back-to-back century, and captain Misbah played cautiously to steady the innings though both of them survived some anxious moments.
With the conditions assisting the quick bowlers, Dhoni chose to use Bhuvneshwar for ten unchanged overs and the young Uttar Pradesh seamer bowled his heart out, but could not add to his tally of two wickets.
The pair put on 47 runs before off-spinner R Ashwin provided the breakthrough for the hosts in his very first over by evicting the in-form Jamshed.
Jamshed paid the price for trying to play a pre-meditated sweep shot to a flighted ball on the off and middle stump and umpire Billy Bowden had no hestitation in adjudging him leg before. His knock of 34 came off 64 balls and had five fours.
Misbah departed soon after with Ashwin doing the damage while Shoaib Malik (5) fell to Ishant Sharma, who trapped him leg before. Ravindra Jadeja then accounted for Umar Akmal (25) with Dhoni stumping him.
From a comfortable 113 for three, Pakistan suddenly slumped to 125 for six to add some drama to the proceedings and raise hopes of a dramatic Indian victory.
Mohammad Hafeez, who came down the order, was dropped by Rahane off Ashwin, a costly lapse which prevented India from tightening their grip on the match.
A horrendous decision by Indian umpire Sudhir Asnani, who turned down a confident lbw shout by Ashwin, also did not help India.
Earlier, India’s top-order collapsed yet again in the face of some fiery bowling by the Pakistani pacers — Junaid and Irfan — who troubled the hosts in helpful conditions.
Pakistan bowled as a unit — the fast bowlers provided the start and the spinners carried on with the good work.
India owed their partial recovery to the partnership between skipper Dhoni and Raina. They joined forces when the team was stuttering at 63 for four and their 48-run stand for the fifth wicket repaired the flagging innings to some extent.
Ajmal broke the stand by trapping Raina and then scalped Ashwin in the next ball, which brought Jadeja to the crease.
Dhoni dispatched Hafeez for a six over mid-wicket boundary before being dropped by the same bowler in his follow-through later on.
Dhoni smashed one hard, which Hafeez tried to latch on to but only ended up hurting his left hand. Dhoni was batting on 29 at the time.
The Indian captain could not cash in on the chance and was out to Gul when he went for a cut only to find Umar Akmal at point. His 55-ball knock featured four boundaries, including three sixes.
With Dhoni’s dismissal, India’s hopes of a recovery were crushed even as Jadeja came up with a useful cameo of 27 with the help of two sixes.
Junaid and Irfan tested the Indians with some short and fast deliveries and succeeded in subduing the hosts’ top- order. The Kotla wicket had some juice and the Pakistani duo made full use of the conditions to keep the Indians under check.
India left out struggling opener Virender Sehwag and brought in Ajinkya Rahane in the hope that they would provide a good start, which has eluded the hosts right through the series.
Rahane (4) was never comfortable and fell prey to the seven-foot tall Irfan when he edged one to keeper Kamran Akmal.
Barring a few shots, Gautam Gambhir’s (15) stay was also uncomfortable before he gifted away his wicket by guiding a widish delivery off Irfan straight to point.Local boy Virat Kohli (7) made a promising start with a boundary off Irfan, which got the spectators off their seats. But he was soon scalped by Junaid in the slip cordon.
With both the pacers bowling in tandem, Misbah let the two bowl an extended seven-over spell each.After 14 overs, India were reeling at 43 for three and the crowd had only five boundaries to enjoy.
Two of those five shots came from the blade of flamboyant left-hander Yuvraj Singh at the start of his innings. The introduction of Umar Gul gave India their best over as the paceman was spanked for 18 runs.
India’s joy, though, was short-lived as off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez castled Yuvraj with a faster one that spun from the middle before taking the bails off.