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A little too late for Dhoni

The equation India faced towards the end – 64 runs needed off 36 balls – should have been manageable for a bunch of players accustomed to asking-rates of ten an over during the Indian Premier League. However, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had come in at No. 7, had run out of specialist batting partners and struggled to single-handedly keep up with the required-rate. Dhoni said the result could have been different had India kept a couple of wickets in hand.

With the view of saving ammunition for the sprint towards the target in the final overs, Dhoni held himself back and sent in Suresh Raina at No. 6, a move he later admitted was a “mistake”. Raina composed a steady 24 but got out when the partnership of 73 with Yuvraj Singh was beginning to flourish.

“I made a mistake,” Dhoni said. “I should have come before Raina. That decision was taken in a positive frame of mind. If Yuvraj had played through, and Raina rotated the strike with singles, we would have been very comfortable at the end of the 40th over. With me and Irfan [Pathan] coming later it would have been an easy target.”

The damage to India’s chances, however, had been inflicted in the first half of the innings, when their middle order was unable to forge significant partnerships after Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir failed to provide an explosive start for the first time in the tournament. Poor shot selection accounted for a few; at last the IPL hangover was evident.

Rohit Sharma, coming in at the fall of Sehwag’s wicket in the second over, began a counterattacking partnership with Gambhir. They had taken India to 67 in the 11th over when Rohit played a soft short-arm jab to deep backward square-leg and let the momentum slip away. It was the tale of India’s innings: each of the middle-order batsmen got starts but failed to carry on. After scoring 40, Gambhir cut to the man on the deep-point boundary, Yusuf Pathan – promoted to No. 4 to cash in on the fielding restrictions – drove straight to midwicket, and Raina hit possibly the worst legal delivery of the match – a leg-stump full toss – to deep square leg. India had three partnerships of above 50, but the best was only 73.

“It was very important to see through to the last five or seven overs with wickets in hand,” Dhoni said. “It was a flat wicket. Even a target of 300 was chaseable if you had wickets in hand at the end. We didn’t get a very good start and kept losing wickets at regular intervals.

“At times you have to take a risk but [today], more often than not, the shots went straight to the fielder, who didn’t have to move. The selection of shots wasn’t really appropriate but at the same time you have to play shots while chasing over six an over. So we kept losing wickets even though we were scoring and we never had the momentum with us.”

India’s approach was in complete contrast to the clinical manner in which Pakistan had compiled 315. Their top-order batsmen, Salman Butt and Younis Khan, unmindful of the pedestrian run-rate during the Powerplays, took their time before launching into a methodical assault against India’s weaker bowlers. They didn’t give it away once they were set and added 205 runs for the second wicket. As a result Pakistan had eight wickets in had during the final overs. It made all the difference.

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