Different methods, similar outcomes
There are different ways of setting a match-winning total and the approaches adopted by India and Pakistan during the Kitply Cup were outstanding examples of contrasting methods which produced the same result - a total in excess of 300. India were 143 for 0 at the end of the 20th over in the first match against Pakistan; at the same stage in the final, Pakistan were 75 for 1 and yet they scored only 15 runs fewer than what India did in the end.
In the league match, India's openers - Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir - carted Pakistan's wayward attack all over the Shere Bangla National Stadium. Their rapid partnership set up a solid platform for the rest to build on without worrying about the run-rate.
Pakistan, on the other hand, chose caution over aggression during the Powerplay overs in the final. It was their capitulation to 26 for 3 that had shut them out while chasing 331, and today, Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal were watchful against Praveen Kumar, the bowler who took the first four wickets in their previous meeting.
After Akmal fell, Younis Khan and Butt continued to build a steady foundation. More significantly for Pakistan, they carried on and seized the initiative. "They were 100 for 1 after 25 overs," Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's captain, said. "After that they took on the bowlers and played some good shots. It really put the bowlers under pressure. And under the circumstances, we couldn't recover from that."
With Praveen having wrecked Pakistan and restricted Bangladesh in India's earlier games, the rest of the bowlers had the advantage of bowling to under-pressure batsmen trying to rebuild. But today, India's support bowlers were faced with the task of making inroads. Although he dismissed Akmal, Irfan Pathan failed to create any pressure, conceding six boundaries in his first spell of six overs. Piyush Chawla, who had taken 4 for 40 to clean up Pakistan's lower order in the earlier encounter, haemorrhaged runs once Younis and Butt consciously began to attack. The four part-timers Dhoni used were also ineffective: Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina conceded 71 for no wicket between them.
Faced with an attack lacking incisiveness, Younis and Butt shifted seamlessly from first to fourth gear. Their approach was that of a calculated assault - aggression with minimal risk. They batted with authority, picking out the gaps. Younis and Butt scored 84 runs between deep midwicket and long-on, but surprisingly the gap was never plugged.
"He [Younis] was scoring through square leg as well, he was sweeping," Dhoni said. "You hardly have fielders in that zone, you know the country [the area between deep midwicket and long-on] area. Having a long-on and a country is difficult. He was picking it from outside off and most of the times he cleared the boundary. He took on the bowlers and he was successful."
Between overs 20 and 40, a period heavily criticised for its lack of intensity after the arrival of Twenty20, Younis and Butt plundered 150 runs, even more than what Sehwag and Gambhir had managed during the Powerplays on Tuesday. When Younis finally got out, Pakistan had eight wickets in hand for the last eight overs, a luxury that allowed them to bat with a carefree approach.
Dhoni admitted there was not much that could have been in the wake of a superlative batting performance. "It [scoring] was really hard to control, you try many fields, you try many lines. There were errors from the bowlers but you can't really blame them. They were batting well and scoring off good balls."
Call it cautious or old-fashioned, Pakistan's methodical approach gave India no footholds from which they could climb back into the game. They came out with a plan, which according to Shoaib Malik, their captain, was to "survive initially and then accelerate", and executed it with precision.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo