Another shambolic display of batting, marked by a singular lack of steel and application, sent India hurtling to the point of no-return at Eden Gardens on an overcast, hazy Thursday afternoon (January 3).
Cricket fanatics in Kolkata had filled up the seats at Eden in anticipation of a stirring fightback from India in the second One-Day International. What they got to see, instead, was another abject surrender as Pakistan surged to a winning 2-0 lead in the three-match series, courtesy a spectacular 85-run win in a largely one-sided clash.
India appeared to have wended their way back into the contest after a sparkling opening-wicket stand between Nasir Jamshed, who made his third ODI hundred against India in as many innings, and Mohammad Hafeez threatened to make this a no-contest. From the commanding heights of 141 without loss in the 24th over, Pakistan's innings went into an inexorable tailspin as they were rolled over for 250 with nine deliveries left unutilised.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni had every reason to feel his side had made the most of having had the opportunity to bowl first. Despite slightly uneven bounce, the Eden surface was still good for batting, and India's stronger suit, it is generally accepted, is their batting.
Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag survived a torrid opening burst from Junaid Khan and had ridden their luck to put on 42 when the breakthrough Junaid had looked like procuring finally came in the 10th over. It triggered an amazing collapse bordering on the incredible. No batsman appeared keen to fight it out; undone by a mix of high-class pace and spin bowling and their own lack of stomach for battle, India were shot out for 165 to slump to their fourth loss in as many tilts at Eden against Pakistan.
Well as Pakistan bowled again, the blame for another unedifying spectacle must lie squarely with India's batsmen. Junaid had used swing to scythe through the top-order in Chennai in the first game; this time, there wasn't as much assistance from the conditions but India's batsmen were again in a generous mood, happy to hand their scalps away on a platter.
Junaid bowled outstandingly well for a second straight game, beating the outside edge of Gambhir and Sehwag times without number, but his two successes in his first spell didn't come off his best deliveries. Gambhir drove distantly well outside off and dragged the ball back on, while Virat Kohli was caught down leg off the face of the bat by Kamran Akmal, who had an excellent day behind the stumps.
Sehwag, occasionally imperious in strokeplay but chancy in the main, had no answers to a breakback from Umar Gul that caught him palpably in front and Yuvraj Singh toe-ended a pull off the same bowler to Akmal so that from 42 without loss, India had slipped to 70 for four and into the deep realms of despair. There just was no way back, not after Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal weaved their magic against a diffident middle-order that found survival difficult, and run-making practically impossible.
Like he had in Chennai, Dhoni again tried hard but with a soft ball not coming on to the bat and meaningful support too not forthcoming, India handed Pakistan their first series win in this country since their 4-2 triumph in April 2005.
A series win with a game to spare might have been the last thing on Pakistan's mind when the teams adjourned for the mid-innings break. The initiative and thrust Jamshed and Hafeez had provided had been negated by a spirited display with the ball by India, led admirably by Ravindra Jadeja, coming in for Rohit Sharma, and Ishant Sharma, at once parsimonious and incisive.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashok Dinda had started tardily, not bowling up often enough to test either Hafeez, determined to atone for his first-ball dismissal in Chennai, or Jamshed, seeking to build on his unbeaten century there. A few edges streaked away to third man, but once the openers found their feet, India were sent on a hiding to nothing.
The bleeding continued unabated for 23 overs as the boundaries came rapidly - 20 fours were accrued in the opening partnership of 141 off 143 deliveries. Hafeez was brilliant off front foot and back as he played handsomely through the covers and was quick on the pull when the ball was pitched short, doing the running with Jamshed not too far behind. Having tried out all his regular and part-time options, Dhoni was in a fix when Hafeez threw him a lifeline with an agricultural hoick against Jadeja after making 76 at better than a run a ball.
Suddenly energised and lifted by a passionate crowd, India took further heart from two slices of good fortune. Azhar Ali needlessly ran himself out while Younis Khan was unlucky to be adjudged leg before after sweeping Suresh Raina on to his pads. Pakistan, inexplicably conservative, fell deeper and deeper into a morass even though Jamshed carried on unflustered.
Driving handsomely down the ground, Jamshed batted without a care in the world, his timing awesome and his placement impeccable. A typically elegant drive over mid-off off R Ashwin made him the only batsman apart from Zaheer Abbas to make three straight ODI tons against India who, however, continued to make inroads into the lower middle-order and the tail once Jamshed was stumped charging Jadeja.
Pakistan had mustered only 250 after eyeing 325 at one stage, but their versatile bowling attack and India's much hyped but repeatedly under-achieving batting unit made sure that collapse had very little impact in real terms.