Two innings of astonishing hitting in either half gave a capacity crowd at Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad a batting treat on Friday (December 28), in the second and final Twenty20 International between India and Pakistan. In the end, Yuvraj Singh (72 in 36 balls) emerged the winner with Mohammad Hafeez (55 in 26) having to settle for second best, as India beat Pakistan by 11 runs in a high-scoring match to level the series 1-1.
Hafeez won his second toss and chose to field again, but saw India run away to a massive 192 for five. In response, Pakistan managed only 181 for seven. And along the way, Pakistan learnt the hard way that if it's a limited-overs match involving India, you can keep Yuvraj down for one match, but you can't shut him out of a series.
Yuvraj, who came in at 53 for two in seven overs, took some time to settle down, and then exploded.
This was the first time Yuvraj played in Ahmedabad in coloured clothing since his World Cup 2011 quarterfinal heroics against Australia. Just like then, he took centrestage while bating and never left it. The first ten deliveries he faced yielded only six runs, the next 26 brought 66. He was out in the final over, trying to add one more to his tally of seven sixes, but by then he had ensured India had a total that eventually turned out to be a winning one.
India got off to a quicker start than they had in Bangalore, with Ajinkya Rahane and Gautam Gambhir playing their shots on a batting-friendly surface, but both fell to Umar Gul in quick succession to put a temporary break on the scoring. Gambhir (21 in 11) heaved across the line to a slower ball, missed completely and was struck in front, while Rahane (28 in 26) played the pull shot too early to pop a simple return catch.
After a brief lull, lit up occasionally by boundaries from Virat Kohli (27 in 22), Yuvraj came to life in the over immediately following Kohli's run-out. He found a good ally in Mahendra Singh Dhoni (33 in 23), and their 97-run stand came in just 44 balls. In the end, it proved to be the difference between victory and defeat.
Chasing a big total, the young pair of Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shehzad launched into India's quick bowlers. Each of Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were clobbered, and only the introduction of R Ashwin into the attack stemmed the run-flow.
Ashwin took to bowling with a pronounced pause in his delivery stride - something he had practiced in the nets on the eve of the match - and the tactic seemed to work. He got Jamshed (41 in 32), and in the next over Shehzad (31 in 29) fell to Yuvraj.
But if India thought they had the upper hand, Hafeez and Umar Akmal dismissed the notion out of hand. The duo raised a 50-run stand in less than four overs, and in a flash, the pressure was back on India.
While both started at an even pace, Hafeez quickly pulled ahead of Umar with strokes that were as brutal as they were sublime. Brutal for the speed the runs came at; sublime for the way each ball pinged off the middle of the bat.
Umar (24 in 17) fell to Dinda in the 16th over, and that shifted the momentum back to India, with Pakistan left needing 41 runs off the final three overs. That proved to be too tall an order even for Hafeez, and when Dinda got both him and Kamran Akmal (5 in 3) in the 19th over of the innings, it became clear that the match was headed only in India's direction.