Sixth one-day international more than a final for India

Qaiser Mohammad Ali

New Delhi, April 16:

India have no option other than winning the sixth and final one-day international against Pakistan here on Sunday to draw the six-match series — and avoid a huge embarrassment.

Pakistan, riding on Shahid Afridi’s blitzkrieg century in the fifth match, took a crucial 3-2 lead at Kanpur and will now have added inspiration to win the series as President Pervez Musharraf will be among the spectators on Sunday. Although Indian PM Mamoham Singh will also be there, the Rahul Dravid-led India will have to play out of its skin to draw level. Having tasted blood, Afridi, who smashed 10 boundaries and nine sixes to help Pakistan win by six wickets, would be the biggest threat to India on Sunday. On hindsight, India probably made a slight error in dropping pacer Ashish Nehra for a twin spin attack at Kanpur. As left-armer Nehra angles the ball across right-handers from over the wicket, he could have been able to check right-hander Afridi’s onslaught.

India will have to make an effective plan to contain Afridi, while he will again try to take advantage of the rules for the first 15 overs of the innings when only two fielders are allowed outside the inner circle. Afridi, who holds the world record for the fastest ODI century off 37 balls, extracted full advantage of the rules. That is also what Sehwag tries to do. But, unfortunately for India, he was out cheaply, otherwise who knows what would have happened! Sehwag will also have the advantage of playing at his home ground and of the vociferous backing of the crowd — though there will be more than 2,050 Pakistani fans who will make the atmosphere electric. Indians will also have to keep at bay pacer Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, who is the leading wicket taker of the series on either side with 14 scalps.