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India beat Pakistan by 3 wickets in a thriller

Dambulla: Riding on the half-centuries of Gautam Gambhir and M S Dhoni, India defeated Pakistan by three wickets in a close encounter in the Asia Cup cricket tournament.

Earlier, Salman Butt (74) and Kamran Akmal (51) made contrasting half centuries before India made a remarkable comeback to bowl out Pakistan for 267.

Butt was involved in two substantial partnerships at the start of the innings — first a 71-run opening stand with Imran Farhat (25) and then shared 73 runs with Shoaib Malik (39) — before three quick wickets in the middle overs put brakes on the Pakistani scoring.

Praveen Kumar (3/53), Zaheer Khan (2/41) and Harbhajan Singh (2/47) was the pick of the Indian bowlers, sharing eight wickets between them at the Rangiri International stadium.

Opting to bat in the do-or-die match, Pakistan were crusing at the 144 for one in the 29th over and looked good to make a total in excess of 290 before Indian bowlers scalped three wickets in just 17 balls to storm back into the game.

The wickets slowly but assuredly tightened the noose around the Pakistan middle-order, who failed to get going on a slow and low Dambulla wicket.

Pakistan got off to a solid start with Butt and Indian Cricket League-returnee Imran Farhat posting 71 runs for the first wicket.

The openers were right on top of the Indian attack when Harbhajan produced the much-needed breakthrough, having comebackman Farhat smartly snaffled by Virender Sehwag at the first slip.

But from there on India had to wait for 13 overs for another wicket as Butt and former captain Shoaib Malik, who is returning to the national team after three months following the removal of his 12-month ban, batted with rare aplomb to set the platform for a big total.

The duo rotated the strike to upset the line of the spinners and occasionally scored a boundary to keep the score card ticking.

But just as Pakistan began to assert themselves in the middle, left-arm pacer Zaheer Khan went through Mali’s defence to give India the breakthrough.

Butt, who has scored five of his eight ODI hundreds against India, struck nine boundaries during his 85-ball stay.

As if the double blow was not enough, Umar Amin (5) was brilliantly caught by Virat Kohli off Harbhajan four overs later but inspite of that Pakistan were in a good position at 159 for four in the 33rd over.

But then Umar Akmal (21) and skipper Shahid Afridi, who asserted himself in the middle with a towering straight six off Harbhajan, steadied the Pakistani ship with a 37-run fifth-wicket stand that came off just 29 balls.

Just when it was time to step on the accelerator, Umar Akmal was caught behind by Dhoni off Ravindra Jadeja.

Afridi too perished in the 44th over, trapped in front of the wicket by Praveen but not before hitting two fours and a six.

However, a late cameo from Kamran Akmal helped Pakistan go beyond the 250-mark. The wicket-keeper batsman struck three fours and as many sixes to pile up 40 runs in the last five overs and help Pakistan reach the competitive total.

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