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India clinch last-over thriller against Pakistan


Dambulla: Harbhajan Singh’s six off Mohammad Aamer’s penultimate ball clinched a three-wicket thriller for India against arch-rivals Pakistan in the Asia Cup cricket tournament here Saturday.

With seven needed off the last over to chase down 268 runs, India lost Raina to a run out in the second ball, but a defiant Harbhajan (15 off 11) pulled Aamer for a six over mid-wicket to calm the frayed nerves in the dressing room.

A charged up Harbhajan, who had an exchange of words with Shoaib Akhtar in the previous over, celebrated wildly, looking at the Pakistani fast bowler at the third man.

It was a classic India-Pakistan encounter with heated exchanges in the middle. Earlier Gautam Gambhir, who top scored with 83 off 79 balls, and Pakistan wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal had a showdown and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had to intervene.

Raina (34 off 27) played a stellar knock after India slumped to 219 for six in 45.1 overs.

He had an able ally in Harbhajan, who made his intentions clear by blasting a six off Akhtar. The duo added 43 runs from 25 balls in the death to revive the Indian hopes.

Raina struck two fours and two sixes while Harbhajan also hit two sixes, including the one off the penultimate ball, to finish the match in style.

India got off to an unlikely slow start with Gambhir and Virender Sehwag reined in by Akhtar, who is making a return to international cricket with this tournament.

Akhtar bowled with fire and tested the batsmen with shorter deliveries.

Sehwag, who scored only 10 off 32 balls, fell to Abdul Razzaq and Virat Kohli also departed early. Gambhir and Dhoni, who contributed 56 off 71 balls, added 98 runs to steady the innings.

Gambhir, after hitting six fours and one six, fell to off-spinner Saeed Ajmal (3-56).

After Dhoni’s fall, Pakistan slowly came back into the match with three quick wickets. But Raina and Harbhajan hit some lusty blows to keep India in the hunt.

Earlier, opener Salman Butt scored 74 as Pakistan rustled up a challenging total.

After electing to bat, Pakistan made a cautious start with Butt and Imran Farhat (25) sharing a stand of 71 runs in 16.3 overs.

Butt, who hit nine fours, struck some fluent shots off pacers Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan while Farhat picked up Praveen Kumar for two fours in the fifth over.

Harbhajan Singh got the breakthrough when he had Farhat caught by Sehwag at slip. Butt and Shoaib Malik then added 73 runs for the second wicket.

Butt then combined with former skipper Shoaib Malik (39) for a 73-run stand before Malik was bowled by Zaheer Khan.

Indian bowlers fought back after Malik’s dismissal, with wickets falling in quick succession and Pakistan, who were looking to score a 300-plus total at 144-2, slipped to 227-7.

Shahid Afridi (32) and Kamran Akmal (51), who hit three sixes and two boundaries in 41-balls, helped Pakistan cross the 250-mark.

Seam bowler Praveen Kumar returned India’s best figures with 3-53.