Abu Dhabi, Apr 18 (UNI) The rather diminutive Venugopal Rao (61 not out) stood tall amid ruins and saved India the blushes as the top order crumbled again and India were skittled out for 197 in exactly 50 overs by Pakistan in the first DLF CUP match at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium here today.
India left out off-colour Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif again but their top order woes simply refused to vanish and despite gritty knocks by Venugopal and Suresh Raina (40), the Indian total yet fell three runs short of the 200-mark.
Shoaib Malik was pick of the Pakistani bowlers, claiming three for 40 with his intelligent bowling.
After India won the toss and elected to bat first, it was the same Karnataka pair, Rahul Dravid and Robin Uthappa, opening the innings for India but Abu Dhabi was no Indore.
Survivor of a fourth ball leg before appeal, Uthappa(12) had his nemesis in Naved-ul Hasan and his attempted pull found Mohammad Yousuf in mid on as India lost their first wicket at 25.
Dravid looked very much 'The Wall' as he drove Naved and Mohd Asif and then clipped Iftikhar Anjum to the fine leg boundary to stamp his class. But Shoaib Malik's alacrity in the field cut short Dravid's stay and India were without their openers with the score reading 47.
Irfan Pathan had flicked the ball and it was Malik's straight as an arrow throw that caught Dravid well short of his ground.
Yuvraj Singh (7) was off the mark with a boundary but a beauty from Anjum drew him forward and forced an edge with Kamran Akmal making no mistake behind the stumps. India were reduced to 65 for three.
Worse followed as Irfan Pathan (26), promoted to number three and looking good, went for a non-existent single and Naved's direct throw hit the stumps to leave India reeling at 72 for four. What looked like a spot of bother for India was now a complete morass.
Suresh Raina (40) and Venugopal Rao then stemmed the rot, putting together 64 hard-earned runs for the fifth wicket in the face of some intelligent bowling by the rivals and Inzamam-ul Haq's field placements were spot on.
Shahid Afridi finally broke the partnership when he had Raina caught by Iftikar Anjum and it triggered another collapse with Shoaib Malik, the mastermind.
Much was expected from Mahendra Singh Dhoni (3) but the flamboyant stumper was done in by a faster Malik yorker.
Ajit Agarkar's attempted slog sweep off Malik saw Iftikhar Anjum taking a good low catch and Ramesh Powar (5) perished the same way.
And as if two run-outs in the top order were not enough, Harbhajan Singh(3) and S Sreesanth departed the same way and the Indian innings fell tantalisingly short of the 200-mark.
Venugopal's unbeaten 61-run knock, his maiden fifty, came off 93 balls and included just three hits to the fence, underlining his toiling in the middle.
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