The old adage that catches win matches proved true once again.
Pakistan paid the price for dropping Virender Sehwag twice when the Indians batted and then the Indians caught superbly to win the first One-Day International in the six-match series by 87 runs in Kochi on Saturday.
Chasing a victory target of 281 for 8, Pakistan were bowled out for 194 in 45.2 overs. None of their batsmen made a fight of the chase as Sachin Tendulkar ran amok with his leg spin to claim five wickets for 50 runs.
Earlier, centuries by Virender Sehwag (108 off 95 balls), who was also adjudged the man-of-the-match, and Rahul Dravid, 104, helped India post the commanding total.
In trying conditions, the duo put on a record 201-run partnership to help India out of the doldrums after being reduced to 4 for 2 in the second over of the innings.
India captain Saurav Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat on a flat pitch in the opening match of a six-game series.
India went into the game with three seamers -- Lakshmipathy Balaji, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, and Harbhajan Singh, the lone spinner.
Pakistan, without in-form batsman Younis Khan who was ruled out due to a fever, picked all-rounders Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq. It was surprising to see them leave out Danish Kaneria, their most successful bowler in the Test series.
The interesting aspect of the Indian line-up is the entry of a specialist wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni -- Dravid must have celebrated at some length when that was finally decided -- and the entry of Ashish Nehra in place of Irfan Pathan, who was woefully off-color during the Test series.
In ten ODIs against Pakistan since 1987, India, playing at home, have won just once.
Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar walked out to open the innings against a Pakistan team that had a plethora of bowling options. The Indian innings got off to a disastrous start when both Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were dismissed off consecutive balls in the second over of the match.
India's situation could have been worse had Mohammad Hafeez, at backward point, held on to a catch from Sehwag off the first ball of the match. But the Pakistanis got over that initial disappointment by getting two wickets in the next over, Naved ul-Hasan's first.
Tendulkar (4) was dismissed trying to play aggressively. After smashing a ball through the covers, the right-hander went after a shortish delivery but ended up mis-hitting it high up towards the mid-on region, where Yousuf Youhana made no mistake. (4 for 1)
Ganguly was in next. The Indian captain's form is terrible and the dreadful run continued. The left-hander, who last scored a century in ODIs during the 2003 World Cup semi-final against Kenya, was clean bowled by a ball that pitched on middle and swung to send his leg-stump cart-wheeling.
Ganguly (0) moved across the stumps to play the ball fine down the leg-side but missed it completely. Two wickets in two balls and Rana was on a hat-trick. (4 for 2)
Rahul Dravid played out the hat-trick ball without much ado and then proceeded to script a superb partnership with Sehwag. By the end of the tenth over, the score was 42 for 2, but not before Sehwag survived another chance on eight.
The opener was more subdued than usual and that could be put down in some measure to the fields that were set by Pakistan. The bowlers maintained a line outside the off-stump and, as a result, Sehwag was forced to check his all-out aggression.
The run-rate steadily kept climbing till the 21st over, when India reached 94. Then Sehwag turned things around with an amazing display of calculated hitting.
This can be seen from the fact that at the end of the 19th over, both Sehwag and Dravid were on 36. By the end of the 27th over, Sehwag was on 80 off 70 balls and Dravid was on 57, and India had powered to 148.
But it was also an innings that showed a very determined side of Sehwag. The right-hander averaged 41.25 in 2002 but in 2004, his average dropped to 25.36 with a high score of 90.
Sehwag had soaked in the pressure and heat and started playing big shots as he started getting tired. Dravid, at the other end, was content to take singles and rotate the strike. The conditions were really tough for the players with the humidity being very high.
Sehwag eventually reached his century -- his first since November 2003, when he scored 130 against New Zealand -- off 84 balls.
After 35 overs, India were 202 for 2 and looked all set to make the push towards 300. But Sehwag was dismissed, clean bowled by Razzaq, off the first ball of the 36th over on 108 off 95 balls, inclusive of nine boundaries and three sixes. (205 for 3)
The 201-run partnership was India's highest against Pakistan. It topped a 161-run partnership between Dravid and Mohammad Azharruddin in 1996 at Toronto.
The fall of Sehwag's wicket started a mini slide for India, which saw wickets fall in a heap.
From 202 for 2, India were reduced to 281 for 8 at the end of 50 overs. The last 15 overs saw 79runs being scored, which is not enough considering the platform the batsmen had.
Arshad Khan, who gave away 18 runs off the first eight balls he bowled, claimed the wickets of Yuvraj Singh (16 off 22), Mohammad Kaif (7 off 15 balls), Dhoni (3) and Balaji (0)to help bring Pakistan back into the match.
Dravidwas dismissed as much by the heat and humidity as he was by a direct throw from Mohammad Sami. The Indian vice-captain scored 104 off 139 balls with just six boundaries. On a hot day, he ran 58 singles and 10 twos and, by the end of his innings, looked completely worn out.
TheIndian total was big, but not unattainable. Pakistan had quality and depth in a batting line-up that was buffered by the presence of all-rounders. As openers Akmal and Salman Butt walked out, there must have been a great deal of apprehension in the Indian camp.
Pakistanmissed a trick by not promoting Shahid Afridi to the opener's slot. The all-rounder had a great Test series and had he stayed at the wicket for just 10 overs, the asking rate would have dropped considerably. Which, in turn, would mean the other batsmen would have had a pretty easy time.
For the first six overs of the innings it seemed as if Pakistan's ploy of saving the big-hittersfor the slog overs had worked. Butt and Akmal seemed in no trouble as they put on 45 in the first 39 balls.
Butthen Akmal flirted with danger once too often. The first ball of the seventh over was smashed through Ganguly, who was at short point, with such power that the Indian skipper's reaction seemed like he was trying to avoid the ball. The very next ball, there was a change in the field and Sehwag replaced Ganguly at the position.
Akmal (17 off 17 balls)tried to repeat the stroke and managed it in every way, but only this time Sehwag made it look easy and took a good catch. (45 for 1)
Zaheer Khan had taken quite a hammering in his first three overs, giving away 21runs and was replaced by Nehra in the attack.
Nehrais the quickest of all the Indian pacemen and must have surely been ruffled at not getting a game during the Test series. That hunger often works for the skipper. And it worked for Ganguly too.
Justsix balls into his spell, Nehra produced a good short delivery that had Butt going for the hook shot. The ball kept rising on the batsman and in the end he only managed to mish-hit in the direction of the square-leg umpire where Ganguly took a good overhead catch. (49 for 2)
Thingsgot worse for Pakistan with every passing over. Balaji claimed the wicket of Shoaib Malik in the next over and just like that Pakistan were reduced to 49 for 3.
Pakistanwere in a hole at this point and they would have relied on their most experienced batsmen, Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam, to help them fight back into the match. The duo were at the wicket but the Indian pacemen did them no favours.
Zaheerwas brought back into the attack and he produced a brilliant spell of three overs, two maidens, one runs and a wicket. The left-armer claimed a brilliant caught and bowled to send Youhana back to the pavilion.
The ball was angled across Youhana, who pushed out on the on, in the air and Zaheer checked himself in the follow through and dived to his wrong side, the right, to pluck an outstanding one-handedcatch.
With 15 overs gone, Pakistan were 64 for 4,but not one run was scored behind the wicket. It tells you that the Indian seamers bowled a very tight line.
Fromthis point, the Pakistan innings was all about consolidation. By the 20th over, Inzamam and Mohammad Hafeez, the new batsman, had taken the score to 84.
Runscontinued to come at a quick pace. The main point now was when would Pakistan take the attack to the Indians. At the 25-over mark, the asking run-rate was exactly 7.00 RPO.
Asif on cue, Sachin Tendulkar produced a superbly angled quicker delivery from round the wicket. Inzamam (37) looked to guide the ball to third man for an easy single but missed the ball, which dislodged the right bail. (112 for 5)
Tendulkar's only five-wicket haul in ODIs had come way back in 1998against the Australians in Kochi. On that occasion, he claimed 5-32. To expect him to repeat that performance would be asking too much, but that is exactly what happened.
Inzamam's wicket was followed by that of Razzaq (5), Afridi (8), Sami (2) and Hafeez (42 off 75)in quick succession as Tendulkar bowled with great understanding of the requirements of the pitch. (152 for 9)
Heused a lot of variation, and his bowling from round the wicket was especially effective. The pacemen set the platform and Tendulkar, who ended up with figures of 5 for 50, took India to victory.
The last-wicket pair of Rana (25 off 35) and Arshad Khan (14 not out off 21) put on 42in eight overs, but it was too little too late. A straight delivery from Zaheer crashed into Rana's middle-stump as the right-hander swung hard.
In the end, it was an easy 87-runvictory for India, thanks to the brilliant innings from Sehwag and Dravid with the bat and a superb effort by all the bowlers.
Dhonihad a pretty impressive game behind the wickets. He looked solid, nothing flashy, but he did the job. And given the tough conditions that the one-day series is going to be played in, Dravid will certainly be glad that he won't have to resume wicket-keeping duties.
The second ODI of the series is on April 5,at Vishakapatnam.