India and Pakistan’s cricketing fortunes are intertwined — they’ve forever fluctuated between the sublime and the ridiculous. Today at the World Twenty20, it was India’s turn to be sublime and Pakistan’s to be ridiculous.
India had the perfect game. They had to win today. They picked their best team, read the wicket well, set smart fields, and took wickets through the innings to hold Pakistan to a modest 128. It was hardly a straight-forward chase. On a dry wicket, against Pakistan’s creative spinners, India needed to chase down the runs quickly to improve their abysmal net run rate of -2.506. Thanks to Virat Kohli’s 78 (61b), the target never proved troublesome.
Young left-arm spinner Raza Hasan raised the prospects of a humdinger when he caught-and-bowled Gautam Gambhir for a duck in the first over. But Virender Sehwag and Kohli’s easy-like-a-Sunday-morning partnership India steered to safety.
Pakistan’s last line of defence was some magic from Saeed Ajmal. But it took Kohli two balls to wipe away the threat. In Ajmal’s first over, Kohli bashed a four through cover. In his second, Kohli cut a straight ball off the stumps for another four past point. Ajmal didn’t know where to bowl to Kohli afterwards. It didn’t help that his captain Mohammad Hafeez’s competitive spirit had diminished as was visible from his defensive fields.
With the win, India now have a marginally better run rate (-0.452) than South Africa (-0.605), but a fraction lower than Pakistan's (-0.426). This implies that if they wish to be in the semifinal, they must win their next game by a good margin because Australia (with four points and a massive NRR of +1.712) have practically qualified. [See the points table]
Earlier, Hafeez elect to bat here at the R. Premadasa Stadium. Zaheer Khan began the game looking like a weekender who’d gone straight from his bed to the ground for a Sunday knockabout. His nine-ball first over had a wide, a four, five wides and one more wide before he finally zoomed on to his favourite length off the ninth ball. The thick edge off Hafeez’s bat flew to slip. Sehwag lunged to his right but grassed the ball as he went down with it. Pakistan 1, India 0.
Pakistan’s good start was short-lived. Irfan Pathan’s perfectly-contoured out-swinger did its trick and trapped the dangerous Imran Nazir in front. Shortly afterwards, Pakistan’s innings went to pieces.
Pakistan promoted Shahid Afridi, who is as far away from good form as the North Pole is from the South. He began smashing Irfan for two fours, and it seemed this inspired move would pay off. But the key to bowling on this dry wicket was taking off the pace. Irfan and Lakshmipathy Balaji took the hint and slowed the fiery Pathan down with a barrage of cutters. Dhoni had a long-on and deep mid-wicket, and Afridi holed out to the latter.
MS Dhoni now had two options: to push some overs from part-timers Yuvraj Singh and Kohli, or to continue with his front-liners to get some more wickets. He gambled with the part-timers, and it worked a charm. Yuvraj and Kohli’s first five overs produced a total of 22-3, turning the game decisively.
Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik threatened to bring Pakistan back briefly. Flogging Kohli for 15 of his next over brought the innings to life. Dhoni returned to his front-line spinner and Ashwin did the job again. He dismissed Malik and Akmal in back-to-back overs. Balaji mopped up the tail. Dhoni couldn’t have written this better.
The larger picture: at all World Cups, India 8, Pakistan 0.