Two wickets inside three balls in the penultimate over and an inexplicable crossover made the task very difficult for Pakistan. The final over of the match began with Pakistan needing 10 runs for victory with just two wickets in hand and Shahid Afridi not on strike. Ravichandran Ashwin bowled Saeed Ajmal round his legs to take India closer to an unlikely victory. But all said and done, Pakistan were basically just a couple of big hits away.
And that was exactly what happened. Though Ashwin got Saeed Ajmal out bowled around his legs in the first ball, Afridi was back on strike in the third ball. Ashwin pushed the long-on and long off right to the ropes and also gave a real zip to his carrom balls but Afridi connected both the deliveries, though he failed to time them properly. Still, they sailed over long and wide long-off respectively. Game over. Incredibly, the straight boundaries were set only at 65 metres for this game.
Pakistan got themselves under enormous pressure during the chase, but 245 was never going to be a winning total on this pitch. Despite several stumbles, Pakistan finally made it, thanks to Afridi at the end and Mohammad Hafeez at the start. Afridi’s last big innings came eight months ago, on July 13 last year at Providence. He made 76 at a strike rate of 138. Of late he has become more of a bowler than batsman. On Sunday, he played a blinder, hitting 34 not out off 18 balls when things threatened to spiral out of control in the chase. “I’m very happy for Afridi. He copped so much criticism. But we always have faith in his ability. He’s a match-winner,” captain Misbah-ul-Haq said. Virat Kohli naturally looked very dejected after the match and rued the “errors” which his team “kept on repeating”. But today, for a change, he was backed well by his bowlers.
Amit Mishra, who sat on the bench for an eternity, finally got a game and proved to be a good choice in spin-friendly conditions. An outstanding first spell of eight overs that went for just 16 runs and got him two wickets brought India back into the contest. Till his introduction in the 13th over, Pakistan were taking the game away from their arch-rivals. Mishra bagged opener Ahmed Shehzad with a straight one that pitched short but skidded off the surface.
Shehzad pulled it straight to Ashwin at short mid-wicket. Then Misbah was run out, thanks to a misunderstanding between him and Hafeez. Mishra had a fantastic pick-up at the bowling end and broke the stumps. The leggie also removed in-form Umar Akmal with a flighted delivery as Ravindra Jadeja took a very good running catch. After a 71-run opening partnership, Pakistan slipped to 114 for four.
Steadying the ship
Young Sohaib Maqsood steadied the ship with an 87-run fifth wicket partnership with Hafeez and made his team favourites again, but the latter departed after scoring 75 off 117 balls and Maqsood followed him — another misunderstanding, another run out. With 43 required off the last five overs, it came down to Afridi. Umar Gul dispatched Bhuvneshwar Kumar over deep mid-wicket but got out to the same bowler in the 49th over. Three balls later debutant Mohammad Talha crossed over as he got out, forgetting that it was the last delivery of Kumar’s over.
“Such things happen in cricket but that could really be a big miss for us. Thanks to the almighty we managed to pull this one through,” said Misbah.
Keeping india in check
Earlier, India made a below par score batting first. It has become a case of India scoring big only if Kohli scores big. When Kohli guided an away-goer from Gul to ’keeper Akmal when he was on five the writing was on the wall for India. Rohit Sharma looked to have found his touch and reached a half-century but Saeed Ajmal’s introduction to the attack checked the run flow and an inexperienced middle-order failed to set a platform.
Rohit top-edged a pull to deep mid-wicket off Talha and Hafeez took a very good catch, avoiding collision. Rahane also got out to Talha.
Dinesh Karthik was removed by Hafeez, but Rayudu handled spin well and scored his second ODI half-century. Then a late-order blitz from Jadeja (52 off 49 balls) took India to some respectability but he was lucky to survive a very confident leg-before shout when he was on seven and then was dropped by Hafeez on 12.
Theoretically, India are still not eliminated from the tournament. If Pakistan lose to Bangladesh and they win with a bonus point against Afghanistan, Kohli’s men have a chance. But the skipper himself said, he has “personally stopped putting his money” on that possibility.