When Mahendra Singh Dhoni flipped the coin in the air, Mohammad Hafeez stood still, may be because of some superstition. He knew the importance of this spin, and didn’t look a happy man when it fell ‘tails’ on top. First, it was India vs Pakistan. Second, the dew was expected to play a role. (Match Report: Spinners’ day out)
Without second thoughts, the Indian skipper asked the Hafeez-led unit to bat on a pitch which had plenty of well-rolled dead grass. With three spinners – Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra – in the playing XI, batting first would have minimised their say on the match.
It wasn’t the case on Friday as MS Dhoni & Co., after getting things right at the toss, exhibited a clinical performance, especially with the ball, to outplay arch-rivals in the ICC World Twenty20 opener. The spinners bowled their hearts out, and used the minimal assistance to full effect. (PHOTOS: Walk in the park for MSD & Co.)
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The paucity of genuine leg-spinners comes to the fore when a four-over spell enthralls a billion viewers, along with the many thousands cheering from the stands. The charming run-up, perfect pivot and effortless release, are all sights to behold! (Full Coverage: ICC World T20)
With Ashwin and Jadeja bowling in full flow, and Suresh Raina’s useful contributions in the warm-up fixtures, there were serious doubts on Mishra’s inclusion in the playing XI on Friday. The 31-year-old’s outings – 0/21 against Sri Lanka and 1/38 against England – in the warm-up leg didn’t make good reading either.
In cricket, they say, you’re as good as you’re last knock or spell. Dhoni and the team management didn’t read too much into that and took a huge gamble – playing three spinners in conditions where dew played a crucial role. Mishra didn’t disappoint his skipper as the leggie turned the game with his classical leg-spinners.
The way he beat Ahmed Shehzad in the air was a scene to watch over and over again. They say only Shane Warne could do that. It is never easy to contain the opposition and pick wickets in this format of the game. Mishra did both as he returned with match winning figures of 2/22 in four overs.
Dropped from the ODI squad, Suresh Raina had his task cut out — perform or perish.
With too many players warming the bench and knocking the door with impressive performances in the domestic circuit, the only way for Raina to re-cement his positions was by contributions in the middle. Impressive outings, both with bat and ball, in the warm-ups announced Raina back in the scheme of things.
The shots were coming, the feet were moving and the runs were flowing as the aggressive southpaw grew in confidence with every ball he faced in the middle. Coming into bat after his side was reduced to 65/3, Raina showed no signs of pressure and went about doing his job the way he does – by scoring brisk runs. A 28-ball 35, including four fours and a six, is only signs of things to come.
Add to this his ability to chip in with the ball and the athleticism he exhibits on the field – he took three catches against Pakistan on Friday.
Nerves of steel
Pakistan: 3/47 and India: 3/65. Both sides were in a similar spot of bother during their respective innings. But Pakistan never recovered, and India played with a mature head to seal the rubber in a comprehensive fashion.
The way both sides approached the game was probably the difference. Dhoni’s initial jog to the middle spoke volumes about his readiness for the fixture. The intent was observed in the way he rotated his bowlers and placed attacking fields for them.
It will be harsh to single out Mohammad Hafeez here as the Pakistan skipper, unlike Dhoni, didn’t get much support from the experienced campaigners in the unit. Yes, 3/47 is a disappointing read, but not something one can’t recover from. Had they played with a cool mind, they could have got those extra 20 runs to trigger some tension in the Indian dressing room.
No matter how well you bowl, defending a 130-run total requires a special effort with the ball, which doesn’t happen everyday.
All is still not lost for Pakistan, but they have very little time to recover from this loss, a loss against India.
Hafeez can well try a different posture at the toss as it will continue to have a say in the upcoming games of the 2014 edition.