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As India-Pakistan games go, the one on Sunday was pretty insipid. Fans expect feverish, passionate, nailbiting, rollercoaster contests in which even neutrals can’t remain uninvolved. They used to be tense affairs, in which no one dared celebrate before the last ball was bowled. What if there was a Miandad-like heist? Or a Salim Malik-like resurrection of the chase? What if an unknown tailender bashed the Indians out of the game?
But in Birmingham, Indian fans were celebrating once their team got 319/3 off 48 overs. They believed the match was over as a contest, and that there was no one in the opposition who could be a threat. They were not wrong, as Pakistan were bowled out for 164 inside 34 overs, giving India a 124-run win by the Duckworth/Lewis System. Those who’ve seen some of the epic contests of the 80’s and early 90’s would have been left emotionally cold by Pakistan’s comatose chase.
But India weren’t complaining. For Virat Kohli and his team, this was the perfect opening game, one that would increase the aura of the defending champions. It ironed out every pre-tournament wrinkle that critics might have noticed. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, both fighting form and fitness issues, turned the clock back to the last Champions Trophy at which they repeatedly gave India winning starts. Yuvraj Singh, who just last year was written off as a has-been, struck the ball like he once did in that 36-run over by Stuart Broad. M S Dhoni would have wondered what he might have done with a pace bowling allrounder like Hardik Pandya — while the former captain had to make do with the Binnys of the world, Kohli had someone who could hit three successive sixes in the final over, and then return to take a couple of wickets bowling consistently at 140 kph plus. It was a day that ticked all the boxes for India. As for Pakistan, they would want to wipe this game from memory as quickly as possible.
The days leading up to the clash were full of stories about the “rift” between Kohli and coach Anil Kumble. Once the proceedings began, however, there were no signs the team was affected by the controversy. The players, it seemed, were far too professional to allow extraneous factors — if any existed — affect their performance on the field.
It probably pointed to the gulf in class between the two teams that the frequent rain interruptions appeared to be the only threat to India beginning its title defence on a perfect note. Indeed, going by India’s dominance over Pakistan over the last few years, the much hyped rivalry now seems a bit contrived. The clashes — all in multilateral events — seem a far cry from the days when Indian fans dreaded the sight of Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Sarfraz Ahmed and the Pakistan think tank too, seemed to concede this — judging by their overly defensive tactics and demeanour in the field. There were no verbal altercations either — the Pakistanis seemed almost in awe of their Indian opponents.