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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

India vs Pakistan: Bolt for the Blue

Upsetting form book, Pakistan thrash India by 10 wickets, record first-ever World Cup win over arch rivals.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: October 25, 2021 5:47:47 pm
Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam after steering their team to a 10-wicket win against India (Reuters)

Pakistan’s win was so convincing that even their die-hard fans went momentarily speechless before going full throttle in their celebration. By then, as Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan made a mockery of Indian bowling, Indian fans had already started to leave the stadium. Before this game, Pakistan had never beaten India in a World Cup. When eventually they turned the tables, they won by 10 wickets, with 13 balls to spare.

The evening dew in Dubai made the job difficult for the Indian bowlers. Also, they were defending a pretty modest 151/7. And yet, India were completely outplayed on the night. The reaction from the Pakistan openers after the victory suggested that they meant business. Rizwan restricted his celebration to a fist pump. Azam offered a silent prayer before the whole squad joined for a team huddle. Early days in the T20 World Cup, but it looked like Pakistan have come here to make a statement.

On Sunday, Shaheen Shah Afridi’s bowling would have made even Wasim Akram proud. The arrogance that Azam and Rizwan oozed in chasing down the target offered a throwback to Javed Miandad’s dominance over India in the 1980s. But even in their halcyon days, Pakistan never beat India by 10 wickets. This was their crowning glory and India’s lowest point in this rivalry.

On match eve, Azam had spoken about how records were meant to be broken. Pakistan’s intensity in their pre-match warm-up served as an indication about their resolve. Then, Afridi arrived, firing on all cylinders.

Fast and straight, and some late movement into the right-handers. This has been Afridi’s template with the new ball in limited-overs cricket. An ESPNCricinfo stat says that since making his T20I debut in 2018, the left-arm quick took a wicket in the first over 20 times in 61 innings before this game. On Sunday, he got his 21st, removing Rohit Sharma for a golden duck. It was almost an unplayable delivery for an opener, facing his first ball.

KL Rahul was done in by another in-ducker, once again the ball shaping in and going through the gate. Such a frontal assault was always going to force India on the back foot. Virat Kohli’s fine half-century and Rishabh Pant’s 39 off 30 balls saved India from more humiliation.

This was a game for Afridi to treasure, returning with the wickets of Rohit, Rahul and Kohli. He was the showstopper, aided by a collective bowling performance; from Haris Rauf to Shadab Khan in the middle overs.

Skipper the lone bright spot

The only solace for the Indian fans here would be Kohli’s innings, how he weathered the storm and gradually returned to form, staying true to his conventional stroke-play. But early wickets restricted him in terms of upping the ante. A Kohli half-century with a strike rate of 116 is uncommon. But the India captain had to take the game deep.

Also, not often does Kohli get overshadowed by opposition batsmen in limited-overs cricket after scoring a half-century. Once again, this game was different.

Pakistan’s innings was a heady mixture of Azam’s class and Rizwan’s smash. In stark contrast to Afridi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s first over was pedestrian. Rizwan took a four and a six off the medium pacer to get going.

Mohammed Shami bowled the next over, landed one on good length, but Azam stood tall and unleashed a gorgeous cover drive.

Kohli was quick to bring Jasprit Bumrah into the attack. Varun Chakravarthy, too, came with his mystery. They stemmed the run-flow to start with, but Shami had a bad day at the office. Pakistan’s Powerplay score was 43 for no loss vis-a-vis India’s 36/3. That’s where basically the game was won and lost.

Rizwan strong-armed to an unbeaten 79 off 55 balls. Azam was class personified in his 68 not out off 52 balls. And yet again, India missed a sixth bowler. Hardik Pandya was never going to bowl, and now there’s a question mark over his further participation in the tournament after being hit on the right shoulder while batting. Ishan Kishan fielded for him and in hindsight, the Indian team management might have missed a trick by not including him in the playing eleven at the expense of Suryakumar Yadav. On the heels of three consecutive T20 half-centuries, Kishan was probably well placed to make his good form count.

Also, as the two Pakistan openers gradually figured out Varun, and Ravindra Jadeja didn’t look potent in this game, Yuzvendra Chahal’s leg-spin was missed. India made a U-turn by completely ditching wrist spin against Pakistan.

As he was leaving the stadium, Zaheer Abbas preferred to keep emotions at arm’s length. “This is cricket and today was Pakistan’s day. They put India under pressure from the outset and never released it,” the former Pakistan captain told The Indian Express.

India lost the battle all right, but the war (read, the tournament) is still to be won. At the post-match presentation, Kohli admitted that they were outplayed by Pakistan. But his team is good at making comebacks.

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