Kamran Akmal was playing a Twenty20 game for Pakistan after nearly a year, while Ahmed Shehzad had played just four games against India in all formats. When they walked out as Pakistan’s openers, they would have been desperate to succeed.
Kamran would have been keen to prove his Twenty20 credentials once again after being recalled to the squad for the world event. Shehzad is just 22. He had proclaimed ahead of the game that the winless run against India in World Cup matches would end. The burden of keeping his word would have weighed heavily on his mind, even as he began at the non-striker’s end.
In matches like these, once out in the middle, nerves can take over. May be it was the sight of Ravichandran Ashwin gripping the new white ball that worked on the minds of the Pakistani batsmen. Or the fact that India had decided to play an extra spinner in leggie Amit Mishra and opt for just two medium-pacers. Perhaps the occasion got to them.
There were bound to be a few nerves within the Indian team too. What if Kamran took Ashwin to the cleaners?
Ashwin bowled from around the wicket and his first two deliveries were dot balls. But in the third, Kamran found the square-leg boundary. That eased the pressure a bit. The next six balls produced one run, off Shehzad’s bat. The pressure was back on Pakistan.
In the next delivery from Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Akmal smashed the ball past point. The pressure dropped. The first 10 balls had produced nine runs. However, what happened next was a disaster for Pakistan. The ball had rolled off Akmal’s pads and both batsmen wanted the single. That was, until Shehzad pulled out well after Akmal was committed to the run. Akmal turned back but was well short of his ground. Before he walked off, he turned and gave Shehzad a long, hard look. The youngster looked away into the night sky, as if he wished he wasn’t there. This wasn’t the turning point of the game but the eleven Indians in the middle would have sensed that they had a grip on the match. MS Dhoni’s side never let the game slip away from there. All their plans fell into place.
Gamble pays off
The decision to play Mishra as the third spinner was a gamble. The leg-spinner hadn’t played a T20 International in nearly four years. If India had lost the toss, the spinners would have found it difficult to grip the ball in the second half of the match because of the dew that sets in. But India won the toss and wisely decided to blow first.
Every time the Pakistan batsmen seemed to have broken the shackles, they were pegged back immediately. Mohammed Shami saw Yuvraj Singh drop Mohammad Hafeez at deep mid-wicket. The over cost India 12 runs and there was the disappointment of a missed opportunity. The spinners brought India back into the match. Mishra bowled a tidy first over. Spinner Ravindra Jadeja dismissed Hafeez, who in a rush of blood, tried to hit the left-arm spinner out of the ground but was caught at deep cover.
What Mishra did next was a rarity in Twenty20 cricket – bowl a wicket-maiden. The delivery to dismiss Shehzad was a beauty. Shehzad had come down the track to hit Ashwin for a boundary earlier. He tried the same against Mishra but was beaten by the turn and was stumped. The spinners bowled 11 overs in a row, between Mishra, Jadeja, Ashwin and Yuvraj.
The 50-run partnership between Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik for the fourth wicket gave Pakistan hope of a late charge as they had wickets in hand. But that never came. Malik fell in the sixteenth over just when he seemed he was bracing for an assault. He tried to hit Mishra for a six. His first attempt earlier had succeeded but this time the ball went only as far as long off. The main spinners went at less than six an over.
Umar and Afridi were dismissed by the pacers in the 18th and 19th over respectively, trying to step on the pedal. And Pakistan reached 130 thanks to a 11-ball 21 from Shoaib Maqsood.
Pakistan captain Hafeez opened the attack on a track on which playing shots was getting to be difficult. Though Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan got off to a slow start, the innings picked up tempo with a 54-run partnership for the first wicket. Though three wickets fell in a span of 11 runs, the Indians didn’t panic. The modest target was achieved with nine balls and seven wickets to spare as Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli stitched together a 66-run unbeaten partnership.