By R Kaushik in Mirpur
Bowlers keep Pakistan to 130 for 7 before batsmen seal seven-wicket win with nine balls to spare
Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted to exit his comfort zone, dumping a third medium pacer for a third out-and-out spinner, and reaped rich dividends as India got its Group 2 campaign in the ICC World Twenty20 2014 off to a spectacular start.
Watched by a capacity crowd at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Friday (March 21) night, India extended its hegemony over old foes Pakistan in World Cup matches to a perfect nine with a remarkably untroubled seven-wicket victory, a result crafted by Amit Mishra, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and completed with no great fuss by a grateful top order.
Pakistan must wonder exactly what it should do to halt India in World Cup skirmishes. Put in as Dhoni sought to guard against the dew, given the bowling resources at his command, Pakistan stuttered and stumbled to 130 for 7, a score well below par on a surface that made the odd demand, but certainly contained few demons.
Between them, the spin combine finished with 3 for 63 from 12 fascinating overs, Mishra’s 2 for 22, for which he was named Man of the Match, fitting returns in only his second T20 International as he bemused and befuddled Pakistan’s best.
Small targets can sometimes prove tricky, but India need not have worried. After a cautious, indeed circumspect, start, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan exploded in a flurry of boundaries to put on 54 for the first wicket, allowing Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, who had earlier taken three catches, to step in and apply the finishing touches in India’s winning tally of 131 for 3 with nine deliveries to spare.
Rohit and Dhawan had been shackled early on by Mohammad Hafeez and Junaid Khan, but the floodgates opened in the fourth over when Rohit paddled Junaid for four and then creamed him over point for six. Not to be left behind, Dhawan made a telling statement by smashing three leg-side fours off Saeed Ajmal’s first over, India getting off to an excellent beginning.
There was a brief stutter as Dhawan, Rohit and Yuvraj Singh fell for the addition of 11 runs in 14 deliveries, but Kohli, as fluent as he has been for so long now, and Raina, armed with refreshing positivity in a format he so relishes, slammed the door shut on Pakistan’s face with a half-century stand for the fourth wicket. Kohli danced and bobbed his way to 36 while Raina’s 35 was less finesse and more power, the pair complementing each other to complete a stirring win in what players from both teams like to call ‘just another match’. Tell us another, guys.
The spinners had set the tone earlier in the evening with fairly exceptional spells, Ashwin kicking things off with an excellent first over and maintaining his control throughout his four overs, Mishra weaving his web of magic in his first T20I in nearly four years, and Jadeja his usual frugal self, giving nothing away and repeatedly forcing the batsmen to make the play.
What made their effort even more commendable was that there wasn’t too much purchase by way of turn. Mishra did rip a few, including one that left Ahmed Shehzad stranded, but that is only to be expected of a leg-spinner. What worked for them, however, was the bounce on offer, the spin trio making the most of that assistance to pose all kinds of problems for Pakistan’s strangely hesitant batsmen.
Long before he was foxed and stumped off Mishra, Shehzad had left Kamran Akmal stranded after responding to his call for a quick single and then turning his back on his opening partner. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, on his follow-through, hit the stumps direct, though India’s fielding – and catching – was well below its best.
Perhaps it had to do with the quality of the lights, perhaps fielders in the deep had trouble picking the ball up. Yuvraj dropped a straightforward chance at deep mid-wicket to let off Hafeez and deprive Mohammed Shami of his first wicket on his T20I debut, Bhuvneshwar himself reacted slowly at deep backward square-leg to reprieve Shoaib Malik off Ashwin, and more than once, the fielders were caught unawares in the deep as they seemed to lose sight of the ball.
Those aberrations apart, India was on top of its game with the ball. Pakistan never found any momentum either side of the fourth-wicket stand of 50 between Umar Akmal and Malik, though Sohaib Maqsood did use the long handle to good effect right at the death, the last two overs from the quicker bowlers yielding 26 runs.
Pakistan was in the process of rebuilding, through Shehzad and Hafeez, following Kamran’s dismissal when Dhoni turned to Mishra in the seventh over, and brought on Jadeja in the next. Jadeja got rid of a patchy Hafeez with his third delivery, caught by sweeper cover, while in the next over, Shehzad walked into the Mishra web of deceit and was embarrassingly stumped, almost shaking hands with the bowler.
Pakistan had slumped to 47 for 3 in the ninth over, the run rate having gone nowhere and the cream of the top having been lopped off. Umar and Malik were thrown a brief lifeline when Dhoni turned to Yuvraj, who went for 13 in his only over. The duo then rode on that wave to pick up another 13 off the next over from Mishra, including one towering six from Malik, but if the massive crowd thought it was the beginning of a sustained charge, they were in for a surprise.
Instead of wilting under the onslaught, India regrouped rapidly. Dhoni quickly dispensed with the Yuvraj experiment and brought back Ashwin and Jadeja, and India immediately regained control.
Overs 13 through 18 brought Pakistan a mere 28 runs for the wickets of both Malik and Umar in the space of 13 deliveries, India going through its overs rapidly and not giving Pakistan any time to settle into a groove. There were no fireworks from Shahid Afridi either, and had it not been for Maqsood’s late cameo, Pakistan wouldn’t even have touched 128, the score it had stacked up against India in its last World T20 clash in Colombo 18 months back. India had then won by eight wickets; this time around, the victory was only slightly less comprehensive.