Thirteen turned out to be the charm for Pakistan. The demons of 12 consecutive defeats to India spread over nearly 30 years across the 50-over and 20-over World Cups were comprehensively exorcised on a remarkable Sunday night in Dubai.
A sequence that dated back to March 1992 was snapped in some style by Babar Azam’s felicitous Class of ’21, which blanketed itself in a clinical composure not always associated with Pakistan. The volatile unpredictability of the past seemed a distant memory as the new-age bunch rose manfully to the occasion, consigning India to an unprecedented 10-wicket hammering.
The margin did justice to the difference in the quality of cricket the sides portrayed in front of a decidedly pro-Indian crowd, not even whose energy and enthusiasm could rouse Virat Kohli’s men from a tentative second gear. Pakistan might have hit it lucky with the coin – it was a significant but hardly decisive development – but fortune had little role to play in what unfolded thereafter.
Pakistan’s skill levels have never been in doubt, ever. Unlike India, whose production line of top-class fast bowlers became operational only a few years back, the cross-border rivals have a storied history of spewing out wonderful exponents of the myriad facets of pace bowling. Shaheen Shah Afridi is the latest in that illustrious list, and he uncorked a first spell that would have done the original left-arm sultan of swing, Wasim Akram, proud.
Afridi was a new destroyer in an old, familiar surname. Shahid Afridi, no relation, was particularly severe on the Indians in his pomp, reeling off dashing cameos with ridiculous regularity or sending down his fastish leg-breaks with reasonable impact. The younger Afridi, standing at a strapping 6 foot 6, first came into prominence during the 2018 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand when he picked up 12 wickets, and has justified his fast-tracking to the senior set-up with a string of telling displays.
Also read: WC T20 match: Pakistan breaks jinx finally, beats India by 10 wickets
None will top this in terms of significance. India’s travails against left-arm swing are well chronicled. Especially when the left-armer is skilled enough to bring it back into the right-handers, they have historically succumbed, either bowled or leg before.
On Sunday, Afridi brought both modes of dismissal into play. In his, and the game’s, first over, he produced a peach of an inswinging yorker to trap Rohit Sharma plumb in front. Rohit’s vulnerability to this kind of delivery is no secret; it is to Afridi’s credit that, armed with that information, he had the wherewithal to nail the execution. A few minutes later, and Rohit might have somehow got his bat down in time. Given it was the first – and only – ball he faced, he was understandably late in reacting.
As if that wasn’t a crushing blow, Afridi had more mayhem up his sleeve. In his next over, he knocked over the one Indian batsman who carried exceptional form to the tournament. KL Rahul had blazed a spectacular trail throughout the IPL, finishing with upwards of 600 runs made with style, intent, power and positivity. For India to recover from Rohit’s early eviction, it was imperative for Rahul to bat deep. Instead, he was left flat-footed by a sharp in-ducker from Afridi, which snaked between his closed bat-face and his legs to crash into the furniture.
Try as Kohli and, briefly, Rishabh Pant did to repair the damage, they were stymied by Pakistan’s discipline with the ball and electricity in the field. It seems almost incongruous to utter the last ten words of the previous sentence in that order, because Pakistan aren’t always known for these attributes.
This evening, they were on top of their game. Veterans like Shoaib Malik and far younger legs like Shadab Khan threw themselves around with equal commitment and determination. If Pakistan were on a mission, they couldn’t have made themselves clearer had they screamed so from the rooftops.
Kohli’s feisty half-century rallied his team to 151, well below par considering what everyone knew was to follow. It was always on the cards that the last quarter of the match would throw up the best batting conditions, once the dew set in and quickened up the surface while making it difficult for the bowlers to grip the ball properly. For India to realistically expect to make a match of it, they needed a score somewhere in the region of 180. One hundred and fifty-one would only suffice if they struck early, and repeatedly, but there seemed no bite in the attack.
Or, maybe Babar and Mohammad Rizwan made it look so. Ever since the latter moved up the tree to link up with his captain, Pakistan have been the recipients of bustling opening stands. Rizwan is the typical wicketkeeper-batsman, cheeky and innovative and full of beans. His effervescence is the perfect foil to the silken smooth Babar, cut from the same Kohli cloth even if he has a long way to go before he can be spoken of in the same league as his Indian counterpart.
Also read: India vs Pakistan: After ice age, Super Sunday to see sparks fly
Between them, Babar and Rizwan offered nary a chance. India’s bowling was rendered toothless and ineffectual, the runs coming easily if not in a torrent.
Pakistan’s own Kohli
In Babar, Kohli might have seen shades of himself in a run-chase – cool, unflustered, working out which bowlers and areas to target, which fielders’ arms to challenge, which balls to respect and keep out. As Babar used his bat like a rapier, all deft and precise touches, Rizwan hoisted a broadsword and hacked away when the opportunity presented itself.
Most delightfully from Pakistan’s perspective, the opening tandem wasn’t all about boundaries. Their running between the wickets was a throwback to the days of Asif Iqbal and Javed Miandad, past masters at the art of tip-and-run. More by accident than design, Pakistan outplayed India at their own game on their way to a maiden 10-wicket win in T20 Internationals.
This victory will reverberate through the tournament for a while, but at the end of the day, it is just one win (for Pakistan) and one loss (for India). Lest one should lose sight, this is only the beginning of the journey, not its culmination.