By Aveenash Sekhar
Hardik Pandya’s all-round brilliance stole the show as India beat Pak by five wickets in a fascinating game at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. The men in blue, led by Rohit Sharma, won the toss and chose to field first under gruelling weather conditions. The toss was always going to be vital given how well documented the past tournaments in Dubai were (IPL and T20 world cup), with sides who chose to bowl first having an upper hand.
Though one would expect very swing, it was about getting a consistent wicket-to-wicket line and length. India went with two spinners in Ravinder Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal, with three front line-seamers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan, young Arshdeep Singh and Hardik Pandya with his back to best all-round form. Dinesh Karthik had come in place of Rishabh Pant whilst skipper Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and inform Surya Kumar Yadav were amongst the key batters.
Pakistan without their key frontline pacer Shaheen Afridi was replaced by another left-arm speedster in Naseem Shah, who looked to grab his opportunity on debut. Shahnawaz Dahani would accompany him to share the opening spell, along with Haris Rauf, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz from the bowling department. The batting lineup looked dashing as one would expect, the two openers in wicket-keeper Rizwan and the skipper Babar Azam who has the world at his feet given his fantastic form. Fakhar Zaman, Iftikar Ahmed, Khushdil, Shadab Khan and Asif Ali, who lit up the T20 World cup last year in Dubai, would look to provide more of those big hits.
In front of 25,000 people, Rizwan and Azam emerged and appeared to maintain their excellent shape. The same duo breezed past the Indian bowlers with a 10-wicket the last time the two sides met. Skipper Sharma handed the ball to Kumar, who thought he had Rizwan out strapped on the pads in the 2nd ball of the match. Rizwan had asked for a referral who was confident the ball had pitched just above the stumps. Quite rightly, DRS had asked umpire Masdur Rahman to reverse the decision in favour of Pakistan. Babar Azam got off to a flying straight with a punching-straight drive that flew past mid-off followed by another classic straight drive, this time of Arshdeep Singh, the skipper was looking ominous already.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced a roaring bouncer as Azam looked to take him on and this time got a top-edge that went straight to Arshdeep at fine-leg, who had come within the circle. He was fast enough to recognise that the wait for an outswinger was taking too long given the conditions. Pakistan was left stunned as their quintessential hero walked for 10 runs from 9 balls as Zaman walked into bat at 3. Rizwan and Zaman looked elegant and played glorious shots, with Rizwan playing the shot of the match so far when he smoked Avesh Khan with an 87m six. Just when the men in green were capitalising, Avesh Khan got Fakhar Zaman caught behind as the latter walked as no one moved. Not even the umpire only to see Zaman, who chose to walk with great sportsmanship. Nevertheless, the ball did get a feather edge as India struck right below the power play.
Spinners put the brakes
Chahal and Jadeja, known to bring in their variations, were asked to stick to their game plan to bowl to the stumps, which meant that the Pakistani batters had to play on the back foot for a large portion of the game. After the 11th over, the scorecard read 76 for 2 with 24 runs coming from 4 overs from Chahal and Jadeja.
With not much of turn on the offering, Sharma went with his seamers and had called upon trump card Hardik Pandya who has been in ominous form, who an duck immediately by dismissing Ahmed out for 28 of 33 balls as Pakistan were 90 for 3 from 13 overs. In the 15th over, Pandya pounced on Rizwan with a cracking bouncer at 141kph to Rizwan, who looked away in surprise and ended up guiding the ball to Avesh Khan at deep third man, who walked to the pavilion for 43 of 42 balls with four fours and 1 six.
Kumar removed Asif Ali for nine whilst Arshdeep got the better out of Nawaz for 1. The former struck again with two wickets from two deliveries, leaving Pakistan at 136 for 9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s 4 for 26 is now the best figure by an Indian bowler in a T20 game against Pakistan and second overall after Mohammed Asif’s 4 for 18 in 2007.
Late heroics were from tail-ender Dahani as he whipped a six of the last over before being bowled by Arshdeep for a valuable 16 of 8 balls as Pakistan put up a fighting total of 147 from 20 overs.
India got off to a nightmare start when debutant Naseem Shah got KL Rahul in the 2nd ball of the Indian innings for a duck as the latter got an unfortunate inside edge which dragged on to the stumps. Out walked India’s famous son, Virat Kohli, with cheers from both sides and a standing round of applause. After defending two deliveries, Zaman dropped Kohli on 0 as he looked to drive Shah as Pakistan looked to have dropped the big fish.
Kohli, featuring in his 100th T20 for India, got his first boundary as he rocked back and dispatched the short as the ball went past mid-wicket like a tracer bullet. In the fourth over, the maestro got a top edge of Rauf but flew over Rizwan’s head and sailed into the stands for a six. Kohli looked like a man on a mission and was en route to answer his critics. This time slashed the ball past a poor ball from Dahani, followed by another boundary of Rauf with great authority as India got to 38 for 1 from 6 overs with Kohli on 29 of 24 balls.
The daring Nawaz
Rohit Sharma, on the other end, looked to play the sheet anchor role but this time took on Nawaz over long-on as the ball sailed away for a six. As the saying goes, fortune favours the brave – the spinner tempted Sharma yet again, who this time looked to take him on over mid-on as his miscued shot went straight to Iftikar Ahmed, which saw the skipper walk back for 12 of 18 balls as India were 50 for 2 from overs.
Moments later, Virat Kohli, who was batting on 35 and appeared to be on the verge of big innings. But he took an unnecessary shot or, more accurately, acted similarly to his captain by attempting to take on Nawaz but instead sending the ball straight down long-on, much to the delight of the Pakistani crowd, who were once more relieved to see the back of the dangerous man. India now appeared to be in trouble at 53 for 3.
Jadeja steadying the ship
Ravindra Jadeja, who walked in at number 4, was asked to keep the scoreboard ticking, which was more of second nature to the left-handed all-rounder. He took on Nawaz with a towering six, which was 98m down the ground, followed by a boundary of the spinner. Suryakumar Yadav, at number 5 and in-form batsman, looked solid with a couple of quality boundaries of Shadab, whilst Jadeja continued to add more pressure on the fielders with his blistering pace between the wickets.
Babar Azam looked to his left-arm seamer Naseem Shah with a short burst of spell to rattle the Indian batsman, and the latter, on debut, struck gold for his skipper yet again. A back of a length-delivery that zipped in ferociously at 142ks knocked out Yadav’s off stump, who was bowled for a run a ball 18 with Jadeja still on 19.
Outwalked Hardik Pandya, as Naseem Shah charged in and dug it in short, as the former firmly cut it past point with a gesture that showed he was ready for the battle. Pandya and Jadeja continued to rotate the strike whilst playing to the conditions, respecting the bowlers and dispatching loose ends. After the 17th over, India is now at 116 for 4, leaving Pakistan to face the penalty of slow over rate, which meant that Azam could only have four fielders outside the circle.
With 32 now to defend from 18 balls, the skipper looked towards his in-form debut Naseem Shah. The plan was simple, get the deliveries in the block hole and give no room to either batsman. Jadeja, who has repeatedly done this, backed away from the outside leg and smashed the second ball past mid-off and extra cover for a boundary when the extra cover was on the field to defend a potential single.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, the left-arm seamer struggled with cramps but was unwilling to throw in the towel. He roared in with 141ks and struck on Jadeja’s pads as the umpire raised his finger, as the batsman chose to take the review, and much to his relief and the Indian fans in the stands. The review was in India’s favour as the ball had strayed marginally outside the left stump. Naseem chose not to back down without a defeat. However, experienced Jadeja could spot his cramps, made some room and pumped him straight over his head for a six with India now needing 21 from 12 balls. Shah received massive applause from fans for his fighting spirit and bowling figures of 4-0-27-2.
Pandya was up to face Haris Rauf with two overs to spare. Rauf pitched up a short-of-length delivery to Pandya, who hammered that past extra cover, and despite Babar’s efforts, the ball found its way to the fence. Pandya followed it up with a scintillating boundary as he cleared his front leg and smashed it past long on. The nimble all-rounder swats another boundary through deep mid-wicket and long-on, off the final ball of the 19th over, a 146-kilogram delivery from Rauf.
Needing only 7 to win from 6 deliveries, Babar went with his confident spinner, Nawaz. On the first ball, he castled Jadeja with a flat and quick delivery, and the left-hander went for glory right away had missed it all ends up. Jadeja departed of 35 from 29 balls with two boundaries and two sixers as Dinesh Karthik walked in.
Nawaz darted in another similar delivery, and Karthik comfortably got a single to a deep square, which followed a crucial dot ball to Pandya, with India now needing 6 from 3 balls. Pandya, despite the pressure, showed no signs of emotions. Echoes of M.S. Dhoni?
He carried himself from the first ball when bowled a flat one marginally short, and Pandya pounced on him with a powerful shot for six past long-on to win the game for India with 2 balls to spare. A remarkable end to a high-voltage game yet played in great spirits from two countries.
Quite rightly so, Hardik Pandya received man of the match despite Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s 4-wicket haul. Pandya struck gold for India with the ball as he removed Rizwan at a vital time and had bowling figures of 4-0-25-3 with a fantastic cameo of 33* from 17 balls.
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