Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Pakistan produce an un-Pakistan performance for the ages. Babar and Rizwan polished off the 152-run chase all by themselves.
Babar and Rizwan polished off the 152-run chase all by themselves.
Very early in his post-match press conference, a grinning Mohammad Rizwan was happy to indulge in a dive down history. When the subject of body language and energy was raised, he veered off-topic ever so slightly and appeared on the brink of startling, and endearing, candour while bringing up Pakistan's previous World Cup losses to India before somewhat reining himself in, as if suddenly sniffing the possibility of revealing an unpalatable truth.
“This is my first World Cup game, the first India-Pakistan game, so personally I didn't sense anything different [in our game],” he started. “When I used to see India-Pakistan matches from the outside, I would make mental notes that we've made this mistake, that mistake… maybe I'm wrong. So the aim was to correct that now. I was also talking to Shoaib Malik at the end, but I can't reveal details of that conversation, we've only begun this tournament…”
Rizwan, an Indo-Pak debutant in the World Cup, may live in a world where the weight of the present is the only thing that really matters. This may have been nothing unusual in this game for him, but for Malik and many others this was unchartered territory, unnatural even.
India – Pakistan games, even in the unpredictable T20 format, had a disturbing predictability to them. Pakistan would work themselves into a frenzy, make too many unforced errors while India would stand coolly at the other end, do the small things right and saunter to victory. In the three previous T20 WC contests between these sides, Pakistan batted first and limped to scores of 128, 130 and 118, succumbing to their own insecurities as much as to India's skills. The oft-repeated narrative in the build-up to each of these India-Pakistan clashes have been about the former's batting and the latter's bowling. Yet the above wins all emerged from an inverted logic.
And therefore Dubai 2021 was Pakistan's turn to invert logic and for once reverse the traditional weaknesses in their game that have defined these games. Or in many ways, produce an un-Pakistan performance in flawless in-game smarts and ice-cold execution.
They won the toss and rightly opted to chase, even when counsel in the form of former cricketers had brought up their ‘chasing nerves'. Babar Azam threw the new-ball to Shaheen Afridi and Imad Wasim, which he would do at most times in T20 cricket, but today it was also an efficient match-up counter against an all-right Indian top-four. Since the start of 2018, left-arm pace has accounted for Virat Kohli 11 times, Rohit Sharma 10, KL Rahul 7 and Suryakumar Yadav 6. In this time, all four batsmen also strike at under 130 against left-arm finger spin.
They may not score quickly against left-arm spin but if something truly unnerves this Indian top-order, it is swing from the left-arm angle. Think Mohammad Amir, Trent Boult or even Jason Behrendorff. In the modern game, when planets realign and make the white Kookaburra swing even a little, Shaheen is a sinister prophet of destruction. Rohit and Rahul, who effectively killed the last World Cup encounter between these sides with their century stand, could barely put their bats to use today. As Shaheen bowled three in his first spell for only the second time in a T20I, Imad Wasim plugged away with two quiet overs and Hasan Ali added the wicket of Suryakumar to round off a tone-defining start to the contest with India three down for 36 after six overs.
There was more to Pakistan's performance on the field beyond Shaheen's sprinkling of magic dust on the PowerPlay. India, a clinical side themselves, weren't going to get run over. But there were no let-ups even when a dogged stand by Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant rebuilt India's innings. Shadab Khan bowled through the middle and despite bowling 17 off his 24 deliveries at left-handers and gave away only 22 runs for the wicket of Rishabh Pant. Haris Rauf, consistently flirting with the 90mph mark on the speed gun, bowled like a grizzled veteran, delivering four straight slower balls in the 17th over against a well-set Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja. He gave away only 11 runs in two overs at the death.
Pakistan scampered behind the ball, cut off angles to prevent boundaries, took every skier that came their way and even dismissed Kohli for the first time in a T20 WC game. The winds of change were blowing.
The only little misstep, if it can be called that, came towards the end of the bowling innings: Shaheen bowled a no-ball that went for four in a 17-run final over that was capped by an overthrown four. That left Pakistan needing to chase 152, only two runs fewer than the highest target they'd ever chased down in the UAE.
On a not-so-easy wicket, India had still created a situation that would have forced previous Pakistan teams into panicking. None of it was forthcoming from the pragmatic pair of Babar and Rizwan. When Jasprit Bumrah and Varun Chakravarthy bowled two successive tight overs that brought only six runs, the two openers hit two risk-free fours off Mohammed Shami for a 11-run over. Post the PowerPlay, Kohli found a 23-ball period without a boundary.
On another day, against another pair of Pakistani openers, India would have opened the gates with a false shot. Not this one. They have four century stands in T20Is this year. No one else has even two. They have an uncanny knack to absorb pressure and transfer it right back. With a little help from the dew that had begun to set in, Babar first broke free against Jadeja and the two openers hit a six each in Chakravarthy's last over to effectively close the game. What some older Pakistan captains would have given to have such ice-in-the-veins players in some of their sides?
As the pair zoomed to the finish line, the cameras panned frequently towards the viewing area of the pavilions at the Dubai International Stadium. Pictured in the balcony standing up and punching his own fists in unrestrained excitement was Mohammad Hafeez, one of those aforementioned captains, who like Malik had tasted six of these 12 defeats. He needed a small intervention from Hasan Ali, another who has experienced first-hand the pain of this fixture, to be reminded to take his seat again, lest he unwillingly invoked some old spirits.
They needn't have worried. There were no more spells to cast from India, they'd all been clinically deflected. There was not a wobble in sight. In the other dressing room sat India's mentor MS Dhoni. At the end of the 2016 Indo-Pak T20 WC game in Kolkata in 2016, the then captain had philosophically remarked: “There is also a reality that one day we will lose [to Pakistan in the World Cup] whether it is today or in 10 years or 20 years or 50 years.”
That day was here. It had taken five more years for the streak to be memorably slain in the most un-Pakistan of ways.