There is a pattern in India-Pakistan World Cup matches:
• At least one Pakistani cricketer will put up a stellar performance in the first innings, be it Saeed Anwar’s brilliant century at Centurion or Sohail Khan’s fifer at the Adelaide Oval.
• There will be a twist at the end of the first innings – whether it is Jadeja in 1996 firing away or the Pakistani seamers today arresting the scoring momentum.
• Reviews of borderline decisions will go in India’s favour.
• Pakistan will give at least one reprieve to India’s top batsman.
• If Pakistan is chasing, they will be well in control till the 15th over. But, when the batsman in rhythm gets out, the situation will immediately become dire.
• And finally, the men in blue will emerge triumphant, never mind how miserable their recent form has been.
Some other patterns were broken, though.
India’s highest scorer actually hit a century and the 300-run mark was breached, if only just.
The Pakistan chase began on a sombre note, with the experiment of opening with Younis Khan backfiring. Younis was squaring up to the swinging ball and his quick dismissal will only increase the clamour for his head in Pakistan.
Perhaps, you need to be a non-Pakistani right now to admire his skill, not to mention his statesmanlike conduct.
In the 6th over of the chase, Dhoni did not display his usual presence of mind to inflict a run out at the non-striker’s. Many Indians must have wondered if it was a sign of things to come. I also wondered if the day belonged to blokes named Sohail.
Following the fifer by Sohail Khan, it was now Haris Sohail’s turn to bat with grace and authority. But for some reason, he slowed down and eventually played an Ashwin delivery to the waiting hands of slip.
Ahmed Shehzad took Sohail’s exit as a sign that he must up the ante. He scored 3 boundaries in the next 2 overs and then played more dots balls than were good for him. A rash swig at an Umesh Yadav delivery got rid of him. In came Sohaib Maqsood, certainly a future star for his team, but one who lasted just 2 deliveries today.
Pakistan started the Yadav over by being in control and ended it on the backfoot. Thus, Yadav, who began proceedings with a wide down the leg side, found the sun rising on his world. The next over, the faintest of edges – which hardly registered on the Snickometer – saw the departure of the mercurial Umar Akmal. Pakistan were 103/5. All over but the shouting, right? Not really.
In walked Boom Boom. He hit a six off Jadeja soon after and almost holed out to the off side sweeper off the very next delivery. From the other side, Ashwin carried forward the good work done by Shami. He bowled his third maiden over and was turning the ball. Afridi, too, paid respect to the situation and dug in.
The next shift in momentum came during the 34th over in which Misbah stroked two boundaries. Yet again, the Pakistan batsmen turned momentum into a curse when Afridi scooped up a harmless Shami delivery to be caught in a familiarly embarrassing fashion. A better delivery in the same over accounted for Wahab Riaz.
Misbah had no option but to shift from the second gear to the fifth. The Pakistani captain greeted Ashwin’s third spell with a powerful six over midwicket. As always, his aggression did not come at the cost of technique.
Ever the lone warrior, he kept plugging forward.
In the 44th over, with just two wickets remaining, he hit Jadeja for 3 fours on the trot. The result: almost pindrop silence in the Adelaide Oval.
The Indians probably recalled the T20 WC finals, while the Pakistani supporters considered the effort too little too late. It was. Misbah refused to rotate the strike in the 46th over, and immediately offered a lollipop catch to mid-on off Shami.
Earlier in the day, India made a steady start against one of the most disciplined bowling performance by Pakistan in recent times. Mohammad Irfan offered the spectacle of tall bowling and Sohail Khan was relentless with his line and length. He was rewarded in the 8th over when Sharma succumbed to a hoick.
The turning point of the match came in the eleventh over when Yasir Shah dropped Virat Kohli who was looking unsure yet determined. In the 21st over, Kohli stepped out to that very leg-spinner to play his trademark inside out shot. Two balls later, he delicately late cut a marginally wide ball. After facing 50 balls, Kohli finally resembled his own legend.
In pictures: Topshots from the Pakistan-India match
Yasir Shah’s energy and cheerful spirit provided welcome relief in the high-voltage contest. Starting his fifth over having already conceded 28, he had nothing but a smile on his face.
By the 29th over, I told myself that Misbah was allowing the game to drift. On cue, Virat made an erroneous call for a run and Misbah’s direct hit saw Shikhar Dhawan short of his crease. An atypically composed innings from the Indian opener thus came to an end.
Kohli almost immediately offered a catch off Haris Sohail’s bowling, which Akmal refused to take.
Hey, what’s an India-Pakistan WC match without a man named Akmal messing opportunities behind the stumps, right?
Meanwhile, Raina was suddenly discovering that he can bat in the southern hemisphere too. His first six came off a rank long hop from Afridi, although he was almost caught at midwicket. Raina made merry from then on and the way he was batting, we might as well have been watching a match relayed from Vizag or Raipur.
In hindsight, the first innings was all about the Pakistani spinners bowling uninspiring spells and their pacers ploughing the situation back under control. Sohail Khan, in particular, was impressive in his tenacity. Wahab Riaz gave only 4 runs each in the 47th and 49th over. And this time, a man named Jadeja did not take the Pakistani bowling apart in the slog overs. Only 27 came off the last 5 overs.
From the Indian perspective, their innings was built by three out-of-form batsmen, two of whom chose substance over flair.
A footnote on Misbah
I did not hear a single burst of cracker in Bangalore till he got out. As far as Indians are considered, it ain’t over till Misbah is at the crease. That, and the fact that he personified leadership and dignity today, should tell us that we are looking at a true champion here.
The law of averages will one day catch up with India-Pakistan’s World Cup encounters.
Who knows? It might happen later in the tournament. If not, there’s always 2019.
At this moment, though, blue is the colour of success.