PAKISTAN showcased their tournament credentials with a historic win over India in their opening match of the 2021 T20 World Cup. A faultless partnership of 152 runs by Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan saw their team home to a thumping 10 wicket victory that stunned the tournament favourites. Pakistan’s cricketers banished the mental demons of never having beaten India in a World T20 match. For Pakistan fans, the pain of those barren 14 years will be hard to forget, but this is one of those rare moments in sport that deserves national celebration.
Shaheen Shah Afridi was the architect of Pakistan’s success with an opening spell that ripped apart India’s formidable top order. Bowling at high speed with sharp late movement, Afridi, not for the first time, invoked memories of Wasim Akram in his pomp. It took only four balls for Afridi to turn any doubts into expectation. First he trapped Rohit Sharma LBW with a full and fast inswinging delivery. Three balls later, a searing length ball cut through KL Rahul’s considerable defences.
The depths of India’s crisis was visible in the manner of Virat Kohli’s response. India’s captain dug in, and ground out a determined half century that he barely celebrated. While he and Rishabh Pant rebuilt, India threatened to retake the match. Pant looked to have lit India’s fire with consecutive one-handed sixes, but an impressive bowling display by Shadab Khan was capped by Pakistan’s vice-captain luring Pant into a lunging drive that rose into the night sky before nestling safely in Shadab’s hands as he arched backwards.
Shadab epitomised the control that Pakistan’s spin bowlers displayed, rarely bowling a bad ball as he bravely took pace off the ball. It was the kind of performance that reminded the world why Pakistan cricket holds Shadab in such high esteem. Imad Wasim similarly bowled to his strengths, darting the ball into the right hander and opting for consistency over elaborate variation. Mohammad Hafeez completed an outstanding show from Pakistan spinners, who bowled a total of eight overs between them for 44 runs.
Hasan Ali took crucial wickets that helped break India’s momentum, and the above average runs that he went for were compensated for by a miserly four overs from Haris Rauf. Control and consistency were the noticeable features of Pakistan’s bowling, and allowed them to fully exploit the movement that was on offer in the first innings.
India looked as if they might have just got back into the game in Afridi’s bizarre final over. It went for 17 runs but also saw him dismiss Kohli with a slower short ball. A total of 151 was better than India might have hoped for after their start, and asked a serious question of Pakistan’s ability to chase under pressure.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s first ball swung dramatically but Rizwan settled any Pakistan nerves with a trademark flick to the midwicket boundary and then an even more trademark swat for six over the deep square boundary. Babar soon showed that he was also in the mood with sumptuously driving a rising ball through the covers.
Rizwan, though, set the early pace and settled his team’s nerves, but when Babar ended a barren phase of batting by lofting Ravindra Jadeja over midwicket for six, Pakistan’s initial circumspection quickly turned into an unexpected procession to victory.
Babar and Rizwan were emboldened as the Indian spinners, like their pace bowlers, struggled to move the ball off the straight. Batting conditions were certainly easier for Pakistan, but the mental battle still needed to be won and Pakistan’s champions were true to their pre-match promises of ignoring the burden of history, striking impressive undefeated half centuries.
Just as India failed to execute their game plan, Pakistan excelled at executing theirs, beginning by winning the toss and deciding to bowl first. It was an important toss to win, and proved influential, but success would not have been possible without every facet of Pakistan’s game, including fielding, being on song. This was a thoroughly professional performance from Pakistan, perhaps unexpectedly so given the upheavals prior to the tournament, but such is the beauty of Pakistan cricket.
Pakistan’s only other win against India in T20 cricket came at Bengalaru in 2012, when Hafeez and Shoaib Malik rescued the chase as their fellow batsmen collapsed around them. It was poignant, then, that the two warhorses, controversial as their selection seems, and the only survivors of that victory, were able to savour this day.
The win puts Pakistan in a strong position to qualify for the semi-final stages, but progress will be dependent on further professional performances against the lesser teams. India, of course, have a way back, and the group might come down to net run rate, but Pakistan can mostly settle matters by defeating New Zealand – the other team singled out for ‘special treatment’ by Ramiz Raja.
Yet this October night reminded us that Pakistan have at least three truly world class players, each of whom is hungry for success. When they are supported by their teammates, as they were in Dubai against India, Pakistan are a team fully capable of going the distance in this tournament. While beating India is a historic moment, after 14 years of hurt, history will belong to the team that lifts the trophy in November. This win gives Babar’s Pakistan that belief.
Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2021