CRICKET / After the spinners restrict Pakistan, batsmen ensure victory with nine balls to spare
It was never fully obvious whether India or Pakistan had the greater support at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium on Friday. Both teams were cheered ardently, both sets of players hooted at and rooted for. Theirs is a curious rivalry in this land, bound deeply, as all three nations are, by history.
Either way, it made for a crackling, fizzing opening night’s atmosphere at the ICC World Twenty20.
Having ably limited Pakistan to 130, due in no small part to its trio of frugal spinners, India crossed the line with consummate ease.
Suresh Raina, back in from the cold, made an effective unbeaten 35 and Virat Kohli a typically intense 36 as India won by seven wickets, with nine balls to spare.
India’s pursuit had not begun convincingly, Mohammad Hafeez and Junaid Khan ensuring that no more than seven could be mustered in the first three overs. Rohit Sharma then smashed his way out of the trough, depositing Junaid over point for six.
At the other end, Shikhar Dhawan looked decidedly diffident, having limped to five off his first 13 balls. But Rohit’s brio appeared to have rubbed off on him; the left-hander put Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan’s most effective weapon, away for three fours in an over.
The partnership, without having looked fearsome at any stage, ticked past fifty.
But Dhawan fell at that stage, caught hooking Umar Gul on the fine-leg boundary. When Rohit (24) and Yuvraj Singh (1) too returned not long after, bowled by Ajmal and Bilawal Bhatti respectively, India had some reason to be edgy.
Kohli, though, was his searing, confident self. Hafeez was thumped over the mid-wicket boundary for six and Shahid Afridi whacked back with a ferocity that endangered the bowler’s fingers.
Raina picked up from where he had left off in the practice matches, as Kohli and he allied for an unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 66 runs.
Earlier, India won the toss and inserted Pakistan in to bat, perhaps mindful that dew could come to influence the game.
M.S. Dhoni opted for a third frontline spinner in Amit Mishra, ahead of Varun Aaron. It was a move that was to pay off.
The Haryana leg-spinner, playing only the second T20 international of his career, and that too after nearly four years, returned figures of two for 22 from his four overs.
It exemplified a fine, all-round bowling performance, Ravindra Jadeja and R. Ashwin similarly efficient, as the worries over leaking runs were temporarily banished.
Pakistan’s batsmen appeared to freeze at the wicket, never imposing themselves to any good degree. Kamran Akmal was run out for eight, sent back halfway down the pitch by his opening partner Ahmed Shehzad. Shehzad then attempted to up the run rate in the company of his skipper Hafeez, but neither really threatening to break free.
Hafeez perished in Jadeja’s first over, caught at deep cover. Shehzad followed the captain indoors soon, stumped off a dipping, spinning, dream of a leg-break from Mishra.
It left Pakistan at 47 for three in the ninth over, stumbling and going nowhere. Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik then steadied the ship, adding 50 runs in the next seven overs.
It was not spectacular stuff, but it hauled Pakistan, at least for the moment, out of trouble. But both batsmen soon took similar paths back to the dressing room, holing out to fielders in the deep.
Afridi failed to make a reprise of his Asia Cup pyrotechnics and it was only due to Sohaib Maqsood’s muscle that Pakistan managed a workable total at the end.
A score of 130 was still not enough, though, to break India’s dominance over Pakistan in World Cups.