Deepavali fireworks were expected from India against Pakistan in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup Super 12 Group 2 match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Melbourne on Sunday.
And, despite an early stutter, India dished out a splendid chase with Virat Kohli’s incandescent knock lighting up the skies.
Kohli’s unbeaten 82 and his 113-run fifth-wicket partnership with Hardik Pandya (40) marshalled a nervy pursuit that culminated in a terrific four-wicket victory over Pakistan at a venue high on storied history, electric atmosphere and packed with fans from either side of the Wagah border.
Chasing Pakistan’s 159 for eight, India finished with 160 for six in 20 overs with the last over being high on drama and chewed up nails.
Sixteen runs were required against left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz but the dismissals of Hardik and Dinesh Karthik besides a medley of no-balls, wides and a big strike ensured that R. Ashwin needed one from the last delivery, which he promptly pocketed and delirium reigned within the Indian camp.
Initially the Indian openers — skipper Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul — had to deal with Pakistan’s speedsters. The openers survived Shaheen Shah Afridi’s first over but in the next, Naseem Shah found an ally in Rahul’s tentative defensive blade and the ball ricocheted onto the stumps.
Haris Rauf then scalped Rohit, drawing the edge with Iftikhar Ahmed pulling off a sharp catch.
And while Kohli watched, Suryakumar Yadav struck a few fours but failed to counter a Rauf delivery that homed into his body. And when Axar Patel got run out, India was hobbling at 31 for four.
However, Kohli had other plans and with Hardik for company, the two ran briskly and India moved to 45 for four in 10 overs.
In the 12th over, the dam broke as Hardik and Kohli tucked into Nawaz. Three sixes were clouted and immediately Babar Azam got his pacers back but Kohli flicked Afridi and Shah for fours and finally hope stirred within the Indian ranks.
The former India captain remained the last man standing with his arms aloft, a big grin lighting up his sweat-streaked visage.
Earlier, as the rains stayed away, Rohit won the toss and opted to field. The India skipper’s decision found validation as Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled a niggardly first over but the hero was Arshdeep Singh. The left-arm speedster trapped Babar with his first delivery, rapping the pads and in his next over, hurried Mohammad Rizwan into a miscued hook.
Pakistan was on 15 for two and Shaan Masood and Iftikhar had an onerous task. Southpaw Masood and Iftikhar freed their arms briefly against Hardik and Mohammed Shami. The runs came at a slow clip before the gears were shifted once Rohit failed to latch on to a tough chance from Iftikhar off Ashwin.
The off-spinner immediately felt the heat of Iftikhar’s bat through a massive six. More followed in Axar’s next over that went for three sixes. Iftikhar (51) got to his fifty but fell to Shami.
Flurry of exits
The third-wicket partnership of 76 had stabilised Pakistan before another flurry of exits happened as Hardik (three for 30) struck against batters trying their luck.
Pakistan slumped to 120 for seven before Masood’s (52 n.o.) perseverance and Afridi’s blows anchored Pakistan to a score that eventually proved inadequate.