The Twenty20 World Cup match between India and Pakistan was a spinechiller. Right from the first few overs where Mohammad Asif rocked the Indian batting lineup with extraordinary swing and seam bowling, Robin Uthappa’s cool and clinical hitting, Irfan Pathan’s cameo and Dhoni’s composed innings, it had all the unique flavours of an India-Pakistan cricket match.
Pakistan had to achieve the target in about 15 overs to knockout India, who had shared their first match with Scotland, who lost to Pakistan earlier, due to rain. If they took more than 15 overs, India would be through to the Super8 round alongwith Pakistan.
But a target of 142 is moderate in Twenty20 game and that too against a Pakistani side with a great batting depth and many fearsome hitters like Shahid Afridi. The Pakistani start was cautious and steady. There was never a doubt that, if they batted the full 20 overs, they’d win. A couple of wickets put a brake on the scoring rate and Irfan Pathan,making his comeback, bowled dream over-a wicket maiden,a rarity in Twenty20 cricket. There was a run-out in the first ball of the over due to mixup and excellent fielding by none other than Yuvraj Singh. A couple of balls later, Pakistan received a huge jolt when Younis Khan chopped an Irfan Pathan inswinger onto the stumps. The hostel theatre, where I was watching the match was erupting into joyous shouting and I enjoyed being a part of it. A short while back, there was total silence and a grim mood in the theatre, when India lost too many wickets too cheaply. There were cheers only when Uthappa, Dhoni and Pathan hit glorious shots. Now with Pakistan wickets falling, there was everything to shout out in joy. When it became clear that Pakistan could notwin in 15 overs, India could not be knocked out and everyone was happy that India had made it to the Super8 avoiding a repeat of this year’s World Cup in the West Indies. But still there was a match and pride to be won. India had never lost to Pakistan in a World Cup match.
The required run-rate was mounting steeply and “Boom Boom” Shahid Afridi arrived at the crease with about 50 runs required in 30 balls. Harbhajan Singh, who has had nightmares against Afridi, bowled two excellent overs without conceding boundaries. To add to the drama, Ajit Agarkar dropped a skier from Afridi off his own bowling. There was a feeling that he could’ve dropped the match. But Harbhajan snared Afridi in the next over and I was rooting for an Indian victory as the asking rate was more than two runs per ball.
But, to add to the heat, Ajit Agarkar bowled a “characteristic” over giving away 17 priceless runs and Pakistani batsmen made the most of it. Misbah-ul-Haq, a fresher in the Pakistani team benefited out of Agarkar’s generosity. 12 runs were required off the last over to be bowled by Sreesanth. First three balls read 4,1,1. 5 runs of 3 balls and it was anybody’s game. India had to block out the chances of conceding a boundary, as a boundary would be GAME OVER. But Misbah-ul-Haq squeezed out a boundary and the scores were tied. Just 1 run was required off 2 balls and a Pakistani victory was certain. After long consultations with his captain Dhoni and a few field changes, Sreesanth bowled a short ball angling across the righthander and no runs were scored. One ball to go, but still Pakistan’s victory was almost certain. But India and Sreesanth had other ideas. All the fielders were brought inside the 30yard circle to save a single. Sreesanth bowled a similar angling short ball and Misbah-ul-Haq hit it in the direction of the cover and set off for a single. Robin Uthappa picked up the ball, threw it to Sreesanth who dislodged the bails with Misbah-ul-Haq short of his crease and the match was tied. Indian players were overjoyed and everyone watching the match in the theatre.
There was to be a bowl-out to decide the winner. The bowl-out was Twenty20 cricket’s equivalent of a penalty shootout. India had nominated Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth for the shootout, while Pakistan’s nominees were Asif, Gul, Afridi, Sohail Tanveer. Sehwag, Harbhajan and Uthappa hit the bull’s eye for India while Arafat, Gul and Afridi all missed and it was an Indian victory.
What was remarkable was the way India fought back after being reduced to tatters by Asif and when the match seemed lost when Misbah-ul-Haq hit his second boundary off the last over. Their fielding was excellent and their body language was equally good. Pakistan too fought back very well when the chips were down and almost won the match before India spoiled their party.
This match was an excellent advertisement for the much-debated Twenty20 with wildly swinging fortunes and an equal contest between bat and ball, which happens very rarely in Twenty20 cricket. I was privileged to watch such a match and enjoyed every bit of it. Three cheers for Indian cricket team for showing immense mental strength and holding their nerves to win a great match of Twenty20. Good luck to India and Pakistan for their Super8 matches.