At the Shere Bangla stadium, India beat Pakistan by seven wickets in the opening encounter of the Super 10 stage on Friday. This extended their unbeaten record against the arch-rivals in a World Cup match, having previously never lost a single One-Day or Twenty20 International to them. It goes to show the high stakes involved in this match-up and why such a game can be lost off the field.
Contest of the Day
When you talk about India and Pakistan, irrespective of format, the two points that come to mind are the former’s batting prowess and the latter’s bowling strength. How the two match up against each other, in different conditions, has been the hallmark of this contest for many decades now.
However, with time, a single difference that has crept up slowly into the equation and that is in treating this match as a normal game, just another day on the players’ busy annual schedule. It is perhaps easier for the Indian players to surmise this since they have an unbeaten record behind them. At the same time, it is tougher for Pakistan players, and understandably so, for such a skewered equation can weigh heavy on the mind.
When India won the toss and elected to field first, everyone thought that the contest to decide this match will come later in the second innings. Yet it was the two weaker aspects that somehow managed to tilt the balance one particular way, much before the Indian batsmen padded up against Pakistan bowlers.
There were two passages of play when Pakistan batsmen lost the plot, and the match. In the first three overs, their nerves showed amply, with Kamran Akmal’s run out costing them dear. Ravichandran Ashwin, bowling with new ball, was brilliant because he has been short of confidence lately and it is never easy for a spinner to open the bowling.
Together with Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, they did enough to make sure India’s death bowling wouldn’t be under much trouble.
Then there were Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja who strangled the scoring in the middle overs, enough for every single Pakistan batsman to take unnecessary risks. More so, it affected the manner in which Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal batted, both getting out towards the end without the requisite momentum in place for Shahid Afridi to do his thing. These two batting lapses cost Pakistan the chance to score in excess of 150, and with it, the match.
Player of the Day
It wasn’t a day for exceptional performances. When a team successfully chases the target of 131 runs with seven wickets in hand, it can be assumed that the match meandered after a certain point in time.
That was after Pakistan’s batting lapses and they were never in the game once the Indian spinners got to work.
Recently, the Indian bowling has come under the scanner for their inability to sustain pressure on any batting line-up. It is seen in the manner skipper MS Dhoni continuously opts to field first after winning the toss, because he has more faith in his batsmen chasing down anything his bowlers concede.
Once again, on Friday, Dhoni opted to field first, only this time he played with three spinners in the team which doesn’t happen a lot for India.
The way he deployed his bowlers, who exerted extreme pressure right from the word go, was brilliant. The move to get Ashwin to open, use up four overs from Shami and Kumar early on, and then bowl Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra in tandem, worked bang on.
For once, Dhoni showed some confidence in his bowlers, especially the spinners. India’s strategy worked, thanks in part to Pakistan’s nerves.
But to make them all work and end up chasing just 130-odd runs in a pressure-cooker game, Dhoni got all his calls right on this important night. The Men in Blue will need him to continue in the same vein if they are to match their 2007 performances.
Group Two is now poised very well. India are always rank favourites in every major tournament, but their recent form suggested that they will have a tough time of things against Australia, West Indies and Pakistan.
Moreover, they needed to win this first game since they will finish their league stage one game-day ahead of the rest of the contenders. A billion fans will now be thankful since they made the right start and now face West Indies on Sunday in a bid to gather some momentum.
"West Indies batsmen hit a lot of sixes, but they are not very good at rotating the strike for ones and twos," said Indian batsman Suresh Raina.
"India have to stop us from hitting sixes then," countered West Indies’ skipper Darren Sammy. The bugle has been sounded.
Pakistan now find themselves in a must-win position because two successive losses in a tight group will surely put them out of reckoning. Their task gets tougher in that they are facing one of the pre-tournament favourites Australia, a team that carries significant momentum coming into this tournament.
Aussie skipper George Bailey believes that spin will hold the key. His counterpart knows the onus will be on getting runs on the board, if Pakistan bat first again.
On Friday night, he deemed the 130-run target as ‘unfortunate’. It won’t be so a second-time running on Sunday.
© Cricket World 2014