India went into this match against Pakistan knowing that they would top Group B whatever happened, but they were made to work hard by the English weather in Birmingham to maintain their 100 per cent winning record.
Despite a disciplined, at times exemplary, bowling and fielding display they looked like being thwarted by the day’s fourth rain interruption, which arrived with them on 63 for one in the 12th over of their run chase. However, the rain relented just in time and they cantered home to their target of 102 in 22 overs, which had been very much a moving one throughout the second half of the day.
At times, as with the finish to yesterday’s game between South Africa and the West Indies, the match bordered on farce; none more so than when India were chasing two different targets at one point depending on where one looked.
Indeed, it can only be hoped that there weren’t too many first time cricket viewers tuning in over the last 24 hours because what they saw may have put them off for life.
The game itself began as a 50-over affair what seems a lifetime ago with India winning the toss and inserting Pakistan on what turned out, despite frequent cloud cover, to be another un-English pitch.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar did the early damage with a superb opening spell of two for 19 off eight overs, but it would be the Indian spinners who would cause the most problems.
Kumar removed Nasir Jamshed in his second over, but Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal then remained together until the first break for rain. It was then that the wheels began to come off for Pakistan as Hafeez was caught by a diving Mahendra Singh Dhoni to the first ball after the resumption.
He walked off gesticulating wildly, apparently to indicate that he was distracted by movement behind the bowler’s arm. Akmal followed him back three overs later and was slightly unlucky to be caught by Virat Kohli at leg-slip via Dhoni’s thigh.
The in-form Misbah-ul-Haq then attempted another rebuild alongside Asad Shafiq, but his departure, bowled by a flat ball from Ravindra Jadeja, started a clatter of wickets. By this time, the Pakistan innings had been trimmed to 40 overs by another rain interruption, but they wouldn’t even use all of those.
India’s spin pair of Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin were excellent, with the former largely darting the ball in as is his wont, and the latter giving it chance to spin off a dry surface. Ashwin’s second wicket came when Wahab Riaz - the first man in a long Pakistani tail - tried unwisely to guide an off-spinner down to third-man and only succeeded in chopping onto his stumps.
Jadeja had earlier picked up number two when trapping Shoaib Malik in front of middle and off - a fact which didn’t deter the former Pakistan captain from using a review, thus earning him a nomination for 'Daftest Referral of the Tournament'.
Pakistan’s innings ended in a brace of run outs; both of them notable. Virat Kohli typified the ridiculously improved Indian fielding of late by swooping on the ball from mid-off, perfecting an elegant roll, and then throwing down the stumps all in the blink of an eye to dismiss Junaid Khan.
Mohammad Irfan then drilled a straight drive, possibly as well as he ever has, but found an even better fielder than Kohli in the form of the stumps at the non-striker’s end. The ball rebounded to the bowler, Umesh Yadav, who remembered the laws of the game and whipped out a stump to leave Irfan one, large, six-foot stride short of his ground.
India’s pursuit of their original target - initially 167 but then 168 - was never likely to prove too problematic and, but for the rain, it wouldn’t have. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan saw off probing opening bursts from Junaid and Irfan and reached 47 without loss prior to the day’s penultimate precipitation-induced interlude.
A further brief passage of play saw them move onto 63 for the loss of Rohit, before another shower, which looked like putting paid to their hopes of victory. The rain, on this occasion, was sufficient to send around half of the crowd - who had been vigorously flag-waving or horn-tooting all day - home, but it stopped moments before a likely abandonment.
That left India to complete a richly deserved win that just underlines their dominance in this competition thus far. Their fielding, long regarded as a weakness, is now very much a strength, while even their bowling is starting to bear fruit. With their long, strong batting line-up a given, they now appear nigh-on unbeatable.
© Cricket World 2013
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