In times of social media-influenced opinions, Pakistan’s first win in 13 World Cup (six in T20 format and seven in 50-over events) outings against India is being made out to be greater than 12 previous losses. The vitriol against players by volatile fans is as cringe-worthy as it was heartening to see the sportsmanship exhibited by the teams - India were graceful in defeat, Pakistan humble in historic victory.
Skipper Virat Kohli’s gesture to hug and greet Pakistan opener Mohammad Rizwan will remain as one of the enduring images of this game.
It’s true that no matter how much the players emphasise that it’s just another game, for emotionally charged fans in either side of the border, an India-Pakistan encounter can never be just another game. The mood in the two nations changes based on the outcome.
It has been no different after Pakistan vanquished India by 10 wickets to get the monkey off their back in Dubai on Sunday. The World Cup duck against India was a recurring heartache for Pakistanis who were understandably ecstatic to get rid of it. While it did hurt to see the near three-decade streak end, the law of averages was bound to catch up with India one day. Sunday happened to be that day.
If anything, India should be disappointed by the manner of the defeat rather than defeat itself. As Virat Kohli admitted in his post-match comments, they were completely outplayed by a determined Pakistan whose will to write a different script outdid India’s proven superiority in terms of talent, experience and lopsided history.
Rarely have Pakistan been so clinical in their approach, right from the time their supremely gifted skipper Babar Azam called correctly at the toss. On the other hand, it’s hard to recollect a match in recent years when India were outperformed so comprehensively in white-ball cricket. It was as though only Pakistan turned up at the park on Sunday.
They hardly gave India a sniff from the moment Shaheen Shah Afridi nailed a perfect inswinging yorker to send Rohit Sharma back in the first over. The 6’6” left-arm quick was at it again when he produced another incoming delivery that snaked through the gap between KL Rahul’s bat and pad to crash into the stumps. It wasn’t long before Hasan Ali got into the act and ended Suryakumar Yadav’s promising innings.
Recovering from 31/3 inside the powerplay was always going to be tough and notwithstanding Kohli’s uncharacteristic but much-needed measured half-century, India couldn’t put up more than a middling 151. With dew going to be a factor, the target was always going to be inadequate but even so, India’s bowling was inexplicably flat. None of the five specialist bowlers posed any tough questions to openers Babar and Mohammad Rizwan, who scored heavily on the onside, helped in no small measure by the middle and leg-stump lines the Indians maintained.
At no stage did they come under pressure, chasing down the target in professional fashion by interspersing timely boundaries with hard running between the wickets. Even their fielding, not one of Pakistan’s strengths, was surprisingly efficient. It was a near flawless show in absolute contrast to India’s listless display.
Defeat against Pakistan makes it mandatory for India to beat New Zealand in their second game on October 31. They have a week-long break to debate, dissect and decide on the right combination.
With Hardik Pandya not chipping in with the ball, he becomes a liability as he is increasingly looking ineffective as a finisher. He is expected to provide those extra 15-20 runs which Kohli alluded to, and if he can’t do so, it will be ideal to get Ishan Kishan to open and ask Rahul to drop down the order.
In bowling, Bhuvneshwar Kumar looked particularly pedestrian. At his pace, he becomes easy meat if he can’t get the ball to swing; the fallback option is Shardul Thakur. The room to manoeuvre in this department is limited, so it becomes inevitable for India to out-bat the opposition to get favourable results.