In cricket, hockey, wrestling and other sports, India-Pakistan encounters have traditionally drawn great attention, regardless of where the matches were held. The Group-2 opener at Mirpur on March 21, 2014 was expected to enthrall the spectators, TV viewers, Social Media crowd and anyone, who had the smallest of interest in cricket. In Shere Bangla National Stadium, however, Pakistan failed to put up any challenging target for India. In fact Pakistanis were lucky to reach 130, thanks largely to Sohaib Maqsood, who played a little 11-ball 21 cameo in the last two overs. After a stuttering start, India won the game by 7 wickets with 9 balls remaining.
For those following the ICC T20 World Cup on Television and Internet, the India-Pakistan game was preceded by an unforgettable thriller between Ireland and the Netherlands at the Sylhet Stadium, a little under 300 kilometers away from Mirpur. No one expected the repeat of such excitement, in which 382 runs were scored in just 33.5 overs with 30 sixes and 25 fours. Netherlands came out the winner in the end, an hour before viewers settled down to watch cricket’s arch-rivals taking on each other. Pakistan began with caution, after being asked to bat first. For a change, India’s bowlers applied pressure with Ravichandran Ashwin bowling the first over. Under a tight leash and sharp fielding, Pakistan batsmen couldn’t find the gaps to penetrate and that made them so tense that Kamran Akmal was run out in the second over, trying to steal a non-existent single. Skipper Mohammad Hafeez came in but he too was tied down at the start. With scoring-rate dropping, Hafeez played some adventurous strokes, one of which could have him cost him his wicket, if Yuvraj Singh had not dropped him. The 6-over power play produced just 34 runs and that made the batsmen edgy. In trying to force the pace of scoring, Mohammad Hafeez finally holed out to Jadeja in the 8th over, with Bhuvi Kumar latching on to a well-judged catch under floodlights. Ahmad Shehzad was the next to depart in the 9th over, when he missed the flight from Amit Mishra’s ball and was easily stumped by Dhoni. Shehzad could not have regained his ground since he was yards out of his crease. 47/3 in 8.2 overs was a poor score and Pakistan urgently needed to do something. They were helped by an ensuing 50-run stand between Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal, before Malik perished in the 16th over. It was clearly India’s game with Pakistan at 97/4 with less than 5 overs remaining. But the dependable Umar Akmal was joined by the dangerous Shahid Afridi, who, on March 2, 2014 had recently taken an ODI game away from India on the same venue, by scoring an 18-ball 34, including 12 in the 50th over. But Afridi lost Akmal in the 18th over and chose to prefer caution to needless adventure but he could only make 8 off 10 balls, before being caught by Suresh Raina in the deep in the 19th over, with Pakistan score reading 114/7. With just 7 balls left, Shoaib Maqsood’s cameo took Pakistan to 130/7. It was a poor total to defend and Pakistan themselves have only done it once in a T20 game against Sri Lanka, about two years ago.
India’s start was not encouraging with both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma began struggling straightaway. Nonetheless, they made amends later and put on a 54-run partnership. Dhawan and Sharma both got out to poor shots, they should have checked. Yuvraj joined Virat Kohli after the fall of Sharma’s wicket but didn’t last long. Yuvi would quickly want to forget his mediocre performance, in which he dropped a catch, was hammered for 13 runs in the only over he bowled and couldn’t bring his bat in time to an express delivery from Bilawal Bhatti, to be bowled out for just 1. Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli batted with aplomb and carried on until the end. While Kohli was his usual confident self, Raina curbed his tendency for risky-play, though they meted out due punishment to the loose balls. Kohli finished with a sensibly made 36 off 32 balls, while Raina took only 28 to reach 35, before he brought off the winning runs in the 19th over.
Amit Mishra played after a long wait but he really bowled a tight line including a wicket maiden. He was rightly declared the player of the match. The first match of the Super 10 showed Pakistan struggling with both bat and the ball, in addition to lapses in the field. Indian, on the other hand, kept their mental balance intact, albeit committing a few errors. Next up, Pakistan take on Australia while India will meet West Indies. Both these matches will be played at Mirpur on Sunday, March 23, 2014.