Any sporting contest between India and Pakistan becomes an emotional battle that defies the true consequences of a normal game played between two normal sides. Everyone is affected in the two countries. For them, winning against each other is an ultimate achievement. They don’t mind being disqualified in the tournament as long as they could register victory against the other. While the victory takes the celebrations to the zenith, the loss brings about bereavement and frustrations. It is a maniacal manifestation that brings entire national populations to the edges of their mental sustenance. How else do you explain bursting of crackers in Indian streets and ransacking of public property in Pakistan after India defeated their arch-rival at Adelaide oval yesterday? For that mother of all battles, Adelaide Oval was packed with Indian and Pakistani supporters, who came with flags, placards and other paraphernalia and rooted for their teams with uncontained emotions. The whole ground looked like an ocean of blue and greens. It was like a fancy dress festival, where age lost its meaning because there were toddlers as well as the oldies. The excitement was unmistakable, emotions unchecked! Talking about the game, it was Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, who laid a solid foundation after India won the toss and batted first. Rohit Sharma fell cheaply but, for once, Shikhar Dhawan did not wilt. With one-drop batsman Kohli, Dhawan contributed to the building of the innings that ended with a score of 300. Pakistan were not overawed as they accepted the challenge of chasing 301 in right earnest. They too have the batting firepower capable of destroying India’s mediocre bowlers. But the weight of the occasion proved too much for them. They lost Younis Khan early but Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail carried them forward. By 24th over both Sohail and Shehzad got out. 102/2 became 103/5 and the match swung decisively in India’s favor. After the dangerous Shahid Afridi fell at 149, it was left to Misbah-ul-Haq to pull off the miracle. Misbah looked like the lone captain standing aloft a sinking Pakistani ship. Once Misbah fell, the innings came to a quick end as India walked away in glory to begin their 2015 CWC campign with a 76 run victory.
India’s openers, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan walked out with the expectation of an entire nation on their shoulders. Spectators from India and Pakistan held their breaths as Sohail’s first ball swung back at Dhawan and drew a hoarse appeal from Pakistan fielders and their fans at Adelaide. The replays indicated that the ball had struck the bat. Next, Irfan was able to extract unusual bounce that found the edge of Dhawan’s bat. Luckily, Misbah had not manned the third slip and the ball raced away to the boundary. India soon lost Sharma, who tried to pull Sohail Khan in the eighth over but instead ended up with an easy lobbed catch for skipper Misbah. Virat Kohli walked out to a rousing applaud from Indian fans. With Dhawan curbing his instincts, Kohli eased into the exercise of innings building with Dhawan. The Indians showed tremendous restraint at the beginning as they realized the fruits of keeping the wickets intact. They took their runs between wickets by smart running. Early in his innings, Kohli survived, when Yasir Shah dropped him. That brought some more restraint from Kohli. But when Yasir Shah was introduced, Kohli took 11 runs off his second over and India reached a scoring rate of 5 plus. The pair added 129 for the second wicket and India stood at a sound pedestal, when Suresh Raina joined Kohli after Dhawan’s unfortunate run-out. The new rule of four men outside the circle helped Raina take advantage of the gaps and he struck some clean blows. Kohli reached his century off 128 balls with just 8 fours and he allowed Raina to do the bulk of the scoring in their third-wicket stand of 110. When Kohli was snapped up by Umar Akmal off Sohail Khan’s bowling, India had reached 273 and the 46th over was in progress. However, the middle order could not continue with the momentum and the last 5 overs yielded only 27 runs. But the credit for the slowdown rests with exemplary bowling from Sohail and Wahab in death overs and India could only reach 300.
When Pakistan came back to bat, they were determined to break the hoo-doo of suffering 5 defeats against India in World Cup contests. Despite losing Younis Khan early, Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail carried the score to 79 by 18th over. But the loss of Ahmed Shehzad followed by Sohaib Maqsood in the space of three balls from Umesh Yadav came as a resounding blow to Pakistan’s hopes. That left too much work for the middle order. But with Shahid Afridi still there, the hopes did not completely vanish. After 46 runs were added by Afridi and Misbah, Afridi holed out to Virat Kohli off Mohammad Shami. Soon the seventh wicket fell, when Wahab Riaz was caught behind off Shami. Only Misbah-ul-Haq stood amongst the dead as time ticked by. The asking rate kept mounting and all hopes of a Pakistani miracle evaporated in thin air. Regardless, the skipper added 49 with Yasir Shah for the eighth wicket but at 203/8 in the 43rd over, they were far too short of the target. Then Misbah also fell as the ninth wicket at 220 and it was curtains for Pakistan with last man Sohail Khan holing out to Yadav off Mohit Sharma. Scenes of celebration erupted at Adelaide and cities of India with India recording a comprehensive 76 run victory.
In reality, it was not a game of great consequence in the wider context of the World Cup because Pakistan can still reach the knock-out phase. And by the same token India can make their exit. But for crazy cricket fans in India and Pakistan, a semifinal loss against another team is more palatable than losing to the neighbor. No matter how you convince them about this being just another game, the mindsets cannot be altered.