Steady India thrash anxious Pakistan
India 129 for 2 (Kohli 78, Sehwag 29) beat Pakistan 128 (Malik 28, Balaji 3-22, Ashwin 2-16, Yuvraj 2-16) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
India-Pakistan matches - never mind the tournament context - often tend to be a contest as much of nerves as of cricketing skills. Keeping in with recent times, where India have tended to come out the mentally stronger side, Pakistan's batsmen tried too hard and imploded to waste a dream start and post the lowest total of the Super Eights stage of this World Twenty20. Virat Kohli, who had scored 183 in his previous match against Pakistan, then steered the chase of 129 with his eighth fifty-plus score in his last 11 international innings.
This was a game where one of two jinxes would be broken. It was India, needing to win this to stay alive, who posted their first Super Eights win in World Twenty20s since 2007. Pakistan were still without a win over India in any World Cup match. Pakistan were every bit a team with a bogey attached to them. They tried flamboyance with the bat and failed, and didn't show heart to back up their talented bowling and attack. India, on the other hand, did the small things well after a nervous start, and were there to accept every opportunity that Pakistan presented.
Anxious more than enthusiastic, Pakistan began with 26 runs and five boundaries in the first two overs, but regressed in the coming overs. Some of their batsmen just froze, including captain Mohammad Hafeez who scored 15 off 28, and they took 6.5 overs to score the next 26. Pakistan played 53 dot balls against bowling that was steady at best. Add to that two balls they didn't even make India bowl.
It might look like a canter looking at the scorecard, but the match had got off to an edgy start. India even looked a little meek and Pakistan tried to intimidate them. Zaheer Khan brought back memories of his first over in the 2003 World Cup final, bowling three wides in his first over here. One of them, nearly a regulation take for the keeper, found its way to the boundary. The first ball Imran Nazeer faced he smoked away to the cover-point boundary. The first ball he faced from the other end, he inside-edged Irfan Pathan for four, but the bowler came back with a trademark lbw in the same over.
In the second over, out came the six-or-nothing Shahid Afridi. It was a pair of Pathans opening for India against one of the more celebrated Pathan cricketers, who was full of intent. The first ball: whacked away to long-on, the fourth: thrashed through covers. Even against Zaheer, Afridi kept swinging at everything. MS Dhoni went to the surprise pick, L Balaji, in the fifth over. Balaji began with a slower bouncer that Afridi didn't pick, and then got him caught in the deep with the regulation bouncer in the same over.
If this was a pressure match, it showed the most on Pakistan captain Hafeez, playing his 100th consecutive international for Pakistan. He would have had a perfect day had he gone to a shooting range. Almost every shot he played went straight to a fielder. As the dot balls piled on, it seemed the perfect time to introduce Yuvraj Singh, whose fitness has recently been questioned.
Yuvraj had set the tone for the day early when he dived full length to save four runs off the first legitimate delivery of the match. Now he teased the Pakistan batsmen with his slow tossed-up non-turners. With pressure mounting thanks to Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed was the first to fall, trying to slog-sweep Yuvraj. Dhoni showed he had recovered from his earlier slip as he caught the underside edge cleanly. Kamran Akmal, too, edged Yuvraj in his next over, Dhoni again pouching the sharp chance. Yuvraj would fill in with a direct-hit run-out from point later.
Shoaib Malik continued his love of playing India, and added 47 with Umar Akmal, but that was the last bit of fight Pakistan put up. When the time came to step up, R Ashwin's three remaining overs came in handy, and he got them both caught at deep midwicket. The pressure of the dot balls earlier was too much.
All India's pre-match moves were working. The part-timers went for a combined 3 for 37 in their six overs, which justified playing only four bowlers. Balaji returned figures of 3 for 22. For a moment in the chase, though, it seemed it wasn't going to be all easy. Pakistan's new spinner Raza Hasan removed Gautam Gambhir for a duck, but they ran into a Kohli-sized brick wall.
Making his comeback, Virender Sehwag played a useful hand too, adding 74 for the second wicket, but it was his partner at the wicket who was the star of the show. It helped that it was Pakistan who were meek now. Attacking men were conspicuous in their absence, and when Kohli edged Afridi through the vacant slip in the ninth over, with the run rate still about a run a ball, the match had completely slipped out of Pakistan's hands.
Kohli remained calm even after Sehwag's fall, summing up India's calmness on the big night.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo