The game could do without such gimmicks
Forget about the last 15 minutes of the match for a moment. For 40 overs, two equally matched teams scrapped all they can, taking the inclement and irritating weather in their stride, batting with gusto, bowling with plenty of zeal and firepower, and even fielding with the kind of competence generally not associated with teams from the subcontinent. It was easily the best match of the tournament, and just the kind of match to showcase the Twenty20 game to the world.
Huge run-fests can be close contests too, but for a game to be compelling there must be a balance between bat and ball. The first match of the tournament between South Africa and West Indies produced plenty of runs, but by the end the sheer number of fours and sixes numbed the senses. Here the bowlers had plenty to contribute to the contest too. Mohammad Asif was quite outstanding early in the evening, while the Indian bowlers hunted as a pack, with a rejuvenated Irfan Pathan being the leader. Along with all the bowling performances, there were a couple of superb batting performances to celebrate too, with Misbah-ul-Haq silencing all his doubters with a sensational knock, doing everything except deliver the knock-out blow.
The star of the game was undoubtedly Asif. He proved, yet again, that he has everything he needs - skill-wise at least - to take over the mantle from Glenn McGrath. Like McGrath, he relies more on seam than swing, and like McGrath, he is unerringly accurate. The combination was too much for India's top order.
Gautam Gambhir was beaten by a peach off the second ball of the match, and was so unnerved that he decided he must charge down the track next ball, a tactic that had a very low chance of success against a bowler of Asif's quality. Virender Sehwag is, according to Asif, unpredictable and hence difficult to bowl to, but Asif needed just one ball to send him packing, in a manner of dismissal that is as familiar as it is infuriating.
That made it two wickets in two overs, but it was only half the job done. The ball which nipped into the right-hander was his stock ball, but he mixed it up so well with the one that went the other way, all with such impeccable control that the batsmen couldn't hit out at him without taking huge risks. Yuvraj Singh became the second batsman to succumb to the seam movement, while Dinesh Karthik was shaping well before being done in by both movement and bounce.
That India still managed to get up and post a competitive total was thanks to a couple of fine hands, played by Robin Uthappa and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, both of whom showed supreme confidence, and the ability to play their shots with conviction even in relatively difficult batting conditions.
|The next step could be batsmen hitting a stationary ball and then measuring the distance travelled. If a decisive result is an absolute must - and only then - should there be a need to resort to such gimmicks. Otherwise, cricket - in any form - is better off without it|
A total of 142 shouldn't have been difficult, but Pakistan made the case difficult for themselves with some poor shot-selection early in their innings. The Indians, for their part, rode on an inspired Irfan Pathan. In the nets at Centurion he seemed to have regained the spring in his bowling, and here he showed still further signs that he is on the right track. His first over was a huge morale-booster, and from there he didn't let up. He has long been absent from international cricket, and he is clearly enjoying the return - he made a vital contribution with the bat, and rounded it off with a vigorous fielding display, making a couple of diving saves at short third man. In fact, India's fielding was a revelation, especially after their consistently incompetent displays in England.
Despite India's efforts in the field, Pakistan could still have pulled it off had the man who held his nerve so well for 95% of his innings continued to do so through the remaining five percent. With one run needed from two balls, Misbah failed to connect on the first try and then played a weak stroke off the next, but that shouldn't detract from what was an astonishingly cool and controlled innings in a high-pressure situation. There was plenty of controversy regarding his selection ahead of some high-profile players, but his gem here should surely silence he detractors. Misbah improvised when required, played the conventional shots with aplomb and never seemed to give up even when it seemed a lost cause.
The only downer to a fantastic evening was the last 15 minutes. The bowl-out is a foolproof way of ensuring a winner and a loser - and if that's the sole purpose it works well - but there was hardly any need for a winner and a loser here. India and Pakistan had both qualified for the Super Eights by then, and there was little purpose in extending the game further. A match which was a superb - and rare - meaningful contest between bat and ball was in the end reduced into the farce of a bowler bowling at the stumps without a batsman guarding it; even Dhoni wasn't too pleased by the concept. The next step could be batsmen hitting a stationary ball and then measuring the distance travelled. If a decisive result is an absolute must - and only then - should there be a need to resort to such gimmicks. Otherwise, cricket - in any form - is better off without it.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo