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Sambit Bal picks the Plays of the Day during the final between India and Pakistan
September 24, 2007
A twist at the start
The first twist of the match came even before a ball was bowled. That Virender Sehwag's name was missing was not a surprise - he had suffered a groin strain in the earlier match. But the man replacing him was not Dinesh Karthik - as would have been expected - but Yusuf Pathan, better known as Irfan Pathan's brother and reputed to be a clean striker in the domestic scene. The bigger surprise - he was going to open. The shock tactics almost backfired first ball: Gautam Gambhir tapped the ball to mid-off and took off while Pathan was ball-watching. A desperate dive saved him in the end and, two balls later, he was launching Mohammed Asif to the stands behind long-on. Asif had the last say, though, when an attempted hoick was pouched by Shoaib Malik at wide mid-on.
As is the norm, the pitch at the Wanderers had little for the bowlers, but it wasn't quite a batting paradise either. The ball did nothing, it was just slow in arriving. Shahid Afridi's first two overs went for ten and even Mohammed Hafeez conceded only five as the Indian batsmen mistimed a few shots off the back foot. That's when Gambhir decided to take the pitch out of the equation. Hafeez wasn't exactly tossing them up. Gambhir met the ball with lightning footwork and twice split the offside field, and beat the sweeper on the boundary.
Top gun v top gun
It was a match within a match. Umar Gul v Yuvraj Singh, the best bowler of the tournament v the best batsman. Gul's first ball was a wide, but he was soon on the money, producing three consecutive dot balls. The battle was won next over; Gul banged it short and Yuvraj, who never really got going on the sluggish pitch, was early on the pull and Gul comfortably caught the top-edge himself.
Gul's success in the tournament has been based on his ability to vary the length. To Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it was a three-card trick that started with a horrible one, with the first one slipping out and passing Dhoni head high. A quick apology later, Gul was fizzing past Dhoni's head again, this time with a sharp bouncer. Dhoni would have expected the next ball, a spot-on yorker, and he backed himself to dig it out forcefully as he often does, but the ball was too good. Two of India's big guns had been silenced in two overs. Gul had once again done what he has been doing all tournament, stop the runs and take wickets. For good measure, he wound up his spell with the wicket of Gambhir, the only batsman who seemed to have the measure of him.
Nazir blasts off
It's a cliché now that a couple of big overs make the difference in Twenty20. Imran Nazir, whose impetuosity has sometimes got the better of him in this tournament, was not about to leave it for later. A wicket had fallen in the first over but that wasn't about to deter Nazir. Sreesanth's first ball was cut over point for four, the second one pulled over midwicket for six, the third carved over third man for six and when Sreesanth switched to a fuller length on his fifth, up it went over cover for another four. Funny game it is; Sreesanth's four overs against Australia had cost him 12, here the first one went for 21. Just to make that point, Sreesanth's next over was a maiden. It was only the 14th in the whole tournament.
Lightning strikes again
This time it was Nazir at the receiving end. A couple of balls earlier, he'd hobbled for a second run, which was followed by a discussion with the umpire, presumably, requesting for a runner. But he was carrying an injury into the match - though Daniel Vettori, who had spent half of a post-match press conference questioning his use of a runner, might disagree - and wasn't entitled to a runner. The next over, Younis Khan nudged one to cover and Nazir responded to the call for a single. But as Rohit Sharma had done against Justin Kemp earlier, Robin Uthappa swooped down swiftly, took aim and hit the stumps. Nazir left fuming.
Afridi does himself in
Is one stunning innings in ten good enough? Shahid Afridi, held back by Pakistan in this tournament to turn matches in the late overs, had disappointed again. Against New Zealand it was one big blow against Shane Bond and then a tame catch. Here, even that didn't materialise. Irfan Pathan had just taken a wicket, the ball wasn't coming on, but Afridi decided to launch his second ball into orbit. The ball only gained height but no distance and Sreesanth took it safely. Excuses must run out for Afridi.
Oh Misbah, not again
Poor Misbah-ul-Haq found himself facing the fire once again in an India-Pakistan match. Like their last encounter, he kept Pakistan in the match by playing intelligently and picking the right balls to hit. A huge six in the last over, which started with Pakistan needing 13, seemed to swing the match decisively in their favour. Then, with only one wicket in hand and fine leg in the circle, Misbah went for that scoop which, not for the first time, ended in tears for the batsman. Sreesanth would have never taken a more important catch in his life. But for Misbah, who has been Pakistan's surprise star of the tournament, it will take some forgetting.
King Khan revs up the atmosphere
The noise was deafening in a packed stadium and even though the Indians outnumbered the Pakistanis by some distance, the shouting match was almost even. The battle cry was similar: every Jeetega bhai Jeetega, India Jeetega (roughly translated to "Brother, India will win) was followed by Jeetega bhai Jeetega, Pakistan Jeetega. But the man who almost stole the applause from the cricketers was Shah Rukh Khan, the Indian film superstar equally adored in Pakistan. Shah Rukh, a self-confessed cricket fan, recently starred as a hockey coach in the hit film Chak De India. He was last seen on a cricket ground in England during the Indian tour, and was now seen standing next to Lalit Modi, the BCCI vice-president, deliriously cheering every Pakistani wicket. When his face was flashed on the giant screen, the crowd went even more delirious.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo MagazineFeeds: Sambit Bal
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