India edge past in bowl-out
More than 21 years after Javed Miandad's last-ball heroics in Sharjah, India and Pakistan played out a thrilling tie at the ICC World Twenty20, with Misbah-ul-Haq run out off the last ball of the match. But the tournament rules didn't allow for the spoils to be shared, and it was India that prevailed in the bowl-out. Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Robin Uthappa were Dirty Harry-accurate, while Yasir Arafat, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi all missed by a fair distance as a sell-out crowd celebrated an enthralling finale.
The 33-year-old Misbah, who made a magnificent 53 from just 35 balls, had been an unlikely hero for Pakistan after Shahid Afridi's dismissal, with 39 needed from 15 balls, had left them in a seemingly hopeless situation. He needed just one run from the last two balls of the innings, but Sreesanth came round the wicket to deliver a dot ball and then a short one that Misbah could only parry to silly mid-off. He had no chance of completing the single.
Earlier, Uthappa's superb half-century had resurrected Indian hopes after a sensational new-ball spell from Mohammad Asif had skittled India's top order. Asif bowled four magnificent overs on the trot, with mastery of the seam and impeccable control in overcast conditions. But from the depths of 36 for 4, India recovered to 141 for 9, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan Pathan buttressing Uthappa's brilliant effort.
India then fielded with great energy and bowled superbly to defend the total but Pakistan stormed back in the final three overs. They might however reflect on the batting order, with the destructive Afridi having come to the crease when the situation was almost beyond salvage.
Rudra Pratap Singh had given India the perfect start, cleaning up the reckless Imran Nazir, and both he and Sreesanth kept the runs down to increase the pressure on Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal. It was Butt that finally succumbed to it, edging Ajit Agarkar's second delivery behind the stumps. That evened the scales somewhat, but after a fairytale comeback over from Pathan, it was India that were right on top.
A misunderstanding with Younis Khan sent Akmal packing off the first ball, and when Younis then gloved one back on to the stumps, a Pakistani victory was no longer a formality. A partnership was needed, and Misbah and Shoaib Malik built one, concentrating mainly on singles and the odd clever thump over the field.
Malik's patience finally snapped in Pathan's final over, with Harbhajan Singh taking the skier in the circle, and Pakistan needed almost two off every ball when Afridi walked to the middle. He never got going either, but instead of the death-knell, his departure sparked a stunning finish.
Harbhajan's otherwise immaculate spell was ruined by a six and a four from Misbah, and when the woefully off-radar Agarkar was clouted by Yasir Arafat and Misbah for 17 in the penultimate over, Pakistan needed just 12 from six. Misbah placed one beautifully over cover and then thumped one straight down the ground but it was to be Sreesanth that had the final say.
Such a keen contest looked extremely unlikely early on with Asif's bowling reminiscent of the peerless Glenn McGrath. Gautam Gambhir was brilliantly caught on the follow through at the second attempt, while Sehwag was sorted out as he so often has been of late, inside-edging one back on to his stumps.
Uthappa got going with a great flick off his pads for four, and a splendid lofted on-drive off Gul showed that he meant business. But there was little support at the other end, with Yuvraj Singh miscuing one off the leading edge to mid-off. Dinesh Karthik briefly alleviated the gloom with two glorious strokes off Asif, making room and lofting through the off side, but when the extra bounce induced another inside edge, Pakistan were right on top.
Asif's exit gave Uthappa and Dhoni the chance to resurrect the innings. Uthappa thumped Arafat for a straight six and then lofted him way into the stands at midwicket, but both batsmen struggled to work out the left-arm medium pace of Sohail Tanvir, who bowled off the wrong out a la Mike Proctor.
Afridi's introduction didn't stem the Indian momentum either, with Uthappa cutting and driving for fours, but a brief rain delay after he had reached 50 made all the difference. A thin edge through to Akmal gave Tanvir a first wicket, and brought Pathan to the crease.
A fascinating little tussle with Afridi followed. Two huge sixes over midwicket had the Indian fans cheering themselves hoarse, but Afridi had the last word with a quicker delivery that crashed into the leg stump.
Dhoni clubbed Arafat for a straight four and then swung him over fine leg for six, but the promised late explosion never came. Once he skied one to Younis at deep cover, India were left to limp to the finish. In the end though, those runs that were eked out made all the difference to a game that was the best possible advertisement for cricket's fledgling format.
Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo