Diffident Pakistan extend horror streak
There was a time, back in the '90s, when India used to go down to Pakistan just because they were playing Pakistan. They would just not be able to play their game. Just the fact that Pakistan were their opponents was enough to prevent them from converting years of practice into performance on the field. That has not happened in a while. India, for most of the last decade, have played Pakistan like they would any other opposition.
India-Pakistan contests in world tournaments, though, have always brought out the '90s Indian team in Pakistan. Nothing seemed to have changed in Mirpur. They were diffident against India in Colombo two years ago, they were diffident today. They had managed 128 that night, they made 131 tonight. Both times, the tone for the game was set by their captain.
Mohammad Hafeez had pottered to 15 off 28 in Colombo at the top of the order; he made 15 off 22 in Dhaka at No. 3 following the madcap run-out that cost Pakistan their first wicket. Consciously or subconsciously, the approach of the captain often mirrors that of the entire side.
Pakistan have now failed to beat India in nine World Cup encounters - five defeats in the 50-over World Cup, four in the World T20. When asked the inevitable question about this infamous record, Hafeez did not think it had played on Pakistan's minds.
"Not really. It's getting into history now. Whatever has happened has happened," Hafeez said. "We tried our best but unfortunately we could not bring the result we wanted to... You can say whatever you want but my personal belief is that we don't think that it is a World Cup, that we can't beat India. We don't go out with that thought because the things were very positive. We unfortunately couldn't break this streak but next time we will try our best."
On the other hand, India were confident enough to play three spinners - one of those strategies for which captains are praised to the skies if it works and crucified if it doesn't. One of those spinners was playing only his second T20 international, having travelled around the world with the team, confined to the bench all along.
Buoyed by the captain's confidence in him for such a crunch game, Amit Mishra was then brave enough to do what is probably one of the hardest things to do in the game - for a legspinner to consistently flight the ball in a T20 game, that too against the archrivals in a world championship. Yes, the pitch was an ally with turn and bounce, but to first contemplate doing that, and to then pull it off with such control requires some nerve. Mishra said MS Dhoni had come up to him before the game and told him to stick to what he is known for, which is to toss it up and spin it, instead of getting worked up about the magnitude of the occasion.
"MS came to me and said you don't think too much, you do just what is your strength," Mishra said. "My strength is to spin the ball and I beat the batsman by giving it some flight. I did the same. I had their opener stumped. I dismissed Shoaib Malik. You gain a lot from such small tips. The way MS Dhoni keeps telling me it helps in such a pressure game. My strength is to spin and flight the ball. This is what has worked for me, so I look to work on it and improve.
"I always think about the short format that whenever you think to stop the runs, you cannot stop the runs. You always think about taking the wickets, how to take the wickets and keep the pressure on the opponent's side. This is working for me so I am doing it."
It was clear cricketing logic. It was brave, of course, but it was logical. It is what Mishra and Dhoni and India were able to plan and execute. They were able to do it because the thought of what opposition they were up against was not on their minds. The same couldn't be said of Pakistan.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo