Zaheer, Rohit hand India clinical win
India's bowlers were clinical in their demolition of the Ireland batting, the batsmen were equally solid in chasing down the moderate total, thus consigning Ireland to their first defeat in Twenty20 internationals. Zaheer Khan ran through the top order full of left-hand batsmen, Pragyan Ojha took a first-ball wicket in his second Twenty20 international too, and the new opening combination of Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma got India off to another solid start.
Zaheer, who made his comeback from his shoulder game only in the last game, was fast and accurate today, getting the ball to shape away from the left-hand batsmen. He didn't swing it as much as his opening partner Irfan Pathan did, but his pace and accuracy did the trick. Jeremy Bray was the first one to go, on the last ball of the second over, playing all around a yorker. Soon Zaheer was on a hat-trick when William Porterfield chased the first ball of the fourth. Andre Botha survived the hat-trick, but guided one to slip in the same over.
Something strange happens when the batsmen sight Ojha. On Ojha's debut, Shakib Al Hasan tried to pull a delivery too full for the shot and paid the price. Today Kevin O'Brien, Ireland's saviour against Bangladesh, walked across and went to pull, and dragged it from way outside off onto his leg stump. There must be something.
Just into the seventh over, Ireland were four down for 28, with the small matter of Harbhajan Singh's topspinners and Ishant Sharma's sharp seam movement to negotiate. Gary Wilson got a doosra in Harbhajan's second over, which took the off stump, and from 48 for 5 it seemed they could only go up.
John Mooney and Andrew White went about rebuilding sensibly, but it was extremely difficult for them to accelerate even though they managed to kept their wickets. The 24-run partnership ended when Mooney tried to reverse-sweep Ojha in the 15th over. In a way the stroke gave credit to the tight bowling that didn't allow runs with orthodox cricket.
A 15-run 16th over from Irfan Pathan took Ireland close to 100, but Zaheer came back to remove White for a 25-ball 29. Alex Cusack and Kyle McCallan got two more boundaries as Ireland got 39 in the last three overs to reach 112.
In the chase India didn't set Trent Bridge alight. Although Gambhir cut the first ball of the innings for four, they didn't look in any undue hurry. Only one six and six fours were hit in the 77-run first-wicket partnership. In the five overs of Powerplay - five because the rain had cut the match short to 18 overs a side - India got to 38 without taking any unwise risks.
Rohit looked solid, Gambhir still not at his best. But Ireland never looked like getting a wicket. The highlight of Gambhir's innings was an inside-out drive off offspinner Regan West in the ninth over. In West's next, though, Gambhir sliced to short third man and missed out on consecutive half-centuries. Quite inconspicuously Rohit had moved to 35 by then.
MS Dhoni walked out at No. 3 again, but Rohit picked up the pace. A trademark slog, which incredibly doesn't look unwieldy, off Boyd Rankin took him into the 40s. Ireland, to their credit, stuck to their task in the field. Case in point being sliding saves to delay India's win, and a good diving catch by Bray at deep square leg to send Dhoni back.
Rohit got to his fifty with another trademark shot, which is at the other end of the spectrum when in terms of aesthetics. He took a step outside the line of a McCallan offbreak, and nonchalantly drove it over extra cover. With a late-cut single, he took India to the win. It was a fitting final shot, because India had hardly taken any chances on the night.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo