Matches (15)
SA20 (2)
ILT20 (1)
BPL 2023 (2)
Ranji Trophy (4)
ENG-L in SL (1)
WI 4-Day (3)
Super Smash (W) (1)
Super Smash (1)
Feature

India and Pakistan finally give us a thriller worthy of the hype

In recent years, the build-up to the game has been more exciting than the match itself, but Sunday was different

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
29-Aug-2022
Finally, a game between India and Pakistan that went down to the last over  •  AFP/Getty Images

Finally, a game between India and Pakistan that went down to the last over  •  AFP/Getty Images

There is a reason why we tend to pick unforgettable moments, and not matches, when it comes to India versus Pakistan. Simply because thrillers have been so few and far between, at least in the last 20 years.
Prior to Sunday's final-over finish in Dubai, you would need to go as far back as the 2014 Asia Cup in for the previous nail-biter between the two sides, across formats.
That game, an ODI in Dhaka, went into the final over with Pakistan needing ten runs and just one wicket standing. Shahid Afridi launched two mis-hits that just about crossed the boundary to give Pakistan victory.
In the build-up to this Asia Cup, ESPNcricinfo staffers had picked their favourite India-Pakistan moment from the 21st century. There were moments ranging from Sachin Tendulkar's uppercut off Shoaib Akhtar, to those twin sixes from Afridi off R Ashwin, and that Tendulkar DRS reprieve in Mohali - all colourful and unforgettable.
But, not long ago, when we published a listicle of ten India vs Pakistan ODI classics, it had become clear that the T20Is between the sides - barring the bowl-out in Durban and the 2007 T20 World Cup final - had all been no-contests.
And between 2014 and now, everything had been one-sided, with the build-up being more exciting than the matches. So it was a rare sight on Sunday, when India and Pakistan produced a hard-fought contest that went down to the final over, and gave us a game worthy of the hype.
Walking into the Dubai International Stadium for the match, one could see several TV reporters speaking to fans for different variations of the same questions: Who will win? What is your prediction? Who will be the key player? Virat Kohli or Babar Azam? The people this reporter spoke to were convinced that either Babar or Mohammad Rizwan would repeat his heroics from last year, or that Kohli would make a triumphant return in an Indian victory. Did anyone say last-over thriller? Not a chance.
Some of the fans had been in queue for eight hours to buy premium tickets, knowing fully well the price was that of a round trip back home to India or Pakistan. The queues to get in stretched as long as 3.5 kilometres from as early as 2pm for a 6pm start. All entry points to Dubai Sports City were jammed, and those looking to get to their apartment complexes - and not the stadium - were the worst hit for no fault of theirs.
It wasn't until No. 11 Dahani muscled two sixes at the end and followed them with a roar and a punch of his bat that they got going. The excitement then reached fever pitch when Rahul chopped on second ball to Naseem. And when Rohit and Kohli were out in quick succession, the noise was deafening.
And then there were the security measures - no coins, water bottles, power banks, chargers and, wait for it, sunscreen in such heat. Yet, no one seemed to mind. It's India vs Pakistan after all.
The teams didn't arrive until 75 minutes to the first ball, mindful of conserving energy in the oppressive conditions. But for the crowd in attendance, it was a party; the players could join later.
The game itself was a strange one - the magical moments were scarce but the contest was gripping. Barring one straight drive from Babar off Bhuvneshwar Kumar or a Rizwan biff for six off Avesh Khan, there was hardly anything to cheer for the Pakistan fans. Like the wow factor of the Tendulkar slash off Akhtar, or Amir's dismissals of Kohli and Rohit Sharma. It didn't seem like the Pakistani fans truly believed they were in it.
It wasn't until No. 11 Shahnawaz Dahani muscled two sixes at the end - and celebrated with a roar and a punch of his bat - that they got going. The excitement then reached fever pitch when KL Rahul chopped on second ball to Naseem Shah. And when Rohit and Kohli were out in quick succession, the noise was deafening.
This time, no one was leaving the stadium halfway into the chase. You couldn't tell until the final over who would win. India kept trying to rein in the asking rate, while Pakistan were trying to ensure it didn't slip out of their grasp. It didn't, until the 19th over, but then too they made one final attempt at wrenching victory. Until Hardik Pandya sealed it with a six to unleash a bedlam of blue.
It wasn't quite as magical or otherworldly, like Javed Miandad's off Chetan Sharma or Tendulkar's off Akhtar, but for sheer tension and drama until the very end, it was the sort of India-Pakistan classic we had been deprived of for so many years.
Unless Hong Kong pull off an incredible upset, it is likely that we will have at least one more India-Pakistan match in this Asia Cup. It could be two, if they both make the final. Here's hoping that they contest another classic in the desert - like those from the 80s or 90s - before the main course in Melbourne at the T20 World Cup.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo