Dubai: It is difficult to recall when did India last succumb so badly to Pakistan in a ICC tournament – with may be the big defeat in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final in England coming close to it. If it promised to be a gripping battle between the bat and ball after India fought back to scrape together a competitive total before a nearly full house at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday evening, they were finally left looking for answers in all departments of the game against a simply hungrier Pakistan team.
Day II of the Super-12 stage actually brought this T20 World Cup to life after an insipid start on Saturday. For Pakistan skipper Babar Azam, it was a good toss to win with Dubai’s history of chasing teams having the last laugh – and the Indian batsmen were left to play catch up after they were reduced to 31/3 – thanks to the double strike by Shaheen Afridi as he and Hasan Ali removed the two openers and Suryakumar Yadav.
The pressure, however, brought the best in Virat Kohli. Now 32, the Indian captain had developed a liking for playing the anchor across all formats of the game now and got into that mode again after soaking the initial pressure. A vintage cover drive by using the pace of Hasan Ali showed his class as he was desperate to leave his footprint on what would be his last T20 tournament as captain.
The pre-tournament ratings may not have bracketed Pakistan as one of the favourites but after this show, the pundits will think again. It’s true that their top order was not really tested after the fluent start given by the classy Azam and Mohammed Rizwan, but the green shirts have showed they would be dangerous opponents on a turf which had been their home for over a decade since 2009.
While the Kohli-Azam debate has provided enough fodder for the cricket fans of the sub-continent over the last few years, the latter deserves a big round of applause for his assured batting in his first ICC tournament as captain – and that too starting with a game of this intensity.
Where did India get the plot wrong? It was rather surprising to see Kohli resorting to a conventional attacking plan against the Pakistan openers when it was certainly worth to introduce Varun Chakravarthy upfront in the powerplay to disturb the rhythm of the rivals. After all, the only over he bowled with the field up, the spinner had gone for only two runs.
Now that Pakistan has bucked the trend of a sequence of World Cup defeats to India, Kohli’s men need to regroup in the long gap they have before the next game against New Zealand if they want a mount a serious challenge for regaining the crown. It’s been a long season for them and it won’t be easy, but with four more group matches still to go and two of the qualifiers in their group, the semi-final spot is very much there for the taking.
Looking back, Kohli had no qualms about admitting that they lost the match in their powerplay itself after losing three wickets - and hence were 20-25 runs short in the end. A batting line-up like theirs is not going to flounder every day, one hopes.