Like fireflies dancing on a surreal night, fans held aloft their cellphones, switched on the torchlights and swayed. The captivating moment at the Narendra Modi Stadium here on Saturday, summed up the state of the much-anticipated World Cup match between India and Pakistan.
Rohit Sharma’s men were on the ascendant and stayed that way right through with the skipper leading from the front. Chasing Pakistan’s 191, India scored 192 for three in 30.3 overs and registered a seven-wicket victory. The Men in Blue found their batting and bowling arms in sync, and Pakistan capitulated.
After the innings-break, India galloped with a string of fours that had poetry and panache as their sub-text thanks to Rohit and Shubman Gill. Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali were handled with ease before the former induced a soft dismissal. Gill slashed hard and found the fielder. Having whipped the first ball he faced for four, Rohit was unfettered and with Virat Kohli for company, he lofted with the flick of his wrists enabling him to pick his spots.
The opener hoisted spinner Mohammad Nawaz and toyed with seamer Haris Rauf. At the other end, when Afridi came around the wicket, Kohli punched him for four. And then, against the run of play, Kohli miscued a pull off Hasan. India 79 for two in 9.5 overs but Rohit found an immediate ally in Shreyas Iyer.
The skipper continued his languid and lethal ways, depositing Rauf into the stands while Shreyas tucked into the spinners. The two shared a vital 77-run partnership when Rohit (86, 63b, 6x4, 6x6) failed to clear the in-field against Afridi. India already had one foot on the victor’s podium, and the other foot was placed once Shreyas (53 n.o.) and K.L. Rahul hunted down the remainder of the target.
Earlier in the afternoon, Rohit won the toss, elected to field and in a while a lakh of followers sang along as the national anthem was played. Soon it became ‘Bum-Rah, Bum-Rah’ while the fast bowler steamed in. On a pitch as smooth as the highways criss-crossing Gujarat’s flat lands, Jasprit Bumrah was the super car purring away.
He tested the openers while Mohammed Siraj initially erred in his line and length and southpaw Imam-ul-Haq hit three fours. Meanwhile, Abdullah Shafique drove a few before Siraj ruffled the batter’s pads. The stadium erupted but skipper Babar Azam quickly bequeathed silence as he pulled Hardik Pandya.
Imam too played a few delectable shots against Kuldeep Yadav and Hardik before the all-rounder lured an edge. Babar, all oriental aesthetics, and Mohammad Rizwan, all street-fighter swag, then combined well and survived tense lbw appeals. Babar drove, Rizwan swept and they added 82 for the third wicket.
The script inexorably changed when Babar (50) tried to glide Siraj towards third man and got castled. Kuldeep scalped Saud Shakeel and Iftikhar Ahmed in the same over and two special deliveries from Bumrah, dismantled Rizwan (49) and Shadab Khan’s stumps. Pakistan lost eight wickets for a mere 36 and India found its springboard to leap.
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