International sport – not just cricket – is no child's play. But when two artisans who are in the zone with their craft against a bunch of opponents who are far from being at their best – failing to absorb the big-match pressure for the second time in less than a week – the contest results in child's play.
Sunday night at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium was quite similar to it as an on-song India opening combination of captain Rohit Sharma and his deputy Shikhar Dhawan literally toyed with the Pakistan bowlers to made a no-contest of a respectable target of 238 in the Asia Cup Super Four tie. The nine-wicket win, with Dhawan perishing thanks to a childish run-out, also meant that India will virtually be sure to feature in the final on Friday, irrespective of its last Super Four clash against Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Chasing a total of 237 for seven, set by Pakistan, wasn't as mean a feat as making a mockery of the targets of 163 and 174 that India chased down in its last two games, versus Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively. Still, the left- and right-handed combination of Dhawan and Sharma looked in no trouble. Pakistan had brought in senior pacer Mohammad Amir in place of youngster Usman Khan and bolstered the spin attack by including leggie Shadab Khan.
However if the fielders don't back the bowlers, the team gets demoralised in no time. The same thing happened during the chase when Imam-ul-Haq spilled a mistimed drive off Sharma's willow in the sixth over. So simple was the catch that even a schoolboy cricketer shouldn't have dropped it. But Imam did; Sharma survived on 14 and changed gears in no time to kill the contest.
Almost a couple of hours later, Sharma was dropped again, another straightforward attempt grassed by Fakhar Zaman on the edge of the circle. But by then, Sharma had raced to 81 and India to 164 for no loss. The contest had been killed. But despite the lack of contest, the kind of jugalbandi Dhawan and Sharma were involved in was mind-boggling. The lefty set the tone with cuts and pulls and Sharma took the cue just like a musician does while being on stage with another.
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But the target wouldn't have been so gettable had Jasprit Bumrah and leggie Yuzvendra Chahal not pulled things back for India in the death overs, conceding just a solitary boundary and 45 runs in the last eight overs. At 191 for four in 42 overs, Pakistan was set for a late charge and press the target beyond the 260-run mark to ask more questions of India's famed batting line-up.
Shoaib Malik, who who emerged the batting star for Pakistan for the second time in three nights, and Asif Ali, had tonked Bhuvneshwar Kumar for a whopping 22 runs in the 42nd. Sharma naturally gave Bhuvneshear a break and called his trump card Bumrah from the same end.
The terror of Boom struck in no time, with Malik edging to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The lower order then couldn't really tackle the pace-spin combo of Bumrah and Chahal, which resulted in India not offering any freebies. While the last eight overs yielded just one boundary for Pakistan, the last five saw Bumrah, leggie Yuzvendra Chahal and Bhuvneshwar concede just 26 runs combined to restrict Pakistan to a sub-240 total.
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