Two standout batters. Three pacers spewing venom. And three rain interruptions. All of it culminated in one big disappointment for the scores of fans who flocked the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium for the high-voltage Asia Cup clash between India and Pakistan.
Thanks to a persistent drizzle that started towards the end of India’s batting essay, the match officials formally called the game off at 9.52 p.m., 35 minutes before the cut-off for a 20-over chase. By then, the entire outfield had been covered with tarpaulin sheets.
The groundstaff, despite working tirelessly throughout the day, wore a dejected look. So did 20,000-odd fans who stayed back hoping for a thrilling finish. But they had to make do with a topsy-turvy first half that eventually turned futile.
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India captain Rohit Sharma had no hesitation in opting to bat after the coin landed in his favour, but it turned out to be a far-from-ideal start. As soon as the 35-minute rain break after 4.2 overs ended, Shaheen Shah Afridi set Rohit up with an inswinger that sneaked through his defence on the back of a couple of outswingers.
Afridi then enjoyed the double delight, with Virat Kohli playing him after a crisp square drive. When Shreyas Iyer pulled Haris Rauf only to see Mohammad Nawaz latch on to a sharp catch at midwicket, at 48 for three, India was in danger of wilting under the big-match pressure.
In came Ishan Kishan - playing his first ODI and batting at No. 5 for the first time. Then there was a brief 20-minute rain interruption, and soon afterwards, a shaky Shubman Gill played Haris Rauf on to the stumps.
At 66 for four, Ishan and Hardik Pandya, the vice-captain, got together, and the left- and right-handed combine looked effortless once the spin was introduced.
Riding on Ishan and Hardik’s 138-run partnership - dominated by Ishan’s 82 (81b, 9x4, 2x6) - India put on a respectable total of 266 on the board before folding up in the penultimate over.
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Had it not been for the partnership, India could well have been bundled out much earlier. Barring a top-edged pull early on that was misjudged at deep square leg, Ishan played a fluent knock. The left-handed batter was brutal against spinners but showed his intent as soon as replacing Shreyas Iyer - who departed while playing a pull shot off Haris Rauf.
With Ishan on song, Hardik took a back seat and started waging a long handle only after Ishan’s dismissal in the 38th over. But just like the pocket dynamo, Hardik too perished in the 80s, leading to a collapse. India lost the last five wickets for 27 runs.
Just when Jasprit Bumrah guided India’s total past 260 with a cameo, the heavens opened up again, and the steady drizzle persisted until the game was abandoned.
The result meant Pakistan became the first team to qualify for the Super Four, while India will have to beat Nepal on Monday to join the Green army.
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