Back-to-the-wall scenario fires up the Indians

Virat Kohli... Man of the Match, yet again.-K.R. DEEPAK

The verdict was a direct outcome of the near-perfect fusion between its batting and bowling arms with Virat Kohli being the key talisman as India dominated yet another global-event stand-off with Pakistan since the traditional World Cup in 1975, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

A certain ease has thankfully infused itself into the socio-political discourse between India and Pakistan. The recent parleys between the respective External Affairs ministers of India and Pakistan — S. M. Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar — have been marked by cordiality and optimism.

The same feel-good fervour did not exactly linger around M. S. Dhoni’s men as they geared up for a decisive match against Pakistan in Colombo’s R. Premadasa Stadium on a packed Sunday (September 30). The team and a few individuals were wedged between the proverbial devil and the deep sea.

Australia had humiliated India in a previous match. Virender Sehwag was benched in the same game. And suddenly Yuvraj Singh’s fitness became a speculative subject. Add to it the perform-or-perish stakes that India hobbled under and you get the picture of an ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights Group II contest that was coated in multiple layers of pressure.

It’s a credit to the team that the players kept their heads, relaxed with a game of football and turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the news about ruffled feathers within its change rooms. The result was that when the big night rumbled in, a fired up India buzzed all over the park and defeated Pakistan by eight wickets while chasing 128.

India scored 129 for two in 17 overs and the triumph was a welcome ladder to stay alive in the tournament though South Africa still had to be quelled.

The verdict was a direct outcome of the near-perfect fusion between its batting and bowling arms with Virat Kohli being the key talisman as India dominated yet another global-event stand-off with Pakistan since the traditional World Cup in 1975.

Mohammad Hafeez opted to take first strike after winning the toss but all his batsmen, including himself, failed to etch a stress-busting knock. Pakistan’s top-order failed and even its gamble of promoting Shahid Afridi to number three back-fired while India’s part-timers — Yuvraj and Kohli — bagged three wickets.

The lone rescue-act — a 47-run sixth-wicket partnership between Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal — never attained a wider repertoire as R. Ashwin prised them out and then L. Balaji erased the tail. “160 would have been an ideal score but we kept losing wickets,” said Hafeez.

Perhaps it was the back-to-the-wall scenario that fired up the Indians but there was an unmistakable spring in their fielding. The unmistakable air of the can-do spirit was again on view when M. S. Dhoni’s men wore their pads and flexed their bats. Gautam Gambhir fell in the first over but with Sehwag, back in the playing XI ahead of Harbhajan Singh, and ‘Man of the Match’ Kohli (78 not out, 61b, 9x4, 2x6), adding 74 runs for the second wicket, India was comfortably staring at victory.

Kohli played a range of shots that kept a lid on the Pakistani bowlers. He hoisted Saeed Ajmal for a six, clattered Umar Gul’s second spell back into the billboards and remained unfazed by be it Sehwag’s exit or his own reprieves on 42 and 64 while Umar Akmal and substitute Mohammad Sami stared at their palms.

Yuvraj too ensured that there were no further alarm bells in the Indian ranks and as the target came closer to view, he and Kohli slipped in the fifth gear, fully aware that the net run rate equation will be crucial just in case there is a three-way tie for the second spot.

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, India always struggled to defeat Pakistan though the story was different in World Cup contests. Javed Miandad’s last-ball six off Chetan Sharma in Sharjah had been a haunting sub-text for a long time. Thankfully that trend is over and it now looks as though Pakistan suffers the nerves when it counters India.

THE SCORES

Pakistan: Md. Hafeez b Kohli 15; I. Nazir lbw b Pathan 8; S. Afridi c Raina b Balaji 14; N. Jamshed c Dhoni b Yuvraj 4; K. Akmal c Dhoni b Yuvraj 5; S. Malik c Rohit b Ashwin 28; U. Akmal c Raina b Ashwin 21; Y. Arafat (run out) 8; U. Gul c Dhoni b Balaji 12; S. Ajmal c Dhoni b Balaji 1; R. Hasan (not out) 0. Extras (lb-1, w-10, nb-1) 12. Total (in 19.4 overs): 128.

Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-35, 3-43, 4-49, 5-59, 6-106, 7-115, 8-115, 9-128.

India bowling: Zaheer 3-0-22-0, Pathan 3-0-30-1, Balaji 3.4-0-22-3, Ashwin 4-0-16-2, Yuvraj 3-0-16-2, Kohli 3-0-21-1.

India: G. Gambhir c & b Hasan 0; V. Sehwag c Gul b Afridi 29; V. Kohli (not out) 78; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 19. Extras (w-2, nb-1) 3. Total (for two wkts., in 17 overs): 129.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-75.

Pakistan bowling: Hasan 4-0-22-1, Gul 3-0-30-0, Ajmal 4-0-25-0, Afridi 4-0-34-1, Arafat 1-0-11-0, Hafeez 1-0-7-0.