India pipped at the post

With Saeed Ajmal also heading back, Afridi had to look after the small matter of scoring 10 runs in the last over. Once he got the strike, he finished things in a jiffy to leave the bowler, R. Ashwin, and the Indian team dazed. Arun Venugopal reports.

If thrilling theatre is what you are after, then an India-Pakistan game is a good place to start. Whether it will always qualitatively whet your appetite is debatable, but in terms of the sheer exhilaration offered by the rousing roars — on occasions choreographed — a shared history, and unrelenting partisanship, very few competitions match up to it.

While the rivalry’s intrinsic value does automatically elevate things to a different plane, a heart-stopping finish to an India versus Pakistan game is pretty much guaranteed to make it to the all-time classic library.

And who would you pick to lend a dash of extra spice, a heightened sense of drama? Shahid Afridi, of course! With no one really sure of where the match is heading, with no one having the faintest clue of which Afridi would turn up (his batting form wouldn’t have had Misbah-ul-Haq jumping for joy). But, at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, he played the kind of innings that he doesn’t play often. Whenever he does, the effect is devastating.

Indian supporters must only be wondering why that ‘rare’ occasion happens to be against India.

With eight wickets down, Afridi chose to cross over even as Mohammad Talha offered a chance to long-off. Pretty silly, one would think. That’s exactly how it turned out as well.

With Saeed Ajmal also heading back, Afridi had to look after the small matter of scoring 10 runs in the last over. Once he got the strike, he finished things in a jiffy to leave the bowler, R. Ashwin, and the Indian team dazed.

The contest did inspire many a fine performance. Rohit Sharma, for the first time in this year’s Asia Cup, put the foot to the pedal. He blitzed along with poetic finesse, cruising through variables like the pitch, short-balls, and seam and swing.

Ambati Rayudu played an innings that was just as crucial — if not more — but different in tenor. His was an in-the-trenches innings, the type cherished by the Steve Waughs of the cricketing world. Rayudu was nevertheless never tied down as he constantly scored at a run-a-ball.

Ajmal revealed his craft as subtly as behoves a crafty operator; he proffered the off-break largely using the Doosra as scarcely as a surprise weapon should be. Mohammad Hafeez, too, did well. His restrained batting, along with Sohaib Maqsood, was yet another stand-out feature of the match.

For India, Amit Mishra turned out a revelatory performance. Occupying a fringe-position in the team for quite sometime now, the leg-spinner grabbed the opportunity with relish. His wrist and fingers were in perfect alignment as the much-desired loop, dip, and turn were procured. In the company of R. Ashwin, who bowled very stringently, Mishra kept pecking away at the Pakistan middle-order. The batsmen eventually succumbed.

Virat Kohli put the defeat in perspective. “I think it was a good effort from the bowlers and fielders to defend 245. We are making mistakes regularly, which we need to correct because they are costing us in International cricket. That’s one thing we have to learn from and improve upon because there’s quite a bit of inexperience in batting and bowling,” he said.

Buoyed by the win, Misbah struck a defiant note. “We have been criticised for not being able to chase well under pressure. But today we have shown that we can do it. The confidence of the team will be boosted.”

THE SCORES

India: Rohit c Hafeez b Talha 56, Dhawan lbw b Hafeez 10, Kohli c Umar Akmal b Gul 5, Rahane c Hafeez b Talha 23, Rayudu c sub (Anwar Ali) b Ajmal 58, Dinesh Karthik c Ajmal b Hafeez 23, Jadeja (not out) 52, Ashwin st. Umar Akmal b Ajmal 9, Shami c Maqsood b Ajmal 0, Mishra (not out) 1, Extras (b-3, w-5): 8, Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs): 245.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-56, 3-92, 4-103, 5-155, 6-214, 7-237, 8-237.

Pakistan bowling: Hafeez 9-0-38-2, Gul 9-0-60-1, Junaid 7-0-44-0, Afridi 8-0-38-0, Talha 7-1-22-2, Ajmal 10-0-40-3.

Pakistan: Sharjeel Khan b Ashwin 25, Ahmed Shehzad c Ashwin b Mishra 42, Mohammad Hafeez c Kumar b Ashwin 75, Misbah-ul-Haq (run out) 1, Umar Akmal c Jadeja b Mishra 4, Sohaib Maqsood (run out) 38, Shahid Afridi (not out) 34, Umar Gul c Rahane b Kumar 12, Mohammad Talha c Jadeja b Kumar 0, Saeed Ajmal b Ashwin 0, Junaid Khan (not out) 1, Extras (lb-11, w-6) 17, Total (for nine wkts. in 49.4 overs) 249.

Fall of wickets: 1-71, 2-93, 3-96, 4-113, 5-200, 6-203, 7-235, 8-236, 9-236.

India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 10-0-56-2, Shami 10-0-49-0, Ashwin 9.4-0-44-3, Jadeja 10-1-61-0, Mishra 10-0-28-2.