Ind-Pak in T20s: No dearth of thrills

When India and Pakistan come face to face, handling the weight of expectations and coping with the pressure is as big a factor as ability. The side that holds its nerve wins.

The Indian team celebrates on the podium after winning the inaugural World T20 title, defeating Pakistan in the final at the Wanderers, in Johannesburg, South Africa, on September 24, 2007.   -  Getty Images

These matches have twisted, turned and exploded at the finish. With raw emotions on view and plenty of pride at stake, cricket has often been exhilarating.

India and Pakistan first clashed in a Twenty20 match in 2007. The two giants from the sub-continent have played in seven T20 matches, but there has been no dearth of thrills.

When these two sides come face to face, handling the weight of expectations and coping with the pressure is as big a factor as ability. The side that holds its nerve wins.

The high-voltage inaugural clash between the two sides in Durban in the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 is fresh in memory. That match hurtled to a gripping conclusion — a dead-heat in fact — before a ‘bowl out’ settled the issue.

It was an intriguing game since Twenty20 was a fresh format for both sides. The Indian Premier League (IPL) had not yet been conceived and the two teams were exploring themselves, as much as their rival.

Those were days when Twenty20 cricket was still in its nascent stages. How would a batsman pace his innings, which would be the best deliveries to bowl at the Death, how would the spinners be employed, were questions that needed to be answered.

In that humdinger of a match in Durban, India made 141 for nine with Robin Uthappa top-scoring with 50. It was a seaming track and the Indian batting was tested. Mohammad Asif moved the ball with precision to pick up four for 18.

Misbah-ul-Haq should have clinched it for Pakistan but ‘choked’ when it mattered the most. Pakistan had gone into the last over, delivered by S. Sreesanth, requiring 12 for victory.

Yaser Arafat took a single off the first ball. Misbah pummelled the paceman to the cover fence for four runs, collected a brace off the next and off-drove the fourth delivery past the fence. Pakistan now required only one from the last two balls.

However, Misbah, with the match almost secure, missed the next delivery outside off — the batsmen did not steal a game-clinching bye either. He struck the final ball to cover where Yuvraj swooped on the sphere and sent a direct hit at the non-striker’s end.

Misbah (53) had been run out. Pakistan, incredibly, had not scored off the final two deliveries with a ‘set’ batsman on strike.

The match tied, India nailed the ‘bowl out.’ Looking back, this win gave India the belief and the momentum to push for the title.

The two teams met again, in the final. The venue, fittingly, was the Wanderers, the ‘Bull Ring.’

This was a game played with ferocious intensity. Powered by a 54-ball 75 from Gautam Gambhir, India made a competitive 157 for five. The Indian pacemen struck regular blows. Misbah was the last batsman standing. Along with the tail, he mounted a stirring fightback. Entering the final over, Pakistan needed 13 with a wicket remaining.

Then, Dhoni came up with his now momentous and celebrated decision. He threw the ball to Joginder Sharma, a skiddy medium-pacer but not the ideal candidate to send down the final over. The Indian captain backed his instincts.

Joginder began disastrously, sending down a wide. He then bowled a dot ball. Misbah, however, smoked the next ball down the ground for a six. Pakistan required six from four. Had Dhoni blundered?

Instead, it was Misbah who made the wrong move, opting to scoop a slower delivery and being held by Sreesanth at fine-leg. Dhoni’s ploy had worked, the Indians converged in a heap and Misbah appeared shattered.

It was this title triumph in South Africa that gave momentum to Twenty20 cricket in India, leading to the creation of the IPL.

The year was 2012 when the two marquee sides clashed at the ICC 2012 World Twenty20 in Colombo. It was easy for India this time. Wily seamer L. Balaji, three for 22, impressed with his change of pace as Pakistan was shot out for 128. And India coasted to the target with Virat Kohli remaining unbeaten on 78.

Pakistan, later in the year, travelled to India for a short series which included two Twenty20 internationals. Misbah’s men defeated India on a lively pitch in Bangalore — Umar Gul excelled with three for 21 — before India, fuel-driven by Yuvraj Singh’s 36-ball 72, struck back to level the series in Motera.

India crushed Pakistan by seven wickets in their league game of the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 in Dhaka after spinners Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja had contained and struck.

And India’s dominance over Pakistan continued with a five-wicket win — overcoming fiery left-arm paceman Mohammad Amir’s speed and variations — in the recent Asia Cup in Dhaka.

In all, India has met Pakistan seven times in Twenty20 internationals, winning five of the games. Pakistan has clinched just one match while another ended in a tie.

Will there be a change in the script this time around at the Eden Gardens? Form points to India. Pakistan, if it can fill the holes in batting, will be a threat though.