At 155/2 in the 30th over, Pakistan had brought the game to a stage where those watching from the stands begin to fidget, looking for refreshments to move time. There is a long wait from there for the slog-overs stage which bring in boundaries and wickets, and therefore excitement.
But to everyone’s surprise Pakistan imploded in the next five overs as they often do in World Cup matches against India to hand over the advantage completely and eventually lose their 2023 World Cup preliminary match by seven wickets. It is the eighth time in as many duels that Pakistan have lost to India in ICC (50-over) World Cup.
India skipper Rohit Sharma had won the toss and put Pakistan in to bat and after an initially sedate start, it looked like batting first would have been a better option for the home team in hot Ahmedabad conditions.
Even after losing their openers, including Imam-ul-Haq to an unnecessary fiddle outside off-stump, both skipper Babar Azam and No. 4 Muhammad Rizwan steered Pakistan beyond 150, by adding 82 runs.
However, an error of judgement on the part of Azam, who tried to dab a delivery from Mohammad Siraj down to third man but missed the line to be bowled, exposed the Pakistani middle-order to Kuldeep Yadav, an exponent of wrist spin against which it is brittle.
Yadav picked the wickets of a clueless Saud Shakeel and profligate Iftikhar Ahmed through leg-before and played-on bowled to help India wrest initiative.
Sharma was in full bloom as skipper. His decision to bring in pace bowler Siraj, who also picked opener Abdullah Shafique leg-before by having him pinned to the crease, had reaped immediate reward with Azam’s wicket.
And then after Yadav’s twin strikes in the 33rd over, Sharma brought in Jasprit Bumrah to replace Siraj.
Bumrah got the well-settled Rizwan bowled with a slow off-break in the first over of the spell and in his next over went through Shadab Khan’s defence with a quick one that straightened to clip the top of the stumps as the batsman played inside the line.
Pakistan were done at 171/7, having lost five wickets for 16 runs in 35 balls. The tail did not resist. Being used to playing shots in end overs, it couldn’t show the patience to even attempt to see off the overs leaving the team all out for 191 in 42.5 overs.
India batsmen, led by skipper Sharma (86 in 63 balls, 6x4s, 6x6s), then killed the game in the first 10 overs as India raced to 79/2 – the captain contributing 45 off 30 balls in that phase while hitting four of his sixes.
Sharma, who had smashed a match-winning century against Afghanistan in India’s previous match, on October 11 in Delhi, played his trademark shots that look effortless but yield boundaries while demoralising the bowlers.
He added 56 with Virat Kohli (16) for the second wicket and 77 off 71 balls with Shreyas Iyer (53 in 62 balls; 3x4s, 2x6s) to put the game in India’s bag. It was for the second game running that he gave the large crowd reasons to cheer. Only that the Narendra Modi Stadium here in Ahmedabad was almost filled to capacity by the time Sharma was in the middle unleashing his stroke-play; and the noise emanating from the sea of blue at the world’s largest cricket stadium, with arguably the largest ever crowd gathered for an ODI, during the humiliation of the arch-rivals will remain unparalleled until and unless India make it to the final here over a month later.
Brief scores: Pakistan 191 all out in 42.5 overs (Babar Azam 50, Muhammad Rizwan 49, Imam-ul-Haq 36, Jasprit Bumrah 2/19, Mohammad Siraj 2/50, Hardik Pandya 2/34, Kuldeep Yadav 2/35, Ravindra Jadeja 2/38) lost to India 192/3 in 30.3 overs (Rohit Sharma 86, Shreyas Iyer 53 not out, Virat Kohli 16, Shubman Gill 16, KL Rahul 19 not out, Shaheen Afridi 2/36, Hasan Ali 1/34)