A stunning middle-overs collapse from Pakistan which had them lose eight wickets for 36 runs turned what should have been an enthralling run chase into a dull formality.
AHMEDABAD: (UrduPoint/Pakistan Point News-Oct 14th, 2023) The game that always promises and rarely delivers came and went once more, promising plenty at various stages, and ultimately delivering what a blue mass of humanity had come to see: a crushing India win.
A stunning middle-overs collapse from Pakistan which had them lose eight wickets for 36 runs turned what should have been an enthralling run chase into a dull formality. Each India bowler played a part in their own way, five different players splitting the ten Pakistan wickets evenly. With Pakistan folding for 191, India - spearheaded by captain Rohit Sharma - dazzled and sizzled, though really, it was like bringing a gun to a knife fight. Pakistan had already checked out of this game, and were bystanders as India romped home in front of around 100,000 supporters to go to pole position in World Cup race for which they look favourites.
India won the toss and opted to bowl, flying in the face of one of the features of their historical ODI World Cup dominance over Pakistan: making them chase. Just in one of their previous seven World Cup encounters have India triumphed by chasing, but on a slow, low pitch, India left the job of figuring out the par score to Pakistan's batters. Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq batted with impressive calm in a cauldron early on, negotiating Jasprit Bumrah while putting away Mohammed Siraj with relative ease. And when Shafique fell victim to low bounce and Imam to a slightly wild shot, Babar and Mohammad Rizwan stepped in, and began to steady the ship once more.
Pakistan weren't being flashy, but it felt like they were being mature, taking the emotion out of the game and accepting the task ahead would require steel and grit. India's bowlers, for their part, never really let them out of sight. A couple of expensive overs would be followed by several tight ones, the first-change bowlers backing up the openers, and Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja executing their tight-fisted roles to perfection. But none of it appeared to be unsettling Pakistan's two best batters much, who struck up a sedate 50-run partnership, and began to assume a position of dominance when their captain brought up his first half-century of the tournament.
Pakistan sat pretty at 155 for 2, but the blue torchpaper was about to be metaphorically lit in Ahmedabad. Siraj had been expensive in his second spell, too, but as Babar tried to angle one down to deep third, that devilish low bounce struck again, knocking back his off stump. Next ball, Saud Shakeel called for a run that was never there, saved only by an errant throw. After 30 overs of calm, Pakistan's nerves began to fray.
And Kuldeep knew just how to exploit them. He would say later he knew Shakeel liked the sweep shot so he dragged his length back and skidded one on, trapping him in front. The same over, Iftikhar Ahmed was unfortunate to chop one on to his stumps - bowled around his legs - off his gloves. India had introduced panic into an eerily calm Pakistan, and it would never be the same again.
Bumrah, curiously wicketless until then, cleaned up Rizwan one shy of a half-century with an unplayable offcutter, before a quicker one - equally impossible to negotiate - toppled Shadab's off stump. Hardik Pandya put paid to Mohammad Nawaz and Ravindra Jadeja mopped up the tail. A taut Ahmedabad suddenly had all the pressure released, and with India due to bat soon, a carnival-like atmosphere took hold.
There was reason for Indian fans - and there were almost exclusively Indian fans in this colosseum - to be excited for what would follow. Rohit came out in the same creamy, luscious form he demonstrated against Afghanistan, taking the attack to Pakistan's vaunted pace unit early, biting chunks out of the low target. Shubman Gill, recovered from a nasty bout of dengue fever, was similarly enterprising, and the pair struck five fours off the first two overs before one slash off Afridi flew straight to Shadab at point.
It meant Virat Kohli and Rohit were united at the crease, just like they had been during that decorated-procession-like chase against Afghanistan. While Kohli timed the ball well enough, this was the Rohit show. Haris Rauf came into the attack and was greeted by a monstrous tonk over mid-on for Rohit's 300th ODI six. Three balls later, he would play perhaps the shot of the game, a sliced six over cover after perfectly reading an attempted slower ball.
Kohli miscued one to mid-on off Hasan Ali, but India were under no pressure whatsoever. Shreyas Iyer was a useful accomplice to the devastating beauty at the other end, which had Rohit bring up a 36-ball half-century. Next over, Rauf was pulled over square leg in another sumptuous display of strokemaking by Rohit as India sped towards the target.
Shadab, hopelessly out of form, was never going to alter the trajectory of this game. After a couple of tight overs, he was bulldozed out of the attack by Iyer and Rohit, his last delivery a loopy waist-high full toss which was such a gift it may as well have come with a bow on it. Rohit would dispatch it into the stands over midwicket, and the first ball next over, Iyer was treating Nawaz the same way.
Ahmedabad now waited expectantly for another Rohit ton, though in that aspect, they would be disappointed. Afridi returned and found a way to make the Indian captain miscue one to midwicket, and he perished 14 short. But that was as good as it would get for Pakistan, as KL Rahul and Iyer eased home, the latter bringing up his unbeaten half-century with the winning shot, a straight drive for four.
It was the exclamation mark on a win that had been scripted a few hours previously in a manic ten-over spell.