India beat their old enemy Pakistan by five wickets in their opening Group A match in this year’s Asia Cup in Dubai. It was suitable revenge for what had happened on the same ground almost ten months earlier, when they had been thrashed by the same opponents by ten wickets.
This time, though, it was a much closer match and it was only decided in the last over of a thrilling, if somewhat scrappy, game. Star of the show for India was all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who took three wickets with the ball, and then sealed the win with a six off the third last ball of the match.
These two teams could conceivably play each other twice more in this competition – almost certainly in the Super Fours and, potentially in the final as well – but this was a vital psychological marker for the Indian team to lay down.
India won the toss and bowled first.
Last time they met, the partnership of Mohammad Rizwan and his captain Babar Azam proved irresistible, but, this time, Babar fell early, and, although Rizwan went on to top score for his side, he failed to find meaningful support, as the India seamers kept chipping away with wickets.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar proved his worth yet again in this format by taking 4 – 26, and there were also two wickets for Arshdeep Singh. The spinners, though, went wicketless on a pitch that offered them very little.
Instead it was the seamers who held sway, bowling their opponents out for 147 off the penultimate ball of their innings.
India struggled initially in their replay, and, at one stage, were 53/3 and then 89/4. At that stage, the pendulum looked to be swinging Pakistan’s way, but Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja came together, and expertly guided India towards the finishing line.
They added 52 together before Jadeja was dismissed for 35 off the first ball of the last over. At that stage there were still seven runs needed for victory, but Pandya put the result beyond doubt by smashing Mohammad Nawaz for six.
He was the deserved recipient of the Player of the Match award.
Here are some key talking points from the match
India omit Pant
Before a ball had been bowled, India caused a major surprise by leaving Rishabh Pant out of their starting XI. Instead, Dinesh Karthik was chosen for his finishing ability, something he never got the chance to prove because he only faced one ball.
Pant may feel that he has been hard done by, given that he has not lot India down recently, and maybe fearing for his World Cup chances now.
Pant was in contention to open the innings and he may feel doubly aggrieved, because the man chosen ahead of him, KL Rahul, failed again with the bat, out first ball. Chosen last minute to go on and captain the ODI team in Zimbabwe, he endured mixed fortunes there, and again there are concerns about his form. He must score runs against Hong Kong and in the knock-out stages, or it will be increasingly difficult to justify his selection.
Kohli finds some form
One man who will be feeling better about life is Virat Kohli, who was playing his 100th T20I. He had been struggling for form both in an international jersey and in the Indian T20 league this season, and was rested for the tour of the West Indies. The break appears to have done him some good, because he returned by making 35, although he was dropped in his first over.
If he can find some form at last, then India will be much the stronger for it.
Kumar proves his worth
Bhuvneshwar Kumar was already virtually assured of his World Cup spot, but, after this performance, he is guaranteed to find himself on the plane to Australia. He showed all his guile and experience, and, not only did he take wickets, he was economical as well.
Pakistan are not out of it
Whilst Pakistan will be very disappointed to have lost, they are not of the tournament, and with a match against the minnows Hong Kong to come, they should still make the knock-out phases. They might reflect that this was a game of fine margins and had Kohli been caught early, the outcome might have been different.
They will want, though, to look at their batting and make sure that, if Azam fails to produce for any reason, then others are there to pick up the scoring mantle.
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