When Pakistan lost three wickets for one run towards the closing stages of the pulsating encounter against India, it seemed that the Pakistanis would collapse once again. The fact that Shahid Afridi was at the other end will have encouraged India, since he doesn’t have a great record of taking the side home in tense clashes in spite of his vast experience. On Sunday though, the 34-year-old veteran showed amazing calmness under pressure to take his team home in the last over. The two sixes he smashed off Ravichandran Ashwin would of course achieve legendary status, but it was the manner in which he managed to keep his head till the last over that was so impressive and, even more, surprising.
Afridi may have been the hero of the match towards the end, but it was undoubtedly the all-round performance of Mohammad Hafeez that set up the game for Pakistan. He bowled very tightly, playing his part in keeping India under pressure for most part after inserting them into bat. More importantly, he was also among the wickets, claiming the key scalps of Shikhar Dhawan and Dinesh Karthik at crucial junctures in the game. With the bat as well, Hafeez ensured that Pakistan stayed ahead in the game with a patient half-century even as wickets fell from the other end. There seemed a time when it looked his knock may go in vain, but Afridi ensured it did not.
Like against Sri Lanka, India had their moments in this game as well, but lacked the consistency which could have taken them to a much-needed win. Batting first, India needed to put up a massive score on board, but they were highly disappointing. Losing Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli put them on the back foot right away. However, the others did need to come up with better performances. They had their chances but failed to utilise the same, and in the end this hurt India dearly, and has surely killed their chances of progressing further in the Asia Cup.
Not for the first time, Rohit Sharma threw his wicket away when India needed him to carry on and register a big score. The 200 he got against Australia was expected to change him, but he hasn’t altered his approach too much. Against Pakistan, he looked completely at ease during his half-century, but having losing early wickets India were looking forward to him to score a big one. He however gave his wicket away with a rash stroke. Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik, like in the last game, played loose shots to put India in further trouble.
India’s bowling was a mixed bag. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami were all over the place in their opening spell, and never allowed any pressure to build on the opponents. Ravindra Jadeja had a rare off day with the ball, and that made India’s task even tougher. If at all, India were in the hunt, it was because of some superb spin bowling, first from comeback man Amit Mishra and then from Ravichandran Ashwin. One cannot blame the latter for conceding two sixes in the last over since Afridi was too good. In the end, India’s poor batting cost them the must- win encounter.
--By A Cricket Analyst