What a match! The tie that Pakistan and India scripted in a high-voltage group D match of the ICC World Twenty20 at the Kingsmead Cricket Ground was not for the faint-hearted and served to prove that fortunes can indeed swing wildly even in the briefest form of the game at the international level.
In the end, a bowl out had to be resorted to in order to spot a winner and India emerged on top by a 3-0 margin. It was the first time that a bowl out was needed in ICC World Twenty20 but both teams went through to the Super Eights, some consolation for their fans who had lamented the teams’ early exit from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in the West Indies this year.
A bowl out – almost like a football penalty shoot-out – kept the wildly cheering crowd rooted to its places. Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Robin Uthappa all hit the set of stumps while Yasir Arafat, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi missed it for Pakistan. It meant that India and Pakistan finished level on two points each in the group.
Scotland, the third team in the group, would have gone through to the Super Eights with a superior net run rate to India had Pakistan won inside 14.4 overs. And Indian bowlers and fielders met that first target with determination and hard work. The pace and seam quartet exploited the conditions by bowling with discipline and prevented further use of the calculator.
Kingsmead throbbed with life on Friday night when the teams squared up for the first time in a Twenty20 game. Pakistan paceman Mohammed Asif inflicted a top-order failure on his rivals but India rallied through the cavalier Robin Uthappa (50), the sensible skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (33) and the big-hitting Irfan Pathan (20) to make 141 for nine in 20 overs.
Asif’s superb bowling in helpful conditions did not allow India’s top-order batsmen the time to grasp the nuances of the format and it was only the free-stroking Uthappa who seemed in control.Uthappa’s cavalier batting under pressure saw him add 46 runs for the fifth wicket with his captain before Dhoni and Pathan put on 39 critical runs.
Asif turned in a memorable exhibition of fast bowling when he combined swing and extracted seam movement off the pacy track. The 24-year-old had a lacklustre game against Kenya the other day but ripped the Indian top-order apart in his four over spell. Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik fell to his bowling that asked them many questions.
The Indian innings endured four breaks of varying durations due to sporadic drizzles but the crowd – comprising many of Asian origin and having fun – sat back to enjoy an intense contest as Uthappa and Dhoni mounted a fightback. Uthappa hit four fours and two sixes to become the first Indian to make a half-century in Twenty20 internationals.
Asif’s four wickets rattled India at the start of the evening after Shoaib Malik won the toss and chose to give his bowlers first use of the lively pitch but he had to share the limelight with three left-arm pacemen, his own colleague Sohail Tanveer and Indians Rudra Pratap Singh and Irfan Pathan as well as off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.
The finest sub-contest was won by off-spinner Harbhajan Singh who tied the dangerous Shahid Afridi on a leash and eventually got his scalp too. The spinner tested Afridi with variations in pace and ensured that he would nullify the batsman’s attempts to make room by making changes in direction too. It was clever bowling, almost as if Harbhajan had reserved his best for Afridi.
India looked as if it was composing an improbable win by restricting Pakistan to 100 for five in 17 overs but Misbah-ul-Haq (53) and Yasir Arafat(12 not out) took their team close to victory. Misbah hit S Sreesanth for two fours and with just one needed off the final two deliveries was unable to squeeze the winning run.
Sreesanth managed to beat Misbah with one that he pitched short and then off the final delivery, with 10 of the 11 Indians inside the circle, the Pakistan batsman could only get the ball to cover when Yuvraj Singh was at hand to relay it to the bowler and ensure a run out verdict that tied the scores. What a match!