Friday, Dec 01, 2023

Asia Cup 2023 Super 4s, India Vs Pakistan: Five-Star Kuldeep Yadav, Centurions Virat Kohli & KL Rahul Hand India Massive 228-Run Victory

Asia Cup 2023 Super 4s, India Vs Pakistan: Five-Star Kuldeep Yadav, Centurions Virat Kohli & KL Rahul Hand India Massive 228-Run Victory

While Virat and Rahul posted a record unbroken 233-run partnership to propel India to a mammoth 356, leggie Kuldeep scalped five wickets to dismantle Pakistan's batting.

Rohit Sharma (R) and Babar Azam at the toss in Sri Lanka
Rohit Sharma (R) and Babar Azam at the toss in Sri Lanka AP

After an arduous rain-induced wait spanning two days, cricket enthusiasts and fans of the India-Pakistan rivalry were rewarded with some sublime yet common-sense cricket from a rejuvenated KL Rahul and the indefatigable Virat Kohli in Colombo on Monday. (More Cricket News)

They were then treated to a splendid bowling display by the Indians, headlined by the skillful Kuldeep Yadav who scalped five wickets and broke the back of Pakistan's batting order to help skittle them out for a paltry 128 in 32 overs.

The injured Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf did not come out to bat for Pakistan, and the latter did not bowl either on Monday.

The all-round performance, made sweeter by how beautifully their de facto pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah bowled, handed India a massive 228-run win in the Asia Cup Super 4 clash against their arch-rivals.

The victory margin was the largest ever for India against Pakistan in men's ODIs.

Pakistan's bowlers threw everything they had at Virat and Rahul, but the duo expertly navigated all challenges through the innings.

They bade their time in the middle initially, weathering the storm of Shaheeh Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah. They accorded respect to Shadab Khan's spin guile too.

But soon Rahul and Virat were one with the conditions, and then came the calculated onslaught, replete with proper cricketing shots.

The senior statesmen upped the tempo when it mattered and put up an exhibition of limited-overs batting to post superlative unbeaten centuries and take India to a formidable total of 356-2.  

In the process, Virat and Rahul stitched together a record unbroken 233-run partnership, the biggest ever in Asia Cup history and the highest for any wicket by an Indian pair against Pakistan in ODIs.

Kuldeep then spun a web around the Pakistan top and middle order with some trademark wily bowling. The neighbouring side's batters found it virtually impossible to read the turn and trajectory of the left-arm wrist spinner's deliveries, and Kuldeep made the most of it.

He cleaned up opener Fakhar Zaman and No. 8 Faheem Ashraf, and later pulled off a sharp return catch to send back Iftikhar Ahmed and virtually cement his spot in the playing XI in the run-up to the ODI World Cup.

Bumrah too showed exactly what the team missed while he was away, coming up with an inspired spell of swing bowling alongside the fiery Mohammed Siraj and a charged-up Hardik Pandya to reduce Pakistan to 44-2 in 11 overs before it began raining again.

Bumrah got the ball talking from the word go, swinging it both ways at will and routinely beating Pakistan's top-order batters.

He eventually got the fruit of his labour in the form of Imam-ul-Haq's dismissal, getting one to straighten after angling it in from round the wicket to induce the southpaw's outside edge — Shubman Gill made no mistake at second slip. 

Hardik then came up with a peach of a delivery that nipped back in sharply from outside off to bamboozle Babar Azam and rattle the stumps. 

But before the bowlers turned on the menace, Rahul (111 not out off 106 balls) and Virat (122 not out off 94) consolidated on the sound foundation laid by Gill and skipper Rohit Sharma — both of whom hit quickfire half centuries.

After a markedly circumspect beginning, KL Rahul cut loose around the 30th over mark, smacking off-spinner Iftikhar Ahmed for a swept six and then a cut past point to the fence.

Suddenly, the floodgates opened and the runs began flowing. Both batters started finding the gaps as well as taking the aerial route with ease, putting the Pakistan bowlers under pressure.

The acceleration hit a crescendo in the final over as Virat topped off the mayhem with three breathtaking shots — that fetched four, four and six respectively — off the last three deliveries against a hapless Faheem Ashraf.

Play, however, could only begin after a long-drawn hide-and-seek with rain. As was feared before the start of the titanic clash, intermittent downpour halted proceedings midway on Sunday, and continued to delay resumption on Monday. 

Play finally resumed at 4:40pm. No overs were lost, so it stayed as a 50-over game.

After two bouts of heavy rain on Sunday that rendered the outfield too wet for play, the umpires decided to call it a day and activate the reserve day, which meant that the match was slated to resume at 3pm on Monday.

But afternoon showers meant that the match's resumption was delayed on the reserve day too. The umpires inspected the ground at 4:20pm, and deemed conditions fit for a 4:40pm start. 

On Sunday, Shaheen and Shadab struck back for Pakistan after Gill and Rohit threatened to take the game away with their audacious strokeplay. 

Rising to the occasion, the Indian openers got their team off to a blazing start, plundering 115 runs without loss in the first 15 overs. 

Gill got to his half century off 37 balls and Rohit reached his off 42 to leave Pakistan harried.  

Gill unfurled a series of free-flowing cuts and drives through the off side to get India going. Rohit too began with a bang, flicking Shaheen Shah Afridi for a six over backward square leg in the opening over and following it up with a lofted cover-driven boundary off Naseem Shah in the next.

The Pakistan speedsters stringed together a bunch of tight overs to subdue Rohit for some time, but a legstump half-volley from Naseem was the ideal gift for the Indian skipper to revive his tempo.

Rohit picked out Shadab for special treatment, smashing him for three sixes and two fours in the latter's first two overs.

Shadab, though, had the last laugh, as his flighted delivery had Rohit holing out to long off after scoring a stroke-filled 49-ball 56.

Shaheen followed that up by dismissing Gill (58 off 52; 10x4) with a canny slower delivery as Pakistan forced their way back into the contest.   

Earlier, Pakistan won the toss and chose to bowl first. 

Pakistan played an unchanged side, while India made two changes to the playing XI.

In a forced change, Rahul returned to the Indian team after a long injury layoff in place of Shreyas Iyer, who is down with back spasm, while Bumrah returned to lead the pace attack.

India's playing XI: Rohit Sharma (C), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya (VC), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohd Siraj.

Pakistan's playing XI: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam (C), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Agha Salman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shadab Khan (VC), Faheem Ashraf, Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf.

Though billed as a mouth-watering clash between Pakistan's redoubtable pace battery and India's much-vaunted batting line-up, the fate of the game rested on the prevailing weather conditions at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. And hence all eyes were on the skies, right till the last ball was bowled.