Pakistan’s dream night that dissolved a 29-year long nightmare

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24 Oct 2021 | 09:29 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Pakistan’s dream night that dissolved a 29-year long nightmare

After 29 long years, the monkey is finally off Pakistan’s back

‘What the hell just happened?”

These words were not uttered by anyone on the field. Nor were they said by any individual at the press conference. But it is not beyond the realms of possibility that, in both the India and Pakistan dressing rooms, the post-game dissection might have well been initiated with the phrase above. Albeit in completely different tones and contexts.

Because seriously, what the hell just happened?

No one saw this result coming. ABSOLUTELY NO ONE.  Sure, there was always the chance of Pakistan emerging victorious. This is T20 cricket, after all. Anything and everything goes. And as Babar Azam said prior to the contest, “Records are meant to be broken.” 

But are records ever meant to be broken THIS WAY? 

It was almost as if Pakistan turned up to the Dubai international stadium and decided to enact one of PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja’s overnight dreams. For 37.5 overs, India were stuck in a fantasy world where Pakistan could absolutely do no wrong. 

When there is a defeat of this magnitude, fingers will be pointed. In fact, they already have been. But the truth is, India, on the day, were simply out-played head-to-toe by a near-invincible unit that was irreproachable, impenetrable and immaculate.

Kohli’s side could have done a hundred things differently and they still would, in all likelihood, have lost the contest in similar manner.

Because that’s how good Pakistan were. From ball one they were the sharper, beadier and hungrier of the two sides, and they believed that they could conquer their opponents and get that wretched monkey off their back - even if history said otherwise. And to their credit, they did. That too in the most emphatic fashion imaginable. 

So all we can say about Sunday is this: If you're a Pakistan fan, cherish it; there won't be many better. If you're an India fan, flush it out of the system; there won't be many worse. 

Shaheen’s inevitability, and the two balls that rewrote history

"Everybody knows what he's going to do, but no one can stop him!"

Precisely a decade ago, never was there a week when these words above went un-uttered in the sporting world. 

Every time Arjen Robben had the ball on his left foot, in the right flank, everyone knew what he was going to do. His teammates, his coach, the fans, commentators, opponents - everyone knew that he was going to cut-in and shoot. And yet, the defenders simply could never stop him from scoring. He was simply that good.

Shaheen Afridi has not reached Arjen Robben’s level of stupendousness yet, but every time he takes the new ball, there is almost an air of inevitability about him dismissing right-handers by tailing the ball back into the batsman late.

And on Sunday, he essentially re-wrote history through just two balls. 

The crazy part? EVERYONE knew that those two balls were coming.

Perhaps Rohit Sharma was caught by surprise, for he was undone by an absolute snorter on the very first ball. But KL Rahul was specifically mentally well-prepared to encounter the in-swinger, having just seen his partner be undone by the ball coming back in. 

And yet, despite having all that knowledge, he could do absolutely nothing. 

Rahul, who was fully expecting the ball to tail-in, was helpless as soon as the white kookaburra left Shaheen’s hands, and could only watch as his stumps got shattered. So good was Shaheen that he literally overpowered a clairvoyant batsman.

And he did not just do that to some batsman. Shaheen, despite being evidently predictable, flummoxed arguably the best modern-day T20 opener, someone who headed into the World Cup in red-hot form. You can only imagine what he is going to do to the other mere mortals.

Nothing puts into perspective the impact of Shaheen’s new-ball burst as much as this incredible Criclytics Win Projection revelation: India were slight favourites before the first ball, but were never ahead after the first over.

For years, it felt Pakistan needed a divine intervention to get the better of India in a World Cup game. On Sunday, they got it in the form of Shaheen Shah Afridi’s bowling.

India needn’t overreact, but there are certainly areas of concern

Kohli and India would know that they lost the game with the bat. 151 was never going to be enough on that Dubai wicket, and the middling nature of the total meant that Pakistan could really cruise towards the target by taking minimal risks.

But despite the underwhelming showing with the bat, it is the team’s toothless display with the ball that should concern the management. For while the batters were undone by some exceptional bowling from Pakistan, the bowlers put up an abject showing wherein they surrendered and gave-in. 

Jadeja bowled a fine spell, and we can cut some slack for Varun Chakravarthy, who bowled three very disciplined overs before being taken apart towards the end of his spell. Neither were at their very best but there were positive signs.

The performances of Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, however, were diabolical on the night.

The duo took the new ball for India, ahead of Bumrah, and their lacklustre showing really set the (wrong) tone for the chase. Both the seamers did not get any purchase, and that is fine, but were flabbergastingly wayward with their lines. 

Every alternate ball they strayed straight, and this allowed the two Pakistan openers to settle and motor along without taking any risks. The two bowlers’ body language, throughout the game, was off too, and Shami’s final over - which cost 17 runs and gifted Pakistan the game - exemplified it.

Perhaps you could argue Shami - who has the tendency to blow hot and cold - had an off day, but these kind of performances are starting to become the norm with Bhuvneshwar, who was once again a shadow of his old self. Not once did he remotely threaten the two Pakistan openers.

The concern for India is that they only have one back-up seamer in the 15, Shardul Thakur. Regardless of who plays, it does look like Bumrah will have to do the heavy-lifting on the fast-bowling front - in all three phases. 

Kohli will also be slightly worried about the excessive dew in Dubai. The towels were out by the end of the powerplay in the second innings, and it is not good news for India, who are scheduled to play three of their remaining four games at the Dubai international stadium.

The Men in Blue have a spin-heavy squad, but excessive dew could hamper their plans to field three spinners. 

The batters were blown away by Pakistan’s brilliance, but if at all there are any concerns, it might be about the form and fitness of Hardik Pandya. The right-hander looked scratchy and terribly out-of-form during his eight-ball stay, and he also got hit on his shoulder. 

Injury might force India to field Ishan Kishan sooner rather than later, but it will be interesting to see how much they back ‘Pandya the specialist batsman’ in this current form.  

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India vs PakistanICC World Twenty20, 2021IndiaPakistanShaheen AfridiVirat KohliBabar AzamKL RahulRohit SharmaBhuvneshwar KumarMohammed Shami

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