Rohit Sharma ton, Kuldeep Yadav magic delivery inspire India’s commanding win over PakistanJune 17, 2019
Twice in the space of the first 50 overs of the day, the gods sided with Sarfaraz Ahmed’s team. First, when the Pakistan captain guessed the side of the falling coin at the toss. In gloomy conditions, Ahmed made this stroke of fortune count by sticking Virat Kohli’s India in to bat. Mohammad Amir, Pakistan’s crafty new-ball bowler even did what he was expected to do by starting the match with a sparkling maiden over.
The next dose of luck arrived from the skies, which began spraying down on Old Trafford during the dregs of India’s batting innings. When the players rushed off the field, mid-way through the 47th over, Kohli was pushing on towards a hundred while aiding India’s charge towards a team score of 350-plus runs.
The hour-long rain break ensured that on resumption neither Kohli nor India achieved what they were about to before the break in rhythm. Kohli was out for 77 and India’s 50-over essay ended at least 15 runs short on 336, what with the untested middle-order scoring just 31 runs from the last 20 balls.
But even numerous interventions of the divine kind count for close to nothing if the players are not shrewd enough to capitalise on them. Ahmed’s hope was to put pressure on India’s fresh opening pair of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma and then go on to chip away at the side’s weak middle-order. And to apply just this pressure, he relied heavily on his three pacers, Amir, Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali.
By the end of Amir’s third over, he found himself on two official warnings from the umpire for treading on the danger area of the pitch. And incredibly, at the end of Riaz’s third over, he too had managed to cop two official warnings for the same infringement as Amir. With this terrible distraction—the worry of being taken out of attack for their next misstep—Amir and Riaz did as well as anyone could in the situation. Amir still finished with figures of 3/47 (Pakistan’s best) and when Riaz was forced to come round the wicket (to not follow through on to the pitch) he even dismissed Rahul, the change of angle forcing him to spoon a simple catch to the cover fielder.
But by then India’s openers had already hurried on to 136 runs with both Sharma and Rahul plundering Pakistan’s third pacer, Hasan Ali, who ended up conceding 84 runs in his nine overs.
Against Ali, Sharma was particularly sensational. He walloped the medium pacer for the first six of the game in the sixth over, a back-of-a-length ball that was pulled over the midwicket fence. And against Ali, Sharma also played the shot of the match in the 27th over, where he slapped a short and wide ball into the stands behind backward point.
That shot took Sharma into the nineties, and three overs later, he cut the leg-spinner Shadab Khan and punched his captain’s glove en route his single to bring up his second hundred of this World Cup. And because this was just the 30th over of the innings, the air in Old Trafford was rich with the expectation of a fourth Sharma double hundred.
It didn’t happen, for Sharma attempted a funky scoop when on 140 and whacked his pads with his bat in frustration for missing out; but giving away his wicket was the only way Sharma was going to return to the pavilion against this Pakistan attack.
Weirdly, it was an attack that consisted of two spinners, Shadab and orthodox spinner Imad Wasim, who were brought back into the playing eleven for this match after both were dropped from Pakistan’s previous game against Australia.
And consider that carefully: Ahmed recalled two spinners who couldn’t make the cut against an Australian side that doesn’t play spin well in the hope that they would tackle the best players of spin in the world.
It was just that kind of a day for Pakistan. Any other batting order would perhaps have capitalised in a situation where the opposition’s bowling mainstay limped off the field, early in the innings. During just his third over Bhuvneshwar Kumar – in the middle of a brilliant spell – pulled up during his run-up and clutched his left hamstring. The previous ball, he had landed uncomfortably on a soggy crease and now it was affecting simple movements. As he walked off the field, much to India’s worry, Kohli tossed the ball to tournament debutant Vijay Shankar, who ended up trapping Imam-ul-Haq leg before with his very first World Cup ball.
Bhuvneshwar’s absence would not be felt by an India that expects even its reserves to deliver on the biggest stage. And yet another gift was squandered by Pakistan. For a while, Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam kept the Pakistani fans in the stands interested.
Azam’s classical strokes and Zaman’s unorthodox cuts and pulls took Pakistan past the 100-run mark for the loss of just one wicket. Until, Kuldeep Yadav, who has had a quiet World Cup so far, extinguished both their flames with his magical left palm.
The chinaman bowler spun it big into the right-handed Azam, who had his eyes and hands in by this time and was batting on 48.
Yet, he played down the wrong line and the whizzing ball crashed into his stumps. And two balls later in his next over, Yadav had Zaman mistiming a sweep and top-edging it for a catch at fine-leg.
As he walked back for 62, Ahmed surely must’ve known that he also wouldn’t be the captain to break India’s dominance over his country at World Cups.
When rain stopped play again in the evening with Pakistan in tatters, they were 166/6 in 35 overs, Ahmed would’ve hoped that they wouldn’t have to take the field again and simply lose on the basis of Duckworth Lewis. But it really was that kind of a day for Pakistan where the rain ended up clearing and they were given a recalibrated and amazing target of 136 runs from five overs.