It was less fever and more fast-forward on Saturday night, the manner in which the batsmen floundered against pace and wickets tumbled on a helpful pitch. In the end, India sealed an impressive victory in the latest contest against traditional rivals Pakistan, surmounting the nerves.
In the lead up to the Asia Cup group clash, talk about the presence of Mohammad Amir was the loudest. The tainted pacer had returned to international cricket just a month back and was playing in his first high-profile game since then.
Amir, who has been India’s chief tormentor in the few games he has played against them, returned to face India and very nearly turned the game on its head with a fiery opening spell.
He would have succeeded had it not been for India pacers bundling out Pakistan for 83, their third lowest T20 tally, after the batsmen failed to come to terms with India’s pace attack and energy on the field at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium. Virat Kohli steered India to 85 for five in 15.3 overs to secure their second straight win.
Defending the low score, Pakistan’s bowlers began a counter attack that knocked the stuffing out of India’s top-order, with opener Shikhar Dhawan missing out due to ankle injury.
Amir sent back both openers, Rohit Sharma (0) and Ajinkya Rahane with in-swinging deliveries in the first over. Amir then removed a clueless Suresh Raina in his second over, leaving India gasping at eight for three.
He bowled at close to 150 kph and brought the ball in, leaving the top order guessing. It was a kind of spell that showed cricket-lovers what they had missed in the last five years when he was serving a ban for his involvement in the 2010 spot-fixing scandal in England.
The game could well have gone so differently had the coin fallen the other way. India skipper MS Dhoni called it right and chose to bowl first on a wicket that enough for the seamers. Call it the fear of the occasion or the devil in the track, Pakistan lost quick wickets.
After India’s initial batting collapse, their main man Kohli (49 off 51 balls) weathered the Amir storm and took charge. Kohli dominated the strike as he put together a 68-run fourth-wicket partnership with Yuvraj Singh (14 off 32). Although he fell leg one short of a well-deserved fifty, India crossed the line without too much worry.
“We knew Amir and Mohammad Sami are the only two bowlers who bowl up, the rest of their pacers bowl a little back of the length,” Dhoni said after the match.
“Considering the low target, we knew one partnership would see us through. Amir bowled really well and credit to him.”
Ashish Nehra provided a first-over breakthrough, dismissing the experienced Mohammad Hafiz. As if Pakistan losing wickets to bowlers wasn’t enough, there were two run out, one the result of a direct hit by Kohli at the non-striker’s end and the next, the big scalp of skipper Shahid Afridi after he was beaten by Ravindra Jadeja’s flat throw into Dhoni’s gloves.