Ashish Nehra was seen to be in the last legs of a career that had sputtered because his frail body repeatedly broke down, making it simply impossible to play either first-class or 50-over matches on a regular basis. However, the surprise pick for this Twenty20 season, the Delhi left-arm paceman has come good with a vengeance.
In the end, India skittled out Pakistan for 83 in 17.3 overs, their third lowest Twenty20 total. It was the third lowest by any team against India.
The 36-year-old Nehra was part of the triumphant World Cup side in 2011, but missed the final victory against Sri Lanka because of a hand fracture. His recall was seen as a huge gamble, but with each performance, Nehra has lived up to the spirit of the shortest format, where age is a mere number and experienced players across national teams are producing brilliant performances.
The India-Pakistan clash in the Asia Cup was touted as Indian batsmen versus Pakistan fast bowlers. However, Nehra has been consistent with his pace and bag of tricks since his comeback in the 3-0 series victory in Australia. He turned the focus on its head with a first over strike, leading a strong show by India’s under-rated seamers to leave Pakistan in disarray. Hardik Pandya was the most successful bowler taking 3 wickets for just 8 runs.
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni elected to bowl first on winning the toss. His decision was influenced as much by the dew that was expected to set in later in the evening, the early life on the pitch with a tinge of grass --- playing 20 overs would help the surface ease out before Pakistan’s formidable pacers got going --- as well as trust in his own pacers, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya included.
Mohammad Hafeez was at the receiving end. Nehra’s first delivery zoomed into him, yorker length. The next one, angled across, was a touch too full to be put away four four, but Nehra pulled back the length and Hafeez was beaten by the extra bounce as he shaped to cut, edging to Dhoni.
It immediately left Pakistan’s shaky batting order jittery. Bumrah struck in the fourth over to dismiss Sharjeel Khan (7), edging a cut to Ajinkya Rahane at wide slip, before Pandya accounted for Shoaib Malik (4). Pakistan were reeling at 42 for 6 in eight overs. Rahane had come into the eleven in place of opener Shikhar Dhawan, who is said to be nursing a niggle.
It was inspired stuff by India as two brilliant run outs, a Virat Kohli direct hit at the non-striker’s end to send back Khurram Manzoor and a flat throw to Dhoni to run out skipper Shahid Afridi compounded Pakistan’s misery.