India's World Cup dream ended in tears, literally for some of the players, as a gutsy Pakistan held their nerve to prevail in a low-scoring thriller. The fickle Christchurch weather was matched only by the inability of India's batsmen to apply themselves. In contrast, Pakistan showed courage and pluck, to win by two wickets with three balls remaining.
The day dawned grey and dreary, a steady drizzle spitting down on the ground and delaying the start by five hours, shortening the game to 23-overs-a-side.
Pakistan skipper Azeem Ghumman won a good toss and stuck India in. K.L. Rahul, who has been India's best batsman by some distance, shaped to drive the first ball to the on side, but the perfect late out-swinger from Fayyaz Butt beat the bat and crashed into the off-stump. Mayank Agarwal was dropped at third-man but failed to capitalise, and hacked a thick edge to the keeper.
With India's top batsmen falling just five balls into the game, the pressure began to tell on the middle order.
Harpreet Singh, promoted to No. 4, strung together a 40-run partnership with Mandeep Singh, but you're in real trouble when you have only one meaningful partnership. An inexplicable shuffling of the middle order meant Ashok Meenaria played one spot below his usual, Sufiyan Sheikh took strike ahead of Manan Sharma, and none seemed to know just what role they were to play.
At times it was painful to watch batsmen blocking when they should be attacking, and hacking away without a plan. Mandeep compiled 40, but with no support at the other end, he could not play as freely as he usually does and India ended on 114 for 9.
At the break, coach Chandrakant Pandit recalled a match he was involved in, where Mumbai could only set Delhi a target of 130 but bowled them out for less than 100. It certainly seemed to work as Sandeep Singh produced a beauty of a banana in-swinger to bowl Babar Azam. Saurabh Netrawalkar produced a beauty to square up Ahmed Shahzad and the scoring rate ground to a halt.
Pakistan had just 16 on the board from 6 overs, and left-arm quick Jaydev Unadkat, steaming in, cranked up the pressure, having Ghumman caught at slip.
With a small but highly voluble crowd competing to drown out each other with cries of 'Pakistan zindabad' and 'Come on India', the match was well and truly on. Unadkat worked up genuine pace and his awkward bounce had batsmen ducking and weaving. A repair job between Ahsan Ali and Rameez Aziz, facilitated by some ineffective back-up bowling, pushed the score to 71 before both departed.
India sniffed a chance, and sneaked in a few low-scoring overs, but Pakistan were always within sniffing distance of the target. Big hits from Hammad Azam and Usman Qadir sealed the deal, and with only four needed from the last over, India could not pull of a miracle.