Dubai: India 238 for 1 (Dhawan 114, Rohit 111*) beat Pakistan 237 for 7 (Malik 78, Sarfraz 44, Bumrah 2-29) by nine wickets.
Those who have been following cricket for only about the last ten years, those who don’t know the history between the two countries, must be wondering what all the fuss around India-Pakistan matches is about. Yet another mismatch added to a long list of forgettable recent matches between the two teams as Pakistan failed to compete with an efficient India line-up. From the time they won the toss, Pakistan hardly put a foot right: they batted first at a bowl-first ground, they started and ended their innings poorly, the fielding was pedestrian, and India did what good sides do: keep giving an error-prone opposition every possible reason to make another mistake. They were all but through to the final of the Asia Cup.
India were thoroughly professional and dynamic under their stand-in captain Rohit Sharma. The fast bowlers executed their plan of cramping up the left-hand openers, a legspinner came on early enough in a data-based decision, Jasprit Bumrah thwarted a Shoaib Malik fifty with four overs of excellent death bowling, and for the second match in a row against Pakistan, Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan almost had a net in the middle to seal an easy win.
The game began with the continuous fascinating examination of Fakhar Zaman. India hardly gave him any room to hit the ball through off side in the first seven overs, giving him just six off 24 balls. Straight bowling has been a weakness for Zaman, but as he showed in the Champions Trophy final last year, he can catch up as the innings progresses. Rohit, though, changed things around just as Zaman would have started to settle down. As early as the eighth over, India had Yuzvendra Chahal on. Though the wicket – Chahal’s first in Powerplays in ODIs – was that of Imam-ul-Haq’s, Zaman has been out twice to Jeffrey Vandersay and once to Adil Rashid already in his short career. Legspin against Zaman was a good match-up.
Zaman, though, showed good awareness and backed himself to catch up later, much like Rohit himself has done after many a tough start. He began to turn it around with a slog-swept six and four off Kuldeep Yadav, taking his strike rate past 70, but fell in a double unfortunate manner. Looking for a regulation sweep this time, he slipped as his front foot landed, and in the process, failed to feel the impact of the ball on the glove before it hit his pad. Given lbw, he was suggested by non-striker Babar Azam to not review, which is fair because he looked adjacent and there was no way for Azam to tell there was glove involved when the batsman himself didn’t know.
Under-pressure captain Sarfraz Ahmed – one fifty in the last year – promoted himself and began by selling Azam a dummy, making it two run-outs for Pakistan in two matches against India. Malik, though, got back to scoring runs against India after a spell of eight India matches without a score of 50. That was an extraordinary delay as he had scored 14 of those in 40 matches previously.
It was a trademark Malik innings. He was barely seen scoring those 78 runs in 90 balls. Quietly a gap would be picked and he would be at the other end. If there was a dry spell, he would break it with a calculated risk and then go back to accumulating. Towards the final overs, there seemed to be a crescendo building. Asif Ali hit Bhuvneshwar for a six, four and six to consign him to his worst over in ODIs: 22 runs. Rohit again went to legspin: when playing seam, Asif’s strike-rate in ODIs is twice that of against spin; the dip is significant in PSL too. Chahal delivered the wicket, and Bumrah took over with an exceptional spell of 4-0-15-2. Yorkers came out perfectly as he kept things simple against a lower-middle order that didn’t show the ability to innovate.
Only 38 came off the last seven overs, which had all but ended the contest half an hour after you felt Pakistan, for the first time in these two matches, had managed to reach parity. Worst fears were about to come through. The ball did nothing for Pakistan bowlers, and the pitch only quickened up under the lights, making stroke-making even easier. There was no swing for Mohammad Amir even though the 18-year-old Shaheen Afridi created a little bit of excitement. Soon he was in for the Amir treatment as he drew a catch from Rohit with a slower ball, Imam made it the fourth one dropped off the pacer’s bowling in two games.
Amir was taken out, Hasan Ali struggled with the new ball, Amir came back, Afridi kept trying, but Rohit and Dhawan kept dispatching them all without a bother. Rohit now handled even Shadab Khan easily despite his recent troubles against legspin. Another catch went down. Amir has now gone 35.4 overs without a wicket in ODIs.
With their wives sitting next to each other, Rohit and Dhawan went on to put together India’s biggest opening stand against Pakistan; their 13th hundred stand was now the second-most for India openers. Unlike in the previous game, there were enough runs for the duo to get hundreds. Otherwise, the chase was as easy as the 163 the other night.