Pakistan 302 for 9 (Malik 128, Yousuf 87, Nehra 4-55) vs India 248 (Dravid 76, Gambhir 57, Ajmal 2-31, Afridi 2-39). Pakistan beat India by 54 runs.
Pakistan’s encounter with India at Centurian Park today could be dubbed as the final before the final of the ICC Champions Trophy tournament. Today, 1.2 billion people around the world were glued to their TV screens (and in some cases their Computer Screens) watching and tracking every bowl and every shot as if the world’s survival depended upon it.
There was tremendous pressure on players on both sides to perform beyond their natural capabilities. There was no room for error and every shot had to be perfect and every bowl, a wicket taking delivery. It was as if, cricketers were born and groomed to play today’s encounter.
When Pakistan batted, India’s bowlers went from being ordinary to being really “lifeless”. Even though they had made early inroads into Pakistani lineup by snaring the openers, yet Ishant Sharma, RP Singh or even Harbajan Singh were not really masters of their game. Spraying runs in boundaries and leaking singles regularly, they let the subdued batsmen come out of their shell and break free into a run fest rarely seen. With the result, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yusuf milked the Indian bowlers to their advantage. Scoring well over 200 runs in a better than run a ball partnership to lay the foundations for a big score for Pakistan.
While Afridi and Ajmal proved once again why Pakistan considers their spin duo as the most dangerous in the world, Harbajan Singh and Yusuf Pathan struggled to control their line and length. Pakistani spinners not only checked the run flow but took crucial wickets at critical junctures to break India’s back. Where Indian spinners found no spin and help from what seemed like a lifeless track, Afridi and Ajmal were able to outfox Indian batsmen, including Dravid, who is probably one of the best players of spin, into false strokes with regular intervals.
India had their moments though. Gautham Gambhir and Suresh Raina breaking out of their shell to score some quick runs in fours and sixes. Yet there was no method to their madness. It seemed, every bowl was there to be hit and every stroke had to be a six and that it was not a 50 over game but a T20 encounter. Contrast to that, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yusuf constructed their innings not on stupendously huge sixes, but on singles and doubles that were readily available through out the game. While Dravid, who played a well crafted 70, never came out of his shell and nor really threatened to take the game away from Pakistan, yet Malik, who took over 70 deliveries (Dravid like) to score his first 50, took half of that to score his next. His acceleration was not only Afridi like, but it really took India out of contention of ever getting back into the game.
There were some memorable moments in the game for Pakistan. Mohammad Aamir, Pakistan’s teen sensation was able to snare the wicket of Tendulkar (twice his age) early in his innings. And Shoaib Malik bettered his top score to 128 and probably played an innings of his lifetime. A quiet and subdued player, he has delivered more for Pakistan than he is credited for. It was also great to see Mohammad Yusuf playing one of his iconic knocks and steering Pakistan out of trouble into a comfortable victory seat.
It still needs to be seen if Pakistan can keep this winning streak going any longer. Three more games to win in a row (Australia, Semi Final and Final) before they can safely lift the Champions trophy. Three more sensational matches to play. And if they played like they did earlier this year to lift the World T20 title, then they are truly the worthy Champions.
ICC can keep tournament out of Pakistan, but can the world keep the trophy away from Pakistan? Three more matches we will all know the truth.