World Cup 2019, India vs Pakistan: One ball that sealed the deal
So it is 7-0 India, after a well-deserved victory for one of the most complete ODI sides the nation has ever produced. A win over the eternal rivals Pakistan always engenders moments to cherish, and this triumph at Old Trafford was no different.
Rohit Sharma's sublime innings of 140 set the tone for India's gigantic score of 336/5, which, even at such enormous proportions, was about 15 short of what India had threatened at the outset. Then there was the calm and calculated captain's knock by Virat Kohli that ended in bizarre fashion as the India skipper walked ostensibly following a nick from a steep bouncer that ultra-edge failed to pick up.
There was the first-ball wicket captured by Vijay Shankar, Hardik Pandya's timely strikes with the ball and KL Rahul''s resilience at the top of the order that helped negate the brilliance of Mohammad Amir's vicious left-arm pace.
However, if there was one moment of transcendental magic that captured the imagination of a packed house at Old Trafford and the millions on the TV sets who witnessed India beating Pakistan for the 7th straight time in World Cup cricket, it was produced by the Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav.
India must have hoped to wreak havoc with their frontline pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar at the start of the innings. The duo began in impressive fashion too, making the new ball zip around and giving Pakistan openers Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman a lot to worry about with the required run rate climbing steadily.
However, Kumar departed in the middle of one of his overs with an injury. And Bumrah went on to produce a surprisingly off-color performance on a flat deck as India's sub-continental rivals began consolidating following Imam's departure.
The pitch, as seen in the first innings, had some amount of grip and bounce for the spinners, and captain Kohli must have hoped that the impressive leggie Yuzvendra Chahal would provide the crucial breakthrough. However, it was not to be as the dynamic Babar Azam, who has a batting average of over 50 in ODIs, got a measure of Chahal and begun to assert himself as the innings progressed.
Azam's majestic slog-sweeps over mid-wicket off Chahal elicited a lot of furrowed brows in the Indian contingent at that point of time.
This was the only moment when Pakistan actually threatened to chase down the huge target set by India. And Azam was building a brisk and solid partnership with Fakhar Zaman, who had begun to find his timing as well.
With the score at 117/1 in the 24th over, the Indians might have started fearing the worst; the partnership needed to be broken. This was especially true considering how the Pakistan lower order had nearly chased down another imposing total set by Australia in the last match before a late-order collapse.
Out stepped Chahal's spin partner Kuldeep Yadav, and his left-handed wrist spinners began gripping the pitch and troubling the duo. Many had expected Yadav to be dropped in favor of pacer Mohammed Shami for this match, but the team management had read the pitch rightly - and Yadav's inclusion paid dividends in dramatic fashion.
One of his trademark Chinaman deliveries landed just outside off stump and spun in prodigiously before castling Azam, Pakistan's best batsman by far. The man who had looked in menacing touch till then, had no answer to what was possibly the delivery of the tournament. It spun through his bat and pad wickedly before crashing into the stumps, sounding alarm bells for Pakistan.
The partnership was broken and India's ascent initiated.
A significant blow
Moments later Yadav would scalp Zaman, who had reached 62, and Pakistan's challenge was all but over. However, it is Azam's wicket that will remain more significant in the context of the match.
That second wicket partnership between him and Zaman could have been the catalyst that led Pakistan to a famous victory. Instead, Yadav's dream delivery, that turned in surreal fashion and would have taken out most batsmen in the world, catalyzed India's charge to victory - with the Pakistanis losing heart and collapsing around it.
It stamped India's authority in the tournament in dramatic fashion, a tournament where they are fast becoming the team to beat with their all-round performances.
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