There is a bar for international batsmen and with Pakistan it is never quite certain which way they will push it. There is never a shortage of spectacle when they play and that box was at least ticked in Mirpur. Pakistan crumbled to 83 all out in 17.3 overs their lowest ever score in T20Is after batting first. There is a bar for international bowlers too and Pakistan have been vaulting over it for years. Mohammad Amir, playing his sixth international limited-overs match in nearly as many years, turned up like he hadn’t missed a beat. He took out Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane for ducks in the first over of the chase, and a low-scoring game that had threatened to be one-sided was given the thrill India-Pakistan cricket is known for. But Virat Kohli’s class and technique prevailed in the end and India held on for a five-wicket win.
Rohit, who had stood a class apart on a similarly challenging pitch on Wednesday, was beaten for pace and prodigious inswing before he even had his bearings set. The first ball, a yorker, may well have burned a hole through his boot and crashed into off stump. Amir could not have sounded his warning any clearer or louder but his leg-before appeal was turned down. So he pulled his length back but kept the inswing going. Rohit was rapped on the pads again and this time there was no doubt. Rahane, coming as a late replacement as Shikhar Dhawan rested a niggle, saw a wide down leg before he too could not handle the ball bending back into him at over 140 kph and was trapped in front. Suresh Raina popped a catch to mid-on in Amir’s next over and India were 8 for 3.
Kohli persevered amid the carnage, deflecting the memory of an inswinger that nearly had him lbw and an edge that flew over the slip cordon. Both were off Amir’s bowling, but his full quota was all done by the seventh over. After that sensational spell of 4-0-18-3, India gained the breathing room they needed and Kohli’s 49 off 51 balls secured a fifth T20I win in six matches in the lead up to the World T20.
As taxing as India’s batsmen had it, it was hard not to think about their bowlers. MS Dhoni had won the toss and handed them first use of a green-tinged pitch. Ashish Nehra began in vintage fashion, moving the ball across the right-hander and getting it to bounce more than expected. A surprised Mohammad Hafeez nicked the fourth ball of the match through to the wicketkeeper. At the other end, Jasprit Bumrah’s natural bustle into the crease had the same effect but he was bringing the ball into the right-handers. Khurram Manzoor’s pads weathered a lot of impact as he came in at No. 3 and played out a maiden over on his T20I debut. Sharjeel Khan was undone by Bumrah’s offcutter in the fourth over and India’s discipline was bearing the sweetest fruit.
Then it created a spectacular chaos. Shoaib Malik poked a shortish delivery into the covers and took a few steps down, looking for a single. A non-existent one because Kohli had swooped down on the ball with great agility. It made Malik rethink his decision and then change it but it was too late. Manzoor was barely in the frame when the direct hit found the non-striker’s end. To complete the ineptness of that little passage of play from Pakistan, Manzoor had lost his bat in the frantic hurry to turn around and save himself. Seven balls later, Malik chased one outside off from Hardik Pandya and nicked it behind. It was the first of three wickets for a man known more as a batting allrounder.
Yuvraj Singh surprisingly came in to bowl the first over of spin, ahead of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. His first ball was angled in at Umar Akmal, who played for turn and was trapped lbw and Pakistan were 35 for 5 in the eighth over.
As if to cap a spell of self-destructive batting, there was another silly run-out. Shahid Afridi, whose experience spans nearly 20 years in international cricket, went for an ambitious second run to deep square leg taking on India’s quickest man across the turf and the strongest arm, of Ravindra Jadeja. The pick up was one-handed and the throw was barely a parabola. Like a sniper’s shot, it travelled along a near straight line and ended up a few centimeters away from the stumps and Dhoni made up the distance. Pakistan finished the eighth over at 42 for 6, the lower order just about doubled that. But it just wasn’t enough.