Now it’s Pakistan’s turn.
Let’s start at the beginning though. Woke up at 4:30 am. Put on my official Indian jersey (the one they had before they changed it recently). Found out that India had won the toss and was batting. Before going to bed, I had tweeted that if India had lost the toss and was fielding, would go back to sleep (Between ourselves, I would not have of course). So this was good.
Then I looked at the team rosters. Akthar was not playing. A slight pang of regret because 1) I kind of admire his dogged passion and his aggressiveness and 2) I enjoy watching his crestfallen expression once he is carted around.
And then I looked at the Indian squad. What? No Ashwin?
Ashwin I had thought would be a sure-shot selection. Why? Because he had bowled extremely well against West Indies and Australia. Because he is not the standard-type of spinner, being one that the Pakistanis (who cannot play for IPL) have not encountered before. Finally because he seems to be the kind of person who bowls well when the batsmen are trying to have a go at him (since he bowls a lot in the Powerplay overs) and would be an ideal foil for the perennially attacking Pakistani batsmen. In his place I find Ashish Nehra, who has not been in the best of form and who had a confidence-gutting match against South Africa. (Even after the match, I feel Ashwin would have been the far better, more attacking “option” instead of Nehra who got two tail-ender wickets and who to his credit was merely economical, but not threatening, on a track difficult to score off.)
With the way Sehwag and Sachin open up, of course one ceased caring about team selection. Hell we will just bat them out. This seemed to be a classic Mohali featherbed and even Sachin at the presentation said he was looking at more than 300. So were we.
Umar Gul, yet another cricketer who discovered the KKR side of him at a critical juncture, was trying his best to help us towards that aim. In trying to blaze the Indians out ala Akthar in his prime, he was giving the two openers easy four balls which Sehwag was dispatching with the customary brutishness he reserves for Pakistan.
Everything was perfect. The real Caesar, the decoy Caesar and the future Caesar were in the stands. Crowd shouting “Sachin Sachin” in the Maximus Maximus style. And Sachin and Sehwag, like two battle-axe wielding gladiators scything through the Pakistanis.
Among the few things I truly envy about my neighboring country is their endless supply of genuinely-fast, talented pace bowlers. They produce these with almost assembly-line regularity before they end up with life-bans or develop stress fractures or land up with Veena Malik. To that list of fast men add Wahab Riaz, the new kid on the block, who produced a supremely magnificent MoM-deserving spell to pull India down with Yuvraj Singh getting the kind of swinging Brahma-astra-type yorker that one Shoaib Akthar once rocked India with in a Test in Calcutta. Twice.
Kohli after the initial century has had a quiet tournament and today also he disappointed. Along with Dhoni who increasingly is becoming like Ganguly at his worst (good captain but not worth his place in team as batsman). As a matter of fact with another sub-par batting performance (minus Raina), India would have been totally and irrevocably shut out of the match.
Except that Afridi’s men kept grassing catches like Americans dropping bombs in Tora Bora, displaying the kind of aerial fielding I had last seen in a Computer Science vs Metallurgy match in Jadavpur University. Sachin was the biggest beneficiary of their Asha-Aman as he played possibly, one of the most charmed innings I can recall him having played in recent times. Even on the worst of pitches, the greatest aspect of Sachin’s batting has been that just by watching him at the crease, one would think that there is nothing wrong on the square. Today though was different and every-time he tried anything mildly attacking, he would give a catch which would then go down. Sachin deserves his 100th 100 but today was definitely not that day.
Two hundred sixty was a minimum of 20 runs perhaps even more short on this pitch given India’s bowling resources. It would have been against normal international A-grade teams.
But Pakistan isnt your normal international A-grade team. To put it mildly.
It was not the shot-selection which was just bizarre. Mohammed Hafeez’s attempt at a Pepsi-special shot at a time when he was cruising I could explain as a KKR moment. Afridi’s swipe was well…..the way the man has played all his life.
But what can one say about Misbah-ul-Haq’s batting? I understand the need for playing the sheet anchor but this was absolutely as mindboggling as a “Kyon tu baraf peeta hai whisky main daalke”. As an example, there was a time when he was batting with Umar Akmal. Umar Akmal is plenty-talented with really amazing hand-eye coordination and today he seemed to be in fine nick. With the run-rate climbing, Akmal Junior took after Yuvraj’s bowling getting the momentum back. Now in a normal team, the guy playing anchor would try to give Umar Akmal the strike. He might not be successful if the bowling was good or the pitch was bad. But at least he would try.
Misbah did not even try. He just kept chomping up deliveries. When the ball was hit to the ring, usually a batsman steps out one or two paces, showing intent for a run. This pressurizes the fielder and also enables him to run should there be a mis-field. Misbah, most of the time, did not even take those two paces. There were at least two times I remember Umar Akmal almost goading him for a run, advancing three or four or even more paces but Misbah was just not interested. It was not that he was being beaten (like the Indians were), he seemed quite comfortable. Not too many plays and misses, no edges, no streaky shots. Perfectly in control. And perfectly static. And at the end, when he decided to open up striking some immensely powerful, clean hits (he could not run because No 11 was at the other end), displaying not a trace of tentativeness, one could not help but wonder “Whattt?” [Read Cricinfo’s stats analysis of the “mysterious man” here]
India, second match running, fielded as well as it has had in recent memory. Dhoni got the bowling order down perfectly and India took all its chances (except a stumping). The bowling was good too from everyone with Munaf’s amazing leg-cutter to Razzaq a perfect tribute to the “man who stared down Pakistan” in 1996. But again, I wonder what the result would have been had not Misbah and to an extent Younis Khan not knocked the wind out of their own sails.
Not that any Indian fan cared. Gilani and Manmohan Singh sat stoney-faced next to each other, very much a date that seemed to have gone very very wrong. Afridi stood dignified in defeat and made a gracious match-end speech. The emperor-that-is and the emperor-that-will-be fraternized with a carefully selected assembly of lords, nobles and a few lucky plebeians. Aamir Khan looked as pleased as punch; there was a time when I thought in the innings break, he would fire Dhoni and take over the captaincy himself for the second innings. Wahab Riaz sat thinking how in a month Balaji would be earning more money per over than he could ever hope to make. Ravi Shastri engaged in “this is the biggest game in cricket history” hyperbole. Sachin waved at the crowd, Bhajji pumped his fists, Geeta Basra smiled coyly.
And the truth sunk in. Pakistan had been shut out of Mumbai. At least this time.
Now only Sri Lanka remains in our path.
Dear Mr. Dilshan, hold onto your pallu.
Because we are marching.