India’s performance in the World T20 this year has been scratchy at best, criticised by experts and filled with selection bloopers that could well have been avoided.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have been unlike their unpredictable self. The batting has clicked despite being their weaker suit and the bowling has been difficult to get away for most part.
Looking at how the India v Pakistan game went, however, it would have been easy to mix the two up.
There were pockets of plays where Pakistan looked like repeating their batting dose from their warm-up game against India. And India looked like doing themselves much damage with some inexplicable bowling, probably brought about by nerves.
Zaheer Khan’s opening over sent fans buzzing with reminiscence of an over he bowled at the 2003 World Cup final at the similar time. A Stephen Hamisonesque wide off the first ball was followed by a cracking cut to the fence and another set of five wides down the leg-side.
He conceded 13 in that over but was a tad unlucky in that Virender Sehwag dropped a simple catch in the slips. Nazir got another four off an inside edge but his impetuousness got the better of him next ball, an lbw against him as he walked down the track.
Shahid Afridi is fast gaining a reputation of becoming a leg-break bowler whose batting has only remained a fond remembrance. So when he was sent up the order, it was a surprise of gargantuan proportions and one that would have pushed India into hurried thinking.
This tactic was a good one on paper, a bid to unsettle the Indian side already reeling under pressure from team selection issues and facing a potential early exit from the tournament.
He began well with a couple of boundaries off Irfan Pathan but tight bowling post those shots first slowed him down and eventually led to his downfall. A short one from Balaji, returning to the team after a surprising exclusion last game, saw him smash it to the deep square-leg fielder.
Pakistan’s sizzling start was brought to a grinding halt after that wicket. From the time Afridi fell only 24 runs were scored in five overs and the consequent pressure led to three more wickets.
Nasir Jamshed played his second poor shot in as many games, to be caught behind off Yuvraj Singh. Kamran Akmal fared no better and gifted his wicket away to the Yuvraj as well and when captain Hafeez’ laboured stay at the crease was ended by an inside edge to the stumps, Pakistan had lost half their side for 59.
This Pakistan side has shown in the tournament in games gone by, their strength down the order and Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal looked like in line to repeat the dose. The pair added 47 for the sixth, including 20 off a couple of overs from Pathan and Balaji, and the danger signs were flashing for India.
It was R Ashwin who brought India back into the game. Dhoni had held Ashwin back till the second half of the innings, after bowling three overs at the top in the Australia game and it was his spell of three overs which made it difficult for Pakistan.
Kohli was to get the man-of-the-match award and Yuvraj garnered plaudits for his bowling but Ashwin’s 2/10 in those three overs prevented any repeat shows from the India-Pakistan warm-up game.
Chasing 129, India made a poor start. Gautam Gambhir, at best of times, is an aggressive cricketer. However, without too many to chase, it needed a slightly sensible approach from him, especially given that Sehwag was always going to take on the bowling.
Instead, off only the second ball of the chase, Gambhir stepped out of the crease, but failing to get the middle of the bat, he offered a simple return catch to the greenhorn, Raza Hasan.
Sehwag was a little less adventurous than his usual self, brought on by his axe previous game. With the required rate, however, at only six an over, he did not need to hammer his way from the start.
Still it look his only five balls to hit first four, a quintessential cut through point off Gul. The same over ended with the Delhi batsman lofting the pace bowler over mid-wicket to race along.
Two dropped chances from Pakistan, albeit tough, cost them in the middle overs. After the initial breakthrough, they would have loved to get one more to put the pressure back on India.
Instead, Sehwag and Kohli, aided by those two half-chances, put the pressure back on Pakistan.
By the time Sehwag smashed one to long-off off Afridi, his 24-ball 29 had aided in the addition of 74 for the second wicket, a well-deserved win was not too far.
Yuvraj Singh stayed around long enough to see Kohli get to another half-century and India to their first Super Eights win in three World T20s.
Earlier, India shelved their tactic to play an extra bowler, bringing Sehwag into the side. The reasoning behind the five-bowler strategy was to prop up a bowling line-up that lacked edge. With the weakening of the batting line-up and the inability of the bowlers to get going against Australia, Dhoni got back to doing what he does best – play that extra batsman.
India now play South Africa in the last Super Eights game while Pakistan will be up against Australia.
Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports writer and tweets here @suneerchowdhary