Ten months have passed since Shaheen Afridi’s iconic pace and swing session in a T20 World Cup match at the Dubai International stadium completely destroyed India’s batting. In the inaugural match of the Asia Cup on Sunday evening, the Indian batters scrambled to a thrilling five-wicket victory with two balls to spare as the Indian pace attack literally and figuratively rebounded to bowl out Pakistan for 147.
Indian pacers, led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya, consistently threw short-pitch material throughout the Pakistani innings, resulting in the first five Pakistani wickets falling to balls that climbed to the shoulders of the Pakistani batsmen. Bhuvneshwar’s 4/26 and Hardik’s 3/25 provided Indian hitters with a manageable goal to beat Pakistan in this event by one run. When the chase went awry, it was up to Hardik to complete it with an unbeaten 17-ball 33. Hardik once again demonstrated why, when bowling at full force, he becomes an important member of the squad with a six off left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz to end the game.
All of it came dangerously close to being for nothing as the Indian top order of KL Rahul (0), Rohit Sharma (12 off 18), and Virat Kohli (35 off 34) once again appeared out of place against excellent pace, as it did that evening in October last year. In place of Afridi, 19-year-old Naseem Shah (2/27) sent shockwaves through the Indian dressing room by dismissing Rahul in the first over and having Kohli dropped on naught off the first ball. The conservative batting, which has plagued India’s T20 fortunes in big matches, reappeared.
Prior to being holed out at long-off off Nawaz (3/33), Kohli and Rohit appeared tenacious. In place of Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja was given the opportunity to bat at No. 4. He struggled to a 29-ball 35. However, it was his 29-ball 52-run stand with Hardik together with Pakistan’s erratic bowling and low over-rate (which forced Pakistan to use five fielders within the circle in the final three overs) that allowed India to escape with a victory.