India 148 for 5 (Kohli 35, Jadeja 35, Hardik 33*, Nawaz 3-33, Naseem 2-27) beat Pakistan 147 all out (Rizwan 43, Iftikhar 28, Dahani 16*, Bhuvneshwar 4-26, Hardik 3-25) by five wickets
Hardik Pandya cracked open the game for India with both ball and bat to take them to a tense win over Pakistan with two balls to spare. He bowled with pace and venom, using the short ball perfectly on a pitch with steep bounce to return figures of 4-0-25-3 and restrict Pakistan to 147. On a tacky pitch, India never really broke away from Pakistan until Hardik hit three boundaries in the 19th over. Even in the 20th, Mohammad Nawaz brought it to six required off three, but Hardik sealed it with a flat six over long-on to end up with 33 off 17.
This was a gruelling match played in oppressive heat and humidity. As a result, both teams struggled to keep time and were penalised for slow over-rate. But while Hardik’s middle-overs wickets had made sure Pakistan couldn’t really exploit there being only four fielders in the deep – instead of the usual five – Hardik was himself there to cash in with the bat.
Pakistan were further hampered by their key death bowlers – Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf – cramping up. In the end, they were left with Nawaz bowling the last over because India promoted Ravindra Jadeja when the two spinners – both turning the ball away from right-hand batters – had India in a choke hold in the middle overs. Jadeja immediately hit a six and a four off Nawaz, which meant they had to delay his final over. It also meant the asking rate never got to India because they knew they had that over left; as it happened, it was bowled with an extra fielder in the circle.
If it doesn’t swing, dig it in
With grass on the pitch and also given the history of Dubai, it was a big toss to win for India. They expected swing, but didn’t get any. While there was still seam movement on offer, Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled a surprise bouncer to Babar Azam. It was a brave change-up with third and fine leg both inside the circle, but the line was wide, which meant Babar had to fetch it. He managed just a top edge for short fine leg to catch.
Just as Pakistan looked to make the most of the final powerplay over, Avesh Khan came back from a six and a four with another short ball that took the top edge from a Fakhar Zaman cut. At 43 for 2, Pakistan had fallen behind the game early.
Mohammad Rizwan just couldn’t come to terms with the pitch, falling behind a run a ball. He could hardly time any of his attempted big hits. Iftikhar Ahmed, batting against spinners – not his stronger suit – still managed to score 28 off 22 in a 45-run partnership.
With eight overs to go, Pakistan needed to get a move on. This is when Hardik came back to bowl with great pace and bounce. The first ball was just too high and too quick for Iftikhar, taking a top edge on the hook. In the 15th over, Hardik took out both Rizwan and Khushdil Shah with the short ball to make it 103 for 5.
Dahani, Rauf give themselves something to bowl
Pinpoint knuckle balls from Bhuvneshwar then reduced Pakistan to 128 for 9, but Shahnawaz Dahani and Rauf managed to score 29 off 13 balls between the two of them. Dahani smacked two lovely sixes, one over long-on and another over midwicket, a hook to a slower bouncer.
Pakistan’s fast bowlers impress
The start of India’s innings was hectic. Naseem had KL Rahul play on with the second ball of his T20I career. Then Virat Kohli was dropped for a duck at second slip. Edges went past the wicket. Rohit Sharma kept getting beaten on the outside edge, enduring the slowest powerplay he has had in T20Is. The ball kept fizzing around, but in between Kohli played a lovely front-foot pull over wide mid-on and a back-foot punch. When the powerplay ended at 38 for 1, Pakistan were right in the game.
Spinners strike, India disrupt
India made a bold choice playing Kohli ahead of Rishabh Pant, the only left-hand batter in the top seven. It becomes tricky for India especially when Rohit and Kohli are batting together against spin. If there was any consolation, they didn’t muck around. They went for their shots, but on this pitch Nawaz was good enough to have them caught on the boundary with the last ball of the eighth over and the first of the 10th.
Between those two wickets, India improvised, sending Jadeja in at No. 4. The purpose of that move is dual. They get to know how good Jadeja can be when given more batting responsibility, and they also force Pakistan to make a change. Of course all of this would only come to matter if if Jadeja could overcome his ordinary record against spin, which he did by using his feet against Nawaz to hit those boundaries and force Pakistan to keep his last over in the bank.
Both sides hang in
Now Jadeja stopped taking risks. Suryakumar Yadav tried but seam movement for Nasem flattened his off stump. Hardik and Jadeja then picked risk-free runs to see how long Pakistan could delay the return of Nawaz. Hardik especially was good enough to accumulate at a healthy rate. The bowlers began to cramp up. India played the waiting game. Even Pakistan were found three overs short, which made 32 off three overs look easier than it should.
Pandya overcomes Naseem heroics
When Naseem began the 18th, it was clear Pakistan were going to try their best bets first. However, Naseem’s cramps became debilitating. He could hardly charge in, but conceded just five runs off the first four balls. He came close to getting Jadeja lbw but the batter got the decision overturned on review. The knockout blow came when Jadeja timed him over long-on for a six.
Hardik then used the extra fielder in to place his boundaries instead of muscling them. Three fours in the 19th over left India just seven to get in Nawaz’s over. In a final twist, Jadeja was bowled trying to play the slog-sweep, and it came down to six required off the last three. If Pakistan could keep Hardik off strike they had a chance because Karthik’s record against spin is ordinary. However, Hardik coolly hit a flat six over wide long-on to take India home.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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