The hype and expectations associated with any India versus Pakistan sports encounter usually results in players being turned into heroes or villains by ardent and passionate fans from both sides. Reputations are made or destroyed for many years to come and if examples of that are needed, then one can look no further than how fans have to this day not forgotten or forgiven Chetan Sharma for his role in the “Javed Miandad six” or Misbah-ul-Haq for his ill-advised shot in the World T20 final in 2007.
The encounter on 4 June between these two countries in the ongoing Champions Trophy did not disappoint in terms of hype and excitement before the match and a record ODI crowd attendance at Edgbaston in Birmingham.
While the Indian fans rejoiced at every run and wicket that went in favour of their team, the Pakistan supporters watched their team, ranked eighth in the world, capitulate to the rampant, second-ranked India by 124 runs via the Duckworth-Lewis method. It must have been a hard pill to swallow for both the Pakistan players and fans alike.
While Wahab Riaz took the brunt of criticism for the worst-ever bowling spell in the Champions Trophy, there were a few other villains that day for Pakistan as well. One player who faced some heat for his lacklustre performance against India in the death overs was the 23-year-old rookie Hasan Ali.
It would have been easy to single out Hasan for his failings in this crucial game as the Indian batsmen took advantage of poor line and length, but the team in general seemed to suffer from a lack of enthusiasm and appeared shell-shocked in this high-octane game. Even Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur remarked that the magnitude of the occasion played a role in his team’s bizarre and below par performance.
What was, however, more remarkable was the manner in which they responded to the sometimes over the top bashing received at the hands of the media and fans as they beat South Africa in the very next game by 19 runs, with the Duckworth-Lewis method working in their favour this around.
Contrary to popular belief and expectations, Pakistan did not panic in the aftermath of the terrible defeat against India as Ali, who was the Player of the Match against South Africa for his figures of 3/24, explained.
"Yes, the loss to India in the first game was tough to take for all of us, but we had a good and open discussion about our failings and we planned our approach for the next game with great care. All I did in the match against South Africa was to play according to the plan provided by our coach and captain. The plan was simply to bowl stump to stump and that seemed to work very well for me."
Ali, who is still finding his feet in international cricket, has taken 33 wickets in 18 ODIs. For a young bowler, playing his first big game against the arch-rivals and to be hit for 70 runs in his 10 overs was a tough lesson which he accepted as part of a learning experience.
"Matches played against India are always special for both sets of players, but I don't think it was that much of a matter of nerves for myself. I am, however, disappointed that the last two-three overs I bowled in that match did not go according to plan. It was a tough lesson for me, but I learnt a lot from it and it will stand me in good stead in future. Sometimes you learn more from a bad performance than a good one."
Apart from a woeful bowling performance by the bowlers and an equally inept batting display by the batsmen, Pakistan also suffered a severe malfunction in the fielding department with Ali himself responsible for dropping Yuvraj Singh, who went on to play a whirlwind knock for India. What followed next in the game against South Africa was a huge improvement with Pakistan fielders literally throwing themselves in harm’s way to put in spectacular fielding efforts. Ali himself took a fantastic running catch of Kagiso Rabada and then celebrated in a unique style.
"The catch I dropped of Yuvraj Singh caused damage to our chances and also was very disappointing for me as well. I take great pride in my fielding and that dropped catch of Yuvraj proved very costly. But today, I wanted to make amends for that poor fielding effort against India as not only was I determined to stay focused on my bowling but also wanted to make sure I was spot on with my fielding as well. My celebration after the Rabada catch was pretty heartfelt but was more in response to the abuse I was getting from some spectators in the stands."
The victory against South Africa may have put Pakistan in a good position for a chance to get a semi-final spot, which they can seal by beating Sri Lanka in their next game on Monday, but it is the manner of the victory which has put wind in the sails of the Pakistan camp. "When we had claimed the first three-four wickets so quickly we felt that we had the better of South Africa and their morale was affected. We were very confident especially after AB de Villiers was out first ball. It was then a matter of time that we could claim the rest of the wickets or restrict the South Africans to a lowish score, as our tails were up. It was a tremendous effort by the team and we are all pumped up for the next game against Sri Lanka", Ali concluded.