There is something to be said in favour of fielding an impact player in needle matches. A good cricketer can only be good. But a good impact player can make such a terrific impression on the match that he can snatch it away from opponents. That’s the point the Indian team emphatically drove home through the inclusion of Yuvraj Singh for the match against traditional rivals Pakistan.
A Yuvraj on song is an entire orchestra all by himself. His timing, when he gets it right, is unbelievably divine. The ball just flies off the bat at such remarkable speed that it is often difficult to digest that there was minimum effort behind execution of the stroke.
Yuvraj was laid low by a viral infection in the days preceding the match. He, thus, had not taken part in either of the warm-up matches and also had had very little work-outs in the nets. In contrast, Dinesh Karthik was in excellent touch and had scored a huge amount of runs in the games leading to the key match. He was expected to be a shoo-in for the last spot as batsman. Except that the team decided to take a gamble by fielding impact player Yuvraj.
May be it was not a gamble at all. Had he failed with the bat he could still have sent down a few overs of his left arm spin. Alternately the team knew that when Yuvraj struck the bowlers they’d stay hit and get rapidly demoralised. He had done it so often in the past and in big matches that it was worth banking on him to come good in this needle match.
Of course there is always something to be said about experience in an India-Pakistan match. However, irrespective of whether a player was young or old, he could still be expected to have frayed nerves in the lead up to the match.
The stress on players in these Indo-Pak matches is massive. All records, past performances, results, etc go out of the window as everyone wants to grasp only the moment. Spectators, friends, media, fans, supporters, family, all want just one thing—their team must beat the rivals. This demand would be on both the Indian and Pakistan team members. Hence the pressure, constant and all empowering from the run up to the match to the actual match itself, could be immense.
Many a player has crumbled in the face of such intense pressure. But those that soak in the intense heat of the contest and forge into an alloy of the finest kind get into the zone and bask in the priceless moment. Their adrenaline kicks in the moment they take the field. And this differentiates an impact player from the good one. For example, Yuvraj Singh, whose 53 off 32 balls crunched the issue.
The same could be said about the preference of Rohit Sharma over Ajinkya Rahane. Good as he is, Rahane can never control the momentum of the match like an in-form Rohit. Rahane could be expected to make runs, and even lots of it. But he would not be able to dent the bowlers’ confidence like Rohit.
In fact, Rohit had not been opening the batting for a while. He had batted in the middle order for Mumbai Indians. But Kohli preferred to go with him, especially as Pakistan had good, seasoned left arm pacers who could be a handful if they were given the slightest opening.
Both Mohammed Amir and Wahab Riyaz had done well in the past and it was vital for India to thwart them and other bowlers in the early stages of the match. A good, calm approach would have soothed nerves in the dressing room and reassured the rest of the team.
Under the circumstances the experienced Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan provided just that. They eschewed risks and stuck to blunting the initial thrust of the opponents. Rohit played and missed initially but that did not affect him. The seasoned professional that he is, he knew that he needed to bide his time. And how well he played the role on the day and finished as top scorer with a knock of 91 from 119 balls.
Dhawan, the left hander attacking batsman, switched into a lower gear for most of the opening overs. But once he had a measure of the bowling he pulled out some lovely strokes on both sides of the wicket. Those lovely punts to the third man area rattled the Pak bowlers just as emphatically as his pick-up shots to mid-wicket and square leg.
In fact these three batsmen showed what experience and handling nerves were all about in an India-Pak encounter. Their calm, collected and measured assault set the tone for skipper Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya’s sensational finish which completely demolished Pakistan’s challenge. Another “mauka, mauka” moment for history to recall!