As clichéd as it was, there was good reason for the pre-match narrative of the India vs Pakistan clash in Dhaka on Saturday was about the might of the Indian batting lineup and the fieriness of Pakistan’s fast bowlers. Having put into bat by MS Dhoni on a less-green, but still-lively Mirpur wicket, Pakistan surrendered meekly, to be bowled out for 83 in 17.3 overs, thanks to some insipid shot-selection and suicidal running between the wickets. Yes, India’s bowling was on the money. Yes, their fielding was way sharper than it has been in the last few months. But Pakistan’s abject failure with the bat meant fans wouldn’t get to watch a true contest.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Mohammad Amir and Virat Kohli took a damp squib in their hands, and with some dazzling display of cricket, turned it into a mini fireworks show. It was fleeting, it doesn’t change the fact that India were comfortably ahead for the majority of the match, it will not make this match as one of the classics in this glorious rivalry. At the end of the day, India won by five wickets with 27 balls to spare – it is hard to call that anything but convincing.
But for a brief while, Amir and Kohli produced cricket of such scintillating quality that made the entire cricketing world wonder – why can’t we see more of this?
Virat Kohli, as we all know, loves a challenging chase. That this chase of 84 was made challenging was down to Amir’s four over burst of incisive, fast (really fast), and intimidating swing bowling.
Amir should have had a wicket off the very first ball of the Indian innings – an inswinging yorker that crushed Rohit Sharma on his toes. After multiple viewings, it is tough to think there could have been a more plumb leg-before-wicket appeals. But it did not matter. Off the very next ball, Amir swung it inwards at good pace again and this time he got his reward. Two balls later, he repeated the trick with Ajinkya Rahane – playing in the place of the injured Shikhar Dhawan – and the Mumbaikar fell for it. He followed that up with two away swingers to Suresh Raina that had him hop, skip and jump around in the crease.
His second over was more of the same. Amir almost had Kohli trapped leg before the exact same way he did Rohit and Rahane – only this time the ball bounced a bit more. Off the very next ball, Raina lobbed one to mid-on, yet again failing to read the late away swing. And just like that, India were reduced to 8 for 3.
All this in just his first two overs. In the space of twelve balls, Amir did what none of the 11 Pakistan batsmen managed – make the fans believe that their team was out there trying to win a cricket match.
As all this was unfolding, Kohli was waiting for his turn to show there is more than one cricketer on the field with extra-special skills. He survived an outside-edge from a wild cover drive off the very first ball he faced, he survived that afore-mentioned huge leg-before appeal, his first 15 balls fetched him a mere six runs. But, as he later admitted, he was enjoying the challenge being thrown at him by Amir.
And in Amir’s fourth over on the trot, Kohli released the pressure that was undoubtedly building on the Indian chase. First, a flick off his thighs that was hit in the air, but well wide of square leg. And off the next ball, he played perhaps the shot of the match – leaning into a full, swinging delivery and caressing it through covers for four.
That would be a feature of Kohli’s match-winning innings on the night – exquisite cover-driving. To be fair, that has been a feature of Kohli’s batting right from the start of the Australia tour. With Amir’s four-over spell seen off, Kohli took center-stage. He welcomed Wahab Riaz into the attack with two more stunning cover drives, flicked Mohammad Sami through mid-wicket with ease, and continued driving Riaz on-the-up through the covers.
By the time he was dismissed for 49 from 51 balls, adjudged leg-before despite a thick inside-edge, India were eight runs away from a well-deserved win. His innings, statistics will tell you, is the 13th best knock of his 35-match T20I career so far. But don’t let that mask the fact that, against bitter-rivals, on a challenging pitch, facing some deadly swing bowling, this was as good as it gets.
Kohli’s class during the innings matched his grace after the match too. "I would like to complement Mohammad Amir for the way he bowled. I actually congratulated him while he was bowling. It was so happy to play such an amazing spell. He is a world class bowler and I wish him more success,” said Kohli, while receiving his man-of-the-match award.
We could have been sitting today reading about how poor Pakistan batsmen were. Or how Ashish Nehra is providing MS Dhoni with the breakthroughs in the powerplay that has been a problem area for India for so long. Or how Jasprit Bumrah, who bowled 16 dot balls in his three-over spell, is proving to be the find of the season. Or how Ravindra Jadeja is one of the best fielders around in the world today.
But that passage of play in the Indian chase when Mohammad Amir and Virat Kohli made it truly a contest between the bat and ball – a rarity in Twenty20 cricket – deserves all the column inches it can get.
The India vs Pakistan match in the group stages of Asia Cup 2016 will not go down as one of the greatest matches played between these two sides, but Amir and Kohli penned a small chapter in the book of many great moments, and gave the fans something to remember for a long time to come.
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