Low-scoring matches pack intensity. Sub-surface tension runs high in these matches feeding on the sense of desperation and urgency in both sides in the contest. Here you cannot take the pitch for granted and make it a willing ally in your mission. You have to count on your skill and temperament. Such contests, in a way, bring alive the true essence of the game of cricket. The India-Pakistan contest at Eden Gardens turned out to be a test of both for players on either side.
That India won rather comfortably, overtaking a target of 119 with six wickets and a few balls to spare, tells us something about the critical difference that sets the teams apart on the world stage. When they face off, a victory will always remain a matter of chance for Pakistan; in case of India it will be a sturdy possibility. Without that superhuman show from a single player, either a batsman or a bowler, Pakistan won’t succeed; India can rely on the team to deliver.
The match was billed as a contest between Virat Kohli and Mohammad Amir. Kohli won hands down with a mature 55. Post-match it was debated whether Pakistan fell 20 runs short while setting a target. However, these are frivolous talks. You cannot reduce a team game into contest between personalities.
While Kohli emerged the highest scorer, Yuvraj’s sedate 24 was equally important in the context of the match. That the Indian bowlers restricted Pakistan to 118 speaks a lot about team performance.
Low-scoring matches test your character as a team. Pakistan’s performance at Eden Gardens reveals it does not have much. Their batting lived up to the reputation of being notoriously inept in difficult circumstances; and the fabled bowling attack appeared ineffectual.
A few days earlier, New Zealand had put up only 126 runs on the board, yet managed to restrict India to a paltry 79. Thus 118 in overcast conditions was never a difficult-to-defend total. It only required the bowling unit to show some vigour and maturity.
Now, if the pitch was more conducive to batsmen, would Pakistan have done much better? Not really. It simply lacks impact players who can turn the game on its head with a blistering show or those who can bat for long at reasonably good strike rate. After Shahid Afridi, who misfires more than he fires, who? You cannot name another player who could be a potential match-winner. England have come out of their Victorian mindset to finally produce players such as Jason Roy and Alex Hales. All other teams have evolved to make themselves relevant in the Twenty20 format. Not so Pakistan. It has a lot of catching up to do.
Coming back to low-scoring matches, India have had two already. Both have been intense, one more competitive than the other. If there was a need for the team to wake up from lethargy and complacency, these two matches would have rung the alarm bell loud. Despite the hype surrounding the matches with Pakistan, the latter is not so much a threat in the World Cup as biggies such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England. The performance at Eden would be a huge booster dose of confidence.