It is the second over of the Pakistan innings. Ashwin comes into bowl to Sharjeel Khan, the ball pitches around leg stump from around the wicket and misses the bat plus the off stump by a mile. Sharjeel looks baffled, he wonders if this was just an odd patch on the pitch. By the end of the over, Sharjeel and Pakistan grasp that this Eden Gardens track is heavenly for spinners. Each time the ball spins past the bat, the realization kicks in that Pakistan have misread a pitch, yet again.
The team management dropped a spinner for a fast bowler and the batsmen, who kept struggling against spin, managed a little respite against quicks Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya — only highlighting Pakistan’s selection mistake.
Pakistan scraped through to 118 off their allotted 18 overs thanks mainly to a timely partnership between Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal.
There was enough in the pitch for bowlers but the kind who were willing to take the pace off the ball. And Pakistan’s pace attack was all about, well, pace.
The first pacer — Mohammad Amir, managed to get rid of Rohit Sharma; the second pacer —Mohammad Irfan, recovered after a poor first over; the third pacer — Mohammad Sami, started off with a no-ball but quickly recovered to dismiss Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina off back-to-back deliveries and in the process brought Pakistan back into the match; the fourth pacer — Wahab Riaz, perhaps one too many, inevitably got punished by Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli for his inability to adapt to the conditions.
The second and the third pacers also started conceding runs and the one genuine spinner — Afridi, failed to pick up a single wicket while the part timer — Shoaib Malik, was taken to the cleaners by Kohli.
India customarily ended up beating Pakistan in an ICC world event, Dhoni customarily scored the winning runs and Kohli customarily was the man of the moment. Run-of-the-mill-stuff then.
All reports coming from the Pakistan camp before the match were about how calm and relaxed the team was, about how this time there wasn’t as much tension among the management and the camp as previous world event encounters. Pakistan’s greatest cricket hero, Imran Khan, was coming to motivate the player, this was as relaxed as the team could have been before a match with the arch-rivals.
Perhaps they were so relaxed that they didn’t even to bother to look at the pitch, perhaps they were so confident in their natural ability and the past glories of Pakistani pacemen that they didn’t bother about the potential spin on offer or perhaps they overdid the entire “play to your strengths” and “body language” thing; whatever it was, Pakistan made a fatal error.
Afridi admitted after the match that he would have gone in with more spinners had he known the pitch would turn ‘this much’. What did he expect in India against India? A green-top wicket, perfect for fast bowling? Have Pakistan not seen how New Zealand have planned for Indian conditions? Does this Pakistan team management even believe in planning? The answers to those questions will never be provided.
One question has been answered though, “Will Pakistan finally break the India jinx in world event?” – “Mauqa” isn’t here yet.
Most times in these matches, Pakistani bowlers aren’t given a defendable total. However, this time, the score was defendable, considering the conditions and keeping in mind that Pakistan had India at 23 for 3. Afridi was supposed to be the ‘x-factor’ on such a pitch, he ended up going at nearly 7 runs per over without looking threatening, 25 per cent of Afridi’s deliveries were half volleys so it wasn’t as if he was giving much chance for the ball to spin.
Shoaib Malik was the other spin option but he wasn’t able to either control the spin or his line. Malik did create a chance but for some inexplicable reason he didn’t have a slip in place against Yuvraj despite the amount of turn on offer and ended up conceding 22 runs off his 2 overs.
The Pakistan pacers didn’t do themselves any favors either. Wahab bowled one slower cutter in 12 deliveries and that resulted in Yuvraj’s wicket. The wicket was tailor-made for changes in pace and cutters. Most of Pakistan’s cutters were bowled at a pace of 135kmph or more. The few deliveries that were actually below this mark didn’t go for many runs. Three out of four Pakistani pacers conceded more than 8 runs per over. Instead of adjusting to the requirements of the surface, Pakistani pacers went for raw pace far too many times and allowed Yuvraj and Kohli to put India back into the ascendency.
Pakistan is perhaps the only team in the world guilty of under-analyzing cricket matches in the modern era and that was pretty evident in the team selection and the thought process that went into this match. All the talk was about being brave and calm at the same time, Pakistan might have been brave but they definitely were neither calm nor prepared under pressure.
Kohli, however, was brave, calm and prepared as he always seems in these run chases. He has been the scourge of Pakistan for a while now and we still haven’t found an answer to him. It seemed everyone else was batting on a different pitch and Kohli was batting on a different one. His mastery can’t be matched by anyone in the world game at the moment, especially in run chases. Kohli talked about planning his innings and constructing the innings after the match, he alone had more plans than the Pakistan support staff combined.
Kohli stands for everything the modern game has to offer while the current Pakistan team still believes in the principles of 80s and 90s when bravery was considered a bigger virtue than actual planning and strategies. Other teams have moved on, the game has evolved, Pakistan haven’t.