The iconic: India vs Pakistan
Perfection is what every professional aspires for in every walk of life. It is difficult to achieve, but it does help to aim high. To paraphrase an old adage, it is critical to try and try harder, in order to succeed. Perfection then becomes achievable. On Saturday, 14 October 2023, the Indian cricket team accomplished precisely that.
When Pakistan were 155-2 in the 30th over with their top batsmen Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan looking settled, it seemed that Rohit Sharma would have reason to regret his decision to bowl after winning the toss. ‘Scoreboard pressure’ tends to be a factor in matches between India and Pakistan, especially if the Indians were to chase a stiff target in front of more than a hundred thousand spectators. It appeared as if Pakistan would finish with a target in the range of 280. That would give their bowlers a lot to bowl with. However, it soon transpired that the Indians were not thinking defensively or negatively. They were living in the moment and taking it ‘one ball at a time.’ They believed that their perseverance would yield results, and it did.
Mohammed Siraj had gone for some runs in his initial spell, but he did not have that at the back of his mind when he was recalled for another spell. He adhered to the principle of living in the present and focussing on what he was to do next. His single-mindedness resulted in his castling Azam, the Pakistan captain. What happened next was incredible. From a healthy 155-2, Pakistan plummeted to 191 all out. Capitalizing on the breach that Siraj had made was the extraordinary Jasprit Bumrah. His delivery that accounted for Rizwan, shortly after Kuldeep Yadav had dismissed Saud Shakeel and Iftikhar Ahmed, was a gem. It was a fabulous bowling effort by the Indians, brilliantly orchestrated by the captain. Sharma’s bowling changes were spot-on. He simply did not allow the Pakistani lower-order to knuckle down and attempt a recovery. Gaps in the field were closed and the bowlers were told to bowl accordingly. India, who have been guilty of letting the lower-order get away after dispatching the top and middle order, maintained the pressure splendidly. The ‘wickets’ column at the end of the Pakistani innings spoke for itself; five bowlers took two wickets each.
The Pakistani bowlers had hardly any runs to play with. As one of the commentators put it, the wicket had at least 280 runs in it. It was certainly not a ‘191’ wicket. The visiting team’s only hope of making a match of it was a couple of early strikes, but their designs were thwarted by the Indian captain. Sharma carried on from where he had left off in India’s previous game against Afghanistan. From the Indian point of view, it was also heartening to see Shubman Gill, who was playing his first match of the tournament after recovering from dengue, advancing his front foot down the wicket and finding the gaps. Although he fell after hitting four boundaries in a score of 16, his exit brought in the man no Pakistani supporter wanted to see out there. Virat Kohli loves chasing targets, after all. Once the Indians had seen the opening overs off for the loss of only one wicket, it was going to be an uphill battle for the Pakistanis.
There are few sights as breathtaking in contemporary cricket as that of Rohit Sharma on song. He shut Pakistan out of the game with strokes that only he can make look so elegant. He looked headed for his eighth World Cup century and second of this tournament when he fell, but only 36 were needed at that point, with a lot of overs to spare.
With three wins from three games, the Indian team seems certain to qualify for the semi-finals. The side looks sorted in every department. However, if one must play devil’s advocate, then attention can be drawn to the fact that the lower-order has not been tested with the bat, so far. The top and middle-order batsmen have closed out all three games on their own. Having said that, this is a long World Cup, and even if the law of averages catches up with the specialist batters at some point, India has the firepower and most importantly, points, to make it to the final four. With the kind of form the batters are in, it will be good if the all-rounders and specialist bowlers are made to do a fair bit of batting in the nets, to prepare themselves for any eventuality that may arise later in the tournament.