And so the inevitable comes to pass. India’s dream run in World Cups against Pakistan, stretching all the way back to 1992, had to end eventually, but what was perhaps unexpected, and will rankle, is the manner of the defeat. It was a capitulation which brought back the ghosts of decades past and will haunt for a while.
Babar Azam’s Pakistan finally chose Sunday night in Dubai for the kind of assured, authoritative performance that can thoroughly deflate an opposition and has eluded Pakistan for decades.
The 10-wicket win, Pakistan’s first in this format and their first victory against India in World Cup in 13 attempts, was engineered with such consummate ease, driven to fruition with such complete mastery, that it has lifted the curtain on a new era in this storied rivalry.
From being masters of the chaotic for decades, Pakistan turned to masters of the clinical in one night.
Azam’s measured masterclass (68 not out off 52 balls; 6×4, 6×2), an exhibition of touch and class, and Mohammed Rizwan’s sparkling, animated 79 not out (55b; 6×4, 3×6) in a pressure chase on a slowish pitch was everything mercurial, chaotic, temperamental Pakistan have not been in World Cup over the years: calm, clever and resolute.
No perfect Pakistan outing, however, is complete without a bit of pace magic. In this game it was the fiery Man of the Match Shaheen Shah Afridi (3/31, accounting for India’s top three) who imposed his presence as soon as the game began and allowed Pakistan to gain the early chokehold. Pakistan simply never let go.
Finding swing with the new ball, Afridi came up with a lethal three-over burst first up (3-0-19-2) that got rid of the openers and sowed the seeds of doubt, perhaps a bit of fear, in India’s mind.
On the same pitch on which West Indies had crumbled for 55 a day before, Afridi, running in after Babar Azam had won the toss and naturally opted to field on a pitch more amenable to batting second, got Rohit Sharma for a first-ball duck with an old bugbear: a full, inswinging delivery at pace.
Sharma’s struggles against this delivery have been well-documented but this was nearly unplayable: searing yorker length, curving in late. Rohit reacted in panic, playing across, trying to guide it through the leg side and being caught plumb in front.
The first ball of the second over, Afridi, now on fire, took KL Rahul out of the equation with a 140-plus monster: this time it was a length ball, again swinging in, and again the batman played across the line. Rahul looked disoriented for just that half-second to allow the ball to clip off the bails. Captain Kohli (57 off 49b; 5×4, 1×6), was, like Azam, the fulcrum as India fought valiantly past the early blows to recover to 151/7 in their 20 overs.
Suryakumar looked in good nick the short while he lasted but Hasan Ali got him with an away-going one to set the stage for Rishabh Pant to light up the proceedings, again briefly.
Kohli had earlier cut through the pressure by either creeping down the pitch to counter the late movement from Shaheen, or, like on one occasion, by staying back and hitting the bowler for a rare, authoritative six. It was Pant, though, who was shaping up to be the biggest threat for Pakistan, hitting the wayward Hasan Ali for two audacious, consecutive, freaky one-handed sixes that jolted India out of a middle-over slump.
But Pant played one shot too many and fell to a wrong one from the canny leggie Shadab Khan (4-0-22-1) in the 13th over.