SRINAGAR: Virat Kohli scored another match-winning half-century as India beat Pakistan by 6 wickets in the T20 World Cup 2016 Group B Match 19 at Eden Gardens on Saturday. For once, Rohit Sharma failed at Eden Gardens, falling to the man he had termed “ordinary.” Mohammad Aamer opened bowling again for Pakistan, but he could not replicate the venom he had spewed in the Asia Cup T20 2016 encounter a month ago. He beat Rohit with the first ball of the innings, but India managed to get 4 off the opening over without losing a wicket. Rohit started off on a positive note, hitting Mohammad Irfan for two boundaries in the second over, but played a horrendous shot off the first ball of Aamer’s second over. He tried to go over cover but only got a top-edge. Shoaib Malik managed to pull off a great catch under pressure, and Rohit walked back for 10 off 11 balls.
A few tight balls followed, and Shikhar Dhawan got stuck in his crease. After scoring only 2 off his first 11 balls he managed to find the boundary off the first ball of Mohammad Sami’s first over. The respite did not last for long; three balls later Sami found the inside edge and Dhawan was bowled for 6 off 15 balls. Suresh Raina came in at No. 4 and inside-edged the first ball back onto his stumps. India were suddenly reeling at 23 for 3.
That united Kohli and Yuvraj Singh. The duo had shared a match-winning partnership at Dhaka in the Asia Cup match, and they did it again at Eden Gardens. With immense pressure on, both batsmen bid their time and punished the bad balls. Sami was hit for two boundaries in his next over, one by each batsman, but that was followed by a couple of boundary-less overs. The batsmen did not panic though, and kept the runs flowing without taking any risks.
Wahab Riaz was greeted with four by Kohli, and in the next over Shoaib Malik was hit for a six and a four by Kohli. Yuvraj pulled Wahab for another six in the 12th over, which brought the run rate below six, but holed out attempting the same shot off the final ball of that over for a 23-ball 24. The partnership had produced 61 runs off 44 balls. By now India needed 35 off the last six overs with Kohli and MS Dhoni in the middle. Kohli kept the runs coming in his usual delightful cover-drives, as India knocked off the remaining runs to keep their unbeaten record against Pakistan in World Cups intact.
Earlier, India’s bowlers once again came to the party as the Pakistan batsmen struggled to come to terms with the sluggish Eden Gardens pitch. It took a couple of cameos from Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal to take the Pakistan total past 110. Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad took their time to get going, both men finding the boundary now and then but also facing a lot of dot balls. Ashish Nehra and Ravichandran Ashwin opened bowling, and it was immediately apparent that this was not a pitch the batsmen would enjoy playing on. Ashwin especially was unplayable, getting the ball to spit and turn.
To their credit, both Pakistan openers managed to survive Ashwin’s crucial opening spell. Though they were unable to score freely, they kept wickets intact. It was with the instroduction of Suresh Raina that India got their first wicket. Ironically, with the ball turning square it was a long hop that produced the wicket. Raina pitched one short and Sharjeel tried to pull only to get a top edge to Hardik Pandya. Pandya managed to take a fine catch, but ended up hitting his head on the ground in the process. He managed to recover in time to bowl later in the innings. Pakistan were 38 for 1 in the eighth over. Shahid Afridi, fresh from a 19-ball 49 against Bangladesh, promoted himself to No. 3.
The move did not prove to be too successful. Shehzad and Afridi tried to go after the bowling, but the Indians continued to bowl well and the pitch continued to play tricks. If the Nagpur ptich was “diabolical” the Eden Gardens track was absolutely unplayable. Ravindra Jadeja managed to turn the ball from leg past off, which seemed to put Afridi completely off his game. Shehzad was looking like the best batsman on display till that point, but he ended up top-edging one from Jasprit Bumrah to Jadeja for 25 off 28 balls. Pakistan were now 46 for 2 in the 10th over. Afridi followed a couple of overs later, mis-hitting a pull shot off Pandya to Virat Kohli for 8 off 14 balls.
That brought Malik in to join Akmal. The duo managed to kick up the scoring rate, hitting a six each off the 14th over of the innings, bowled by Pandya. For the first time in the match both batsmen were batting at a strike rate over 100. Malik hit Bumrah for back-to-back boundaries in the next over, and then hit one off Jadeja after that. Jadeja got his revenge when he had Akmal edge behind to MS Dhoni for 22 off 16 balls. It was an invaluable innings in the context of the match.
Nehra, bowling the penultimate over of the innings, struck a huge blow when he had Malik top-edge a pull to Ashwin at fine leg. Malik was dismissed for 26 off 16 balls with 3 fours and 1 six — a game-changing innings along with Akmal’s. The over cost 8 runs, which was not too bad in the context. Bumrah was brought on to bowl the final over ahead of Ashwin, and he responded by conceding 5 runs off the bat as Pakistan scored 118 for 5 in their 18 overs.