DUBAI: In the end, with his pacers Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf suffering with cramps, Pakistan captain Babar Azam seemed powerless as India powered to a five-wicket victory in a last-over thriller in their Asia Cup Group ‘A’ opener on Sunday.

After an explosive six-ball 16 from tailender Shahnawaz Dahani had rescued Pakistan from 128-9 to 147 all out, India rode on Hardik Pandya’s calm innings to grab victory with two balls to spare at the Dubai International Stadium.

Babar admitted after the match that he felt Pakistan were 15 runs short.

“Definitely, the way we started the game … we were definitely short by 15 runs on the day,” Babar rued during the post-match ceremony.

Pakistan’s struggles began early on when Babar, their batting mainstay, failed to provide his side with a solid start. India used the short ball to great effect in the match and a similar delivery from Bhuvneshwar Kumar saw the back of Babar.

With their captain back in the pavilion, Pakistan failed to recover and as wickets kept falling, the pressure rose until Shahnawaz hit two sixes to take Pakistan to a defendable total.

“I think we didn’t have partnerships,” reflected Babar during the news conference after the game. “If we had built partnerships, there would’ve been pressure on the opposition…we just had small partnerships but needed a big one, like over 50 runs … That we definitely missed and what prevented us from getting more runs in the last few overs.

“But I’m happy with the way the tail wagged and Shahnawaz and Haris got crucial runs in the end. The way Shahnawaz stepped up today was very impressive and we fought well after that.”

Pakistan, indeed, had India on the ropes early on with debutant pacer Naseem Shah sending back Indian opener K.L. Rahul on the second ball of the innings and the 19-year-old nearly bagged the prized scalp of batting superstar Virat Kohli two balls later only for Fakhar Zaman to drop a difficult catch at second slip.

Babar, who is missing pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi due to injury, was impressed by Naseem.

“Fast bowlers are always pumped up and they are always aggressive,” Babar said. “The way he Naseem started, we didn’t feel that we were missing Shaheen … the way he bowled with the new ball and at the death was very impressive. It was his confidence that made him bowl like that.”

After the early reprieve, the returning Kohli (35) and skipper Rohit Sharma (12) rebuilt India’s innings before left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz struck twice in two deliveries to dismiss the duo and put Pakistan back in the contest.

Naseem, cramping badly, then clean bowled Suryakumar Yadav to put Pakistan on top but Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja steered India towards victory with a 52-run partnership.

Pandya struck three fours in the penultimate over by Haris, who was also suffering from cramps in the Dubai heat, to leave India requiring seven runs of the final over.

With his pacers having bowled out, Babar turned to Nawaz to bowl the final over and although he cleaned up Jadeja (35) on the first ball and held his own on the next two deliveries, Pandya (33 not out) smacked the fourth ball over the ropes to seal India’s victory.

“The idea behind Nawaz bowling the final over was that we wanted to go deep and see how things panned out,” explained Babar. “The idea was to create pressure but Hardik finished well.”

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2022

Categorized in: