India recovered from three early jolts, inflicted by a devastating spell from Mohammed Amir, before notching up a five-wicket victory against arch-rivals Pakistan in the Asia Cup T20 tournament, here on Saturday. Amir (3/18) rocked the Indian top-order with a fast and furious four-over spell but the small target of 84 was not good enough to stop the 'Men In Blue' who knocked off the runs with 27 balls to spare.
Indian bowlers had demolished the Pakistan batting line up with a superlative show as they bundled out the arch-rivals for a paltry 83 in only 17.3 overs after opting to field. But it required the calm and class of Virat Kohli (49) to take India home without further setbacks as his 68-run stand for the fourth wicket with Yuvraj Singh (14 not out) proved to be decisive. Kohli's 51-ball innings had seven boundaries and he looked cut above any batsman, who featured in Saturday's game.
This is their second win for India in the tournament and takes them a step closer to the final of the continental championship. What was supposed to be a cakewalk turned out to be a brief nightmare for the Indians.
Rohit Sharma (0) and Ajinkya Rahane (0), replacing an injured Shikhar Dhawan, were beaten by sheer pace of Amir. They found the late movement at ferocious speed too hot to handle. The result was a couple of plumb leg-befores. Suresh Raina's (1) problems against short ball is well documented and Amir started teasing him with deliveries that kicked up viciously from length. Raina cut a sorry figure with his hop, skip and jump technique and when Amir bowled full, the left-hander expecting a shirt ball only lobbed it to Wahab Riaz at mid-on. India were tottering at 8 for 3 at that stage.
However, Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi had no choice but to finish Amir's spell, in order to get a couple of more wickets and stay in the game. But it was Kohli, who has been Pakistan's nemesis for some time now, showed why he is among the best in the world. He shielded Yuvraj from Amir by taking bulk of the strike. His footwork was precise and played close to the body.
In his final over Amir tried to change the tactic and Kohli promptly whipped towards square leg and cover drove him for two boundaries. Once Amir's spell was over, it was a formality for the Indians with Kohli gaining more confidence. Mohammed Irfan was deftly steered through third-man while Wahab was shown full face of the bat during the two imperious cover drives.
Yuvraj's job was to chip in with the singles and stem the rot that set in due to top-order collapse and he did his job. By the time, Kohli was adjudged leg-before off Mohammed Sami's bowling, India were eight runs short of victory. It was Dhoni, who cover drove Wahab to finish off the match.
Earlier, a collective effort from the Indians bowlers was backed brilliantly by the fielders as it became a 'no-contest' from the moment India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted to field on a pacer-friendly wicket.
The Indian bowlers made good use of the conditions and the fielding unit also put relentless pressure to effect two run-outs as it threw Pakistani innings in disarray. Ashish Nehra (1/20) and Jasprit Bumrah (1/8) dealt initial blows while new sensation Hardik Pandya (3/8) kept up the pressure and recorded the best figures among the bowlers.
Such was the pressure on Pakistan, that spin twins Ravindra Jadeja (2/11) and Ravichandran Ashwin were brought in the 12th and 13th over respectively. The only Pakistan player to cross the 10-run mark was wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed (25). This was their lowest score in a T20 against India as they managed only 8 boundaries.
Nehra struck with the very third delivery when he got one to kick up from length. Mohammed Hafeez (4), failing to read the extra bounce, attempted a square cut with little room to play the shot and Dhoni took an easy catch. Left-handed Sharjeel Khan (7) pulled Jasprit Bumrah in the fourth over but was undone by the extra bounce and seam movement as he was caught by Ajinkya Rahane in the first slip.
In the fifth over of the innings and the third bowled by Nehra, India could have made it three had umpire SIS Saikat not bungled with an easy caught behind decision of Khurram Manzoor. Manzoor tried to play an ambitious dilscoop but only managed a tickle to Dhoni but the Bangladeshi umpire ruled it not out. So much so that Dhoni had a word with umpire.
But as luck would have it, Manzoor (10) was run-out in the very next over in freakish manner. Striker Shoaib Malik tapped one towards short cover and non-striker Manzoor immediately responded by taking a few strides. But an alert Virat Kohli sprinted and successfully aimed at the stumps at the non-striker's end with Manzoor being hopelessly short of his crease.
Hardik Pandya made it 35 for four when Malik (4) chased a fullish delivery moving away, giving Dhoni his second catch of the match. It didn't take much time to make it 35 for five as Yuvraj, introduced in the attack before Ashwin and Jadeja, struck with his first ball. He flighted one that dipped and spun into Umar Akmal (3), who played a half-forward defensive stroke. It was a plumb leg before and umpire did not take much time to raise the dreaded finger.
Skipper Shahid Afridi (2) challenged India's best fielder Jadeja going for a non-existent second run only to be run-out by a fair two feet distance, leaving Pakistan gasping at 42 for six by the end of 8th over. At the halfway stage, Pakistan were 47 for six and truly out of the game.
Pakistan: 83 all out in 17.3 overs. (Sarfraz Ahamed 25, Khurram Manzoor 10; Hardik Pandya 3/8, Ravindra Jadeja 2/11).
India: 85 for 5 in 15.3 overs. (Virat Kohli 49, Yuvraj Singh 14 not out; Mohammed Amir 3/18, Mohammed Sami 2/16).