Streak Over, Ghosts Buried: How Pakistan Ended Their Indian World Cup Jinx
Pakistan thrashed India by 10 wickets in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
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“It is not something that will stay until the world exists. No point in really thinking about it.”
Those were the words of MS Dhoni, after India beat Pakistan at the 2015 ODI World Cup.
Not entirely prophetic, in that streaks – like all records – are meant to be broken; even Undertaker’s run at WrestleMania, eventually, came to an end.
That India’s fabled stronghold over Pakistan – 12-0 at all Men’s World Cups – would be brought to a halt in such emphatic fashion, however, wasn’t something many would’ve seen coming.
India had never lost a men’s T20I by ten wickets; Pakistan had never won a men’s T20I by ten wickets.
It all went down on Super Sunday in Dubai.
Over this weekend, the defending champions have been bundled out for 55, and the tournament favourites have been humbled by ten wickets – it’s been some start to the Super 12s at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021.
Here’s where the India-Pakistan clash was won and lost.
Shaheen Shah Afridi
India had never really faced Shaheen Afridi. These teams have met only twice in international cricket since he debuted for Pakistan, he’s only played one of those games, and at the time, Afridi had only ever bowled 22 overs at the highest level.
In T20s, a format he first played in early 2018, Afridi is the most potent force going around when the ball is absolutely new: coming into this World Cup, he had bowled the first over of the innings 61 times – and on 20 of those occasions, he had taken a wicket.
Left-arm pace is Rohit Sharma’s least preferred bowling type in T20s. Prior to Sunday’s game, he had fallen to left-arm seamers 35 times in 643 balls across T20 cricket, averaging 25. Against left-arm high-pace – the speed range Afridi typically falls in – that average sank further to 15, and Rohit would lose his wicket once every 13 deliveries.
Afridi also specialises in pitching the ball right up where batters don’t like it at the start of their innings.
One ball is all it took…
… And it wasn’t even his best ball of the day.
That privilege was saved for Rohit’s opening partner, KL Rahul – who, in the next Afridi over, saw his stumps castled by a peach, which was also a statistical anomaly.
According to CricViz data, only nine out of approximately 700 recorded deliveries bowled by the 21-year-old in this format had swung more than the one that got through Rahul.
It would’ve been enough for the evening, but he went on and did something no Pakistani bowler had managed to do over the course of 178 balls spanning nine years at the T20 World Cup – dismiss Virat Kohli.
He’s called Afridi, and he’s a left-arm quick who bowled jaffas to dislodge an Indian top-order… shades of the ‘90s? Except this wasn’t the past, but the correcting of the past – delivered by Pakistan’s biggest gift in the present.
Spin, Middle Overs… It Was Coming
Afridi’s double-strike early on, followed up by Hasan Ali snaring Suryakumar Yadav in his first over, meant India had lost three wickets in the Powerplay. It had happened nine times in the cycle between the last T20 World Cup and this one, and India had lost six of those games.
Poor start or not, the middle overs – and spin – was expected to be among India’s biggest batting challenges in the UAE, and with nearly half the recognised batters back in the hut in the first six, Pakistan applied the stranglehold quite easily.
After two tight overs of Imad Wasim’s slow left-armers in the Powerplay, Shadab Khan applied the brakes in the middle, taking 1/22 from four overs – his joint-most economical T20I spell in exactly three years. Shadab gave six runs from the seven deliveries he bowled to Kohli, and got the breakthrough to remove Rishabh Pant just as he was opening up.
India’s reasons for sending Ravindra Jadeja at the fall of Pant’s wicket, in the 13th over, weren’t unjustified: with one side of the ground considerably shorter than the other, a left-right combination made a lot of sense. But Shadab would’ve doubtless been pleased to not see Hardik Pandya walk in at number six, because Pandya had taken 46 runs off just 22 balls he had faced from the Pakistan leg-spinner.
While they were unable to bring Imad back with Pant at the crease, Pakistan utilised Mohammad Hafeez’s off-spin perfectly to maintain the squeeze. The 41-year-old completed the two remaining overs from Imad’s quota with minimal damage, giving away only 12 runs.
All told, eight overs of spin – six of which came in the middle overs – could only fetch India 44 runs.
Haris Hurries India Into Slowdown
Despite all those troubles, a score of 160 or more didn’t look beyond India’s reach as they approached the business end of their innings.
India entered the final four overs on 110/4, with a well-set Kohli having Jadeja for company, with Pandya to come. Since the start of 2020, across T20s, these three had a death overs scoring rate of 12.72, 12.45 and 11.61 respectively.
Without the benefit of hindsight, 160+ was seeming like a par total for the game.
Rauf bowled the first and the last of these four crunch overs. He gave four runs in the 17th, and six runs in the 20th – including the wicket of Pandya.
The two overs sandwiched between these gems saw India add 30 runs.
It was a quiet performance, which will quite easily go unnoticed when this scorecard is looked back upon in the years to come. But Rauf quietening India’s death-over destroyers was quite telling in the larger scheme of things.
Dew Denies Indian Spinners, Pakistan Take Due Toll
India’s bowling selections for this World Cup have been made with a clear importance to defensive ability, and they were going to need their collective containment skills at its best to stand a chance of defending their eventual score of 151.
With dew setting in heavily enough, it was going to be a tall order for the two spinners in the XI – and Pakistan’s openers gave neither Varun Chakravarthy nor Ravindra Jadeja a sniff.
Varun, preferred over R Ashwin in the lineup for his mystery value as much as his form, began impressively by conceding only eight runs from his first two overs. But it was clear that Pakistan were content in playing him out; the target meant they could pick their match-ups.
By the time Varun bowled his third – the tenth over of the chase – his grip was loosening, and so was India’s on the straws they were clutching upon. Pakistan took nine runs off it.
His final over began the final rites for the contest: two sixes in three balls, one each for both batters, the second off a complete long-hop that signalled how much things had slipped, for bowler as well as team.
Having not conceded above 6.50 runs per over in eight consecutive outings in the UAE to spearhead Kolkata Knight Riders’ comeback run into the IPL 2021 final, Varun saw his generally frugal ways take a beating for the second straight game.
That these two games were an IPL final and his maiden World Cup outing could unsettle the relative fresher on the big stage – and that could be even more disturbing to India’s cause than the result on Sunday.
Azam-Rizwan: Unusually Calm, Unrelentlessly Consistent
It didn’t help India’s cause that their negated-by-conditions spinners were up against arguably the safest batter against spin in T20s over recent years. Since the start of 2020, Babar Azam had been dismissed only seven times in 493 balls facing spin – averaging above 90, while scoring at 7.74 runs per over.
Azam’s partner, Mohammad Rizwan, has had it quite smooth against spinners too: in the same time-period, Rizwan had eight dismissals in 364 deliveries against spin, averaging 55.50.
Since pairing up at the top of the order earlier this year, Azam and Rizwan have looked a match made in heaven: in 11 innings, they’ve added 673 partnership runs at an average of 67.30 – with the 152-run association against India their third century stand as Pakistan openers.
In general, they just love batting together: this year, they’ve kept each other company on 14 occasions for Pakistan, and piled on 888 partnership runs – that’s 370 clear of the second-best pair (Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien and Paul Stirling, who’ve had the same number of stands).
Beyond the calculable metrics, there is the added layer of calm, which the pundits hailed as remarkable from the commentary box and on social media.
Think about it, the ghosts – were they to allow them to enter – were waiting to pounce. Wickets falling in clusters has been a penchant through Pakistan’s perilous World Cup past against India. Think about it: Bangalore 1996, Manchester 1999, Jo’burg 2007, Mohali 2011… fluffing seemingly gettable targets had been a theme of this winless journey.
Now it ends. India’s streak is over. Pakistan’s ghosts are buried.
This contest between two arch-rivals can finally hope to find a new narrative.
The past can be put behind. Hopefully, so can some of the adverts.
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