Pandya’s last-over six lifts India to victory in thriller against Pak

INDIA WERE within touching distance, requiring just seven runs off five balls. But nerves could still jangle, and it nearly did, as they eked out only one run off two balls. The old-timers could sense a Javed Miandad-Chetan Sharma moment. But Hardik Pandya did not leave it too late. He swung the fourth ball over long-on to wrap up a famous win, one that could eliminate bitter memories of the last time they played Pakistan here, in the World Cup 10 months ago that ended in a galling defeat.

Later, captain Rohit Sharma said that at no point in the game did they surrender hope. “That’s the kind of belief we want to have in this group, where you are not in the game and you still manage to pull it off. We want to make sure they have all been given enough clarity around what to do in the middle. I’ll take wins like this over one-sided wins,” he said.

Agree or disagree with him, this was one cracker of a game.

The Indian chase of 148 didn’t start too well. It took just two balls into the Indian innings for debutant Naseem Shah to strike — the fast, length ball that held the line a trifle hustling K L Rahul into an undecided half-defensive thrust, the split-second dilemma that saw the ball brush his inside edge and crash onto the stumps.

One half of the stadium erupted; the other plunged into mourning. Naseem and his colleagues were wheeling away in celebration. After they were shut out for a competitive but not formidable 147, Pakistan needed a spark of inspiration. Their batting had none of it, out-thought by India’s inspired seamers led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar. But in the end, Naseem’s magic did not suffice, as India surpassed the target with five wickets in hand but not after enduring nervous moments, taking the audience along an emotional rollercoaster.

Earlier, it was the other half’s turn to celebrate. After Rahul walked back, India could have been 2/2 four balls into the game. But Fakhar Zaman failed to cling onto a fairly straightforward catch at second slip off Virat Kohli, who drove away from his body, his feet crease-struck. Instead, Kohli was gift-wrapped a second chance. Such moments could reverse momentum in high pressure games as these, and it did, as Pakistan suddenly turned ponderous and moody.

Kolhi sensed the moment of edginess, astute a reader of the game as he is. He launched a rousing counterattack. The whippy Shahnawaz Dahani was emphatically pulled through mid-wicket. It was classical Kohli, rocking fully back, getting on top of the bounce and stamping his wrists over it with a regal authority. The over after, he pulled medium pacer Haris Rauf. He did not get the connection he might have wished for, but the top-edge soared over the ropes for a six. A sense of foreboding crept in among Pakistan’s fans, the sinking feeling that it was not going to be their day. And in the end, it was not.

At the same time, the belief among the Indian crowd grew. They got jubilant, and their excitement only grew when Kolhi essayed a brace of glorious fours, a swipe over covers and a smack through midwicket. Kohli seemed in his elements, once again that master orchestrator of chases.

Then landed another twist, one of the many the game would behold. Mohammad Nawaz ended Rohit Sharma’s laborious knock off 12 from 19 balls before he came back to dispatch Kohli to the pavilion in his next over.

Suddenly, India were 53/3, their top three ejected. Needless to say, the voice of Pakistan fans picked up. The neutrals could feel a sweaty excitement with the match rolling onto a heady climax, as Suryakumar Yadav, India’s best batsman in terms of current form, and Ravindra Jadeja undertook the rescue operation. Without taking undue risks, they kept the required run-rate under check. Jadeja, promoted up the order, demonstrated his readiness with a muscled six off Nawaz, whereas Yadav picked boundaries without breaking a sweat. He just picked gaps and glided the ball to these gaps with velvety stroke-play.

The pair seemed to be shepherding India to safety before Naseem produced another moment of magic. He demolished Yadav’s off-stump with a thunderous back-of-length ball that the batsman looked to slog, a rare ungainly attempt. The fortunes of the match then ebbed and flowed. Often, for all the attention, India-Pakistan games have tended to be one-sided affairs of late. But not this one.

Jadeja, in the company of Pandya, took the match further away from Pakistan with a partnership of 52 runs in 5.1 overs. Jadeja masterfully tore into Naseem rather than playing him out. A wide full ball was slaughtered through extra cover while the follow-up short ball was sledge-hammered down the crowd. Jadeja, the batsman, had cracked the Test code long ago. Here, he was displaying his white-ball prowess. But on the first ball of the final over, he perished to the left-arm spin of Nawaz, ironically Pakistan’s most productive bowler of the day. But Hardik was there to finish the game. He didn’t do a Miandad or a Dhoni, he did a Hardik.

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