Normally, the consequence of an India-Pakistan match doesn’t stretch beyond the absoluteness of its result. But this was no ordinary India-Pakistan tie. Played across two days, on a heavily repaired but visibly sodden Colombo turf in front of largely empty stands, this Asia Cup Super Four game not only gave India a 228-run win but also provided valuable insight into their World Cup readiness.
Jasprit Bumrah’s transition from T20 to ODI mode was seamless and spectacular. Two absolute peach of deliveries drove home the significance of Hardik Pandya the third seamer. Openers setting up a solid foundation was a box already checked on Sunday. But the top aspect definitely was how Virat Kohli and KL Rahul churned out centuries in tandem.
On two consecutive days, India’s batting has delivered exactly what they are meant to. It may not have happened by design, considering Shreyas Iyer couldn’t play his part owing to a spasm during training on Sunday. But by being alive to it and playing both Rahul and Ishan Kishan, India may have successfully unearthed a middle path in the debate of who really should be occupying that middle order.
The previous India-Pakistan match was all about Kishan owning that No.5 slot. This time, it was Rahul’s turn even though he wasn’t the first choice to begin with. That they even swapped the wicketkeeper’s gloves underscored the extent to which the management was ready to push Rahul’s physical limits.
What really came through above all this was the meticulousness of Rahul the batter. Surefooted against spinners, conviction oozing in a wide range of shots, Rahul took the onus of maintaining the momentum Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill had given to India’s innings on Sunday. Rain-enforced breaks can play with the mind but so assured did Rahul look in his game that his hundred was nearly a foregone conclusion.
There was a six off Iftikhar Ahmed, almost a slog sweep after shuffling across the stumps, which revealed the intent of not letting spinners dictate terms in the middle overs. Equally majestic was the follow-up four, a late cut through backward point after Rahul cleared his leg anticipating the quicker delivery. But the money shot was probably the six off Shadab Khan in the 35th over — the ball was tossed up outside off but Rahul took a calculated risk in skipping down the pitch and going against the spin, whipping Khan over deep midwicket.
There were considerably more dots in his hundred — it took 100 balls with 10 fours and two sixes — but that’s just how Rahul’s white ball game is. Kohli, on the other hand, thrived in running the Pakistan fielding ragged with 38 singles while teasing them with 15 twos. By the time he had reached his hundred off 84 balls, only 36 runs had come in fours and sixes. Together, Kohli and Rahul tempered India’s innings so flawlessly that a 350-plus score always looked on the cards once they had crossed 250 in the 40th over. Next 10 overs produced 105 runs without any tangible risk, broadly because Kohli and Rahul were so solid but also due to Haris Rauf not bowling on Monday due to an inflamed muscle and Shaheen Afridi looking off-colour.
India’s bowlers, in contrast, hunted like a pack. Mohammed Siraj was probing. Bumrah was making the Pakistan openers weaving in and out of deliveries shaping in or leaving them till Imam-ul-Haq was snapped up by Gill at second slip off a quick, sharp edge to round off a thrilling wicket maiden. A first spell of 5-1-18-1 on ODI comeback is expected from a class act like Bumrah though the wicket he didn’t get but so deserved was Babar Azam, at his wit’s end trying not to edge a tantalising interplay of length and subtle shape on the ball in the seventh over.
Kuldeep was all guile, loop, sharp turn and arm balls in a repertoire that accounted for five wickets, best among them being the one where Fakhar Zaman was foxed into a wild heave after a scratchy 27. Mohammad Rizwan was lured into poking at a Shardul Thakur delivery that held its line but it was actually Pandya who had first probed that channel of attack in the 11th over, nearly wrongfooting him into closing his bat too early on a ball that pitched full and swung away late. India lost a review but Rizwan was on notice ever since that stinging warning.
Ball before that, however, was the most captivating reminder of Pandya’s stock as a seam bowling all-rounder. On strike was Azam, rattled by Bumrah but still undoubtedly Pakistan’s best bet of a fightback. This was a scrambled seam delivery, pitched on length and slightly outside Azam’s off-stump. And unlike previous balls that had ended up straight or moved in slightly, this one moved a lot, cutting into Azam’s defence, sneaking through a yawning gap between pad and bat and taking the top of off-stump.