Cometh the hour, cometh the absolute bedlam. In the end it all came down to the final over, eight balls in which everything that could happen did, and quite a few things that certainly couldn’t also did. At the start of it India needed 16 off six, at the end of it Mohammad Nawaz had bowled nine, there had been a six, a no-ball, two wides and a stumping, and Virat Kohli, having produced an innings for the ages to drag his side off the floor, was running around with his arms in the air.
Kohli scored 82 off 53 and India won by four wickets, but these are just numbers. This was an extraordinary game and an extraordinary night, an occasion as much about the noise that swirled around this enormous bowl — all 90,293 actors present in a supporting role — as it was the 22 on the field.
There is no fixture like this in world cricket. All the nonsense that surrounds ICC tournaments, all the sponsorship snafus, organisational issues, and minor games played in front of sparse crowds, are worth it just to force these sides together. Even a couple of hours before the start the atmosphere around the MCG, among the streams of fans heading towards the ground from Melbourne’s city centre and the honking cars driving past them, often with more green or blue-shirted fans spilling out of the windows, was intoxicatingly raucous and joyful.
The slogan of this tournament is “This is the big time”, a slightly jarring collection of words that generally feels either self-evident or inappropriate and most frequently the latter. But this — the noise and the colour, the energy and the anticipation, this early group-stage fixture in a tournament with 29 games still to play — this was the big time.
The noise from the stands varied throughout, from extreme to absurd with occasional periods where one team’s supporters briefly quietened. Both will have had moments when they felt the game was lost — Pakistan after they had been put in to bat and within four terrific overs were 15 for 2 with their openers, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, who so regularly and greedily gobble up most of their innings and score most of their runs, both out having contributed a combined four. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh were both sensational in these early overs, even if it was the latter, and later Hardik Pandya, who hoovered up most of the wickets.
Shan Masood survived a couple of early run-out scares when his judgment appeared to have been completely cooked in this cauldron, and at which point the idea of him batting through the innings was not even remotely credible. But together with Iftikhar Ahmed he resuscitated his side’s chances with a partnership of 76. There was only a short period when Iftikhar truly reached top gear — amounting to little more than one mercilessly pulverised Axar Patel over — in which time he went from 25 off 24 balls to a half-century off 32, and for a few delicious moments Pakistan could ponder how far beyond 160 they might be able to go.
He was out two balls later, and in the end they reached 159, thanks in part to a couple of entirely out-of-character shots from Shaheen Shah Afridi, who in the space of two balls doubled his career tally of both T20 sixes and fours.
Then it was India’s turn, and however awkwardly Pakistan started their innings Shaheen, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf ensured their opponents got it just as bad. At the end of their powerplay they were 31-3, one run and one wicket worse off than Pakistan had be a the same stage, and a ball later Axar Patel was controversially given run-out after a TV review, even though the ball was not in Rizwan’s gloves when he broke the bails.
This brought Kohli and Hardik Pandya together. It took then a while to heave India out of the doldrums and though they were not always in control of the chase, they at least seemed to believe they were. With three overs to go and 48 needed, they went for it.
Shaheen’s final over went for 17 with three fours, Rauf’s last for 15 with two wonderful Kohli sixes, and that left 16 to find off the last. Time, at last, for the real drama to start. — Guardian