It was a scrap alright; a scrap on a pendulum. The match swung one way then the other and back and back again. Even in the penultimate over of the game, the pendulum swung India’s way first when Umar Gul was bowled by R. P. Singh. Then the pendulum swung Pakistan’s way immediately when Mohammed Asif tickled the first ball he faced for 4 through the vacant slips area. With 13 runs needed from six balls, the pendulum defied gravity and stayed, almost irrevocably, on Pakistan’s side when Misbah-ul-Haq danced down the pitch and straight-swatted — there must be a special Twenty20 term for this almost improbable shot — a full-toss from Joginder Sharma for six! And then, when Misbah-ul-Haq decided a deft paddle-sweep was needed, and when the resulting catch was taken, the pendulum rested with India.
India were crowned the innaugural Twenty20 World Champions because they just refused to lose. They held their nerve in an edge-of-the-seats final. It was a fitting finale for an impressive tournament that had erased the bad memories of a badly organised, badly planned and badly played World Cup 2007 in the West Indies.
But right from the time of the toss, the match swung one way and then the next. It perhaps swung Pakistan’s way when Virender Sehwag was declared unfit to play. One would have thought that Dinesh Karthik would have played. But M. S. Dhoni is his own man. He does things his way and he went with Yusuf Pathan, the older brother of the more famous Irfan Pathan. And what’s more, Dhoni declared that the older Pathan would open the innings — it was a like-for-like replacement, for Yusuf Pathan, like Virender Sehwag, gives the ball one heck of a tonk in domestic cricket and also bowls off-spin.
India started well with Pathan hitting a six and a 4 to race to 15 off 8 balls. But had the brakes put on them when Pathan skied one to Shoaib Malik. The pendulum had swung again. And it did this right through the match until that last moment. The two teams were evenly matched. Pakistan were the better bowling side. India were the better batting side. The two captains were innovative and inventive.
In the middle overs, I thought Umar Gul and Yasir Arafat bowled excellently well. Umar Gul has grown in stature as the tournament has progressed and will serve Pakistan cricket very well in the years to come. Mohammed Asif apparently does not like bowling in the death. In Yasir Arafat Pakistan found a bowler who could do that aptly. Shahid Afridi kept things really tight in the middle overs. While most teams had a weak 5th bowler, Pakistan had Mohammed Hafeez and Yasir Arafat — a specialist death-overs bowler!
Through all of this, one batsman — Gautam Gambhir — shone brilliantly. I have often questioned his role and place in the team. But in this tournament he has batted with rare flair and in an totally unfettered manner. His method has been simple. His strokeplay has been elegant. I think his time has come and I am quite willing and indeed, happy, to eat humble pie. Gautam Gambhir has proved many of his detractors wrong and I would be surprised if he doesn’t score an extended run in the Indian ODI and T20 scene. In the finals, Gambhir stroked his way to a well-crafted 75 off 54 balls. He hit some good cricketing strokes and in those difficult middle-overs, when Yuvraj Singh was finding it hard to get Shahid Afridi and Mohammed Hafeez away, Gambhir even managed to take the pressure of his poster-boy partner by scoring some delectable boundaries. He was my Man-of-the-Match.
The captaincy was excellent too. Two moments stood out. First when Shoaib Malik brought in Hafeez and Afridi the moment Yuvraj Singh came in to bat. The clear signal was that he respected Yuvraj Singh’s hard hitting but wanted the Indian to make the running. By taking the pace off the ball, he posed the question. And on this day the question wasn’t convincingly answered. Full marks to Shoaib Malik for his method as well as his instincts. The other moment was in the middle overs when he had a slip in place! Here was an attacking captain who continually threw the gauntlet at the opposition. He kept asking the questions at crucial junctues and his team also responded. All of these combined to restrict India to a smallish total. At the break between the innings, I talked to 3-4 friends of mine and said that India were probably 15 runs short of where they ought to have ended up. At the toss, M. S. Dhoni indicated that the Indian team was aiming at a score of 180! They ended at 157, about 23 runs short of that mark.
Pakistan, on the other hand would have thought that India, thanks to some belligerent and fear-free strokeplay from young Rohit Sharma, scored abdout 10 runs more than they would have wanted India to score. Shoaib Mallik indicated that they wanted to restrict India to less than 150.
Either way, India had to bowl and field well to defend 157.
As M. S. Dhoni said at the end, he asked the fielders to back the bowlers and add at least 15-20 runs to the total. And the team did that. R. P. Singh bowled brilliantly. Sreesanth was wayward and it looked like the occasion had gotten to him. But every time he sprayed, M. S. Dhoni ran to him and appeared to calm him down. Here was a young man exploding on the inside. He needed tough love and I think he got it. He delivered India a crucial wicket of Sohail Tanveer who had hit a breezy 12 off just 4 balls!
Dhoni handled his bowlers and his fielders very well. At one point in time, he had two slips for R. P. Singh and Sreesanth. It was important to take wickets! He bowled Yusuf Pathan for an over and Joginder Sharma for 3 in the middle when Pakistan were struggling to bring a semblance of stability in the middle order when wickets crashed and fell at the top. This was opportunistic and tactical cricket. Dhoni kept the screws on by bringing in the field and keeping things tight. He invited Pakistan to take the aerial route to take the risks. They did that and paid the price — both Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan perished to ugly hoiks that did not come off. This was smart captaincy.
And then, just when the match was firmly in India’s grasp — or so it seemed — Misbah-ul-Haq, Yasir Arafat and Sohail Tanvir threated to take the game away. That was until that last pendulum-movement.
India had won an improbable victory. The scenes of madness that followed will live with the Indian cricket fan for a long time. It was a brilliant spectacle and was richly-deserved jubiliation for a young team that played in the spirit of its fearless leader.
The future for both India and Pakistan looks bright. The investment in youth and a clean-slate-start had paid off for both teams.
But more importantly for this blogsite, the Indian fan can dream again!