Title favourites India maintained their stranglehold over arch-rivals Pakistan in ICC events with a comprehensive six-wicket victory to keep their T20 World Cup 2016 campaign alive riding on Virat Kohli’s classy unbeaten 55.
In a low scoring rain-curtailed showdown, the hosts restricted Pakistan to 118 for five and then overhauled the target in 15.5 overs on a viciously turning track at the Eden Gardens.
Kohli was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of quality of batsmanship as his 37-ball innings had seven fours and a six. On a day, when the next best score was 26 from opposition’s Shoaib Malik, Kohli showed why he is one of best in contemporary world cricket.
The win also helped India stay alive in the tournament after a shocking 47 run loss to New Zealand in the opening game. This was India’s 11th consecutive win over Pakistan in the ICC World tournaments with Kohli scoring third successive half-century in last three editions of shortest format.
The win also was special as this was India’s first win against Pakistan at the hallowed Eden Gardens.
It was yet another time when Kohli anchored an Indian chase to perfection with the kind of solidity and responsibility that is expected of country’s No 1 batsman.
Three weeks back in Mirpur, it was seaming track where Kohli showed his artistry. On Saturday, it was turning track but it did not deter him from playing another classical innings where not a single shot was out of the book. He did not wilt under pressure, let the torrid time pass through and then encashed on the loose deliveries.
With Yuvraj Singh (24), he added 61 runs for the fourth wicket just after the hosts were reeling at 23 for three.
Rohit Sharma (10) teed off in the second over when he square Muhammad Irfan and then played the short arm pull but did not last long as he gave a skier off Amir which Shoaib Malik judged well.
There seem to be no end to Shikhar Dhawan (6 off 15 balls)’s struggle as Muhammad Sami got him played on with a fast delivery that skidded in.
Suresh Raina (0) was out off the very next ball as he failed to negotiate Sami’s pace to make it 23 for three.
In Sami’s next over, Kohli opened his bat face to steer one to the point boundary while Yuvraj hit a cover drive in their bid to release a bit of pressure.
They took the score past 50 after which Kohli hit a second pull shot off Wahab Riaz.
Kohli then swept Malik for a six and a boundary with 14 runs coming off 11th over as the match decisively swung in India’s favour.
As if he was complementing Kohli, Yuvraj played an imperious pull shot off the first ball of Riaz’s next over as the equation came down to less than run a ball as the win looked imminent.
Yuvraj was holed out in the deep off Riaz with Sami taking the catch.
But there was no stopping Kohli as he hit an inside out cover drive off Afridi in the very next over to indicate that he won’t back out from showing positive intent.
With skipper Dhoni for company, the chase became an easy one as the skipper finished the match with a six and a single off Muhammad Irfan.
Earlier, Indian bowlers produced a decent effort but Pakistan still managed a competitive 118 for five on a rank turner after being put into bat.
While 118 might not be a great score otherwise, considering the amount of turn on offer, the visitors have something to defend on a match that was reduced to 18-overs-a -side due to rain delay.
There were times when deliveries from Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin were turning square. It was Shoaib Malik (26 from 16 balls; 3x4, 1x6) who gave his team’s score an impetus with a quickfire 41-run fourth wicket stand with Umar Akmal (22 from 16 balls; 1x4, 1x6) in only four overs.
Skipper Shahid Afridi, promoted himself to No 3 after his matchwinning innings against Bangladesh but it did not yield any result.
He was watchful and could not do much on a turning pitch during his forgettable stay at the crease with eight runs from 14 balls (1x4). He holed one up to the safe hands of Kohli after mistiming his heaving pull against a widish Pandya delivery.
From being 51/2 from 10 overs, Malik and Akmal lifted them to 95/3 in 15 overs with some power blows especially in the 14th over where Pakistan hit their first six of the match.
Spotting the slower one early, Malik swung his bat against Pandya for their first six in 13.4 overs and Akmal did an encore in the last ball of the same over for a productive 15-runs.
Indians were sharp on the field with Pandya’s jaw-dropping catch to remove opener Sharjeel Khan, while Rohit Sharma was sharp in covers saving some clean boundaries to pump up the vibrant atmosphere.
Ashwin made the ball ‘talk’ in his very first over and extracted vicious turn and bounce from the surface that was predicted to be flat.
He troubled Sharjeel first up with his flight and got vicious turn from the pitch as Pakistan crawled to five for no loss in the first two overs.
Sharjeel broke the shackles in the last ball of the third over hitting the first boundary for their team when he hit Nehra through square leg.
To negotiate the turn and bounce off the pitch, Shehzad used his feet against Ashwin for another boundary but the Indian bowlers were tidy to restrict Pakistant to 24 for no loss in the five-over powerplay.
A stunning forward diving catch by Pandya finally gave India the first breakthrough with Sharjeel (17) caught at midon off a leading edge from Raina.
Shehjad (25) followed soon with yet another leading edge with Jadeja taking yet another impressive catch running back from point as Pakistan were 51/2 at the midway stage.