It was supposed to be the most intense match of World Cup 2023. But it ended up being one of the most one-sided contests as India cruised to a seven-wicket win in Ahmedabad on Saturday.
Pakistan looked poised to impose themselves after being asked to bat first in front of more than 100,000 fans. A flat surface at the Narendra Modi Stadium and blazing afternoon heat worked in Pakistan's favour, until the 30th over when they were well placed at 155-2.
From there, Pakistan's batting collapsed inexplicably and spectacularly, crashing to 191 all out to lose the initiative and the match.
India captain Rohit Sharma extinguished any remaining hopes by hitting a quick-fire 86 as the hosts eased to a victory with a little under 20 overs to spare.
The occasion got to Pakistan, as much as the Indian bowlers and Ahmedabad’s conditions.
On a flat wicket on a hot and humid afternoon in the city, Pakistan had the perfect platform.
Openers Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq were barely troubled as every delivery found its way to the middle of the bat.
Even when Mohammad Siraj bowled a cross seam delivery and trapped Shafique (20) lbw, and then Hardik Pandya had Imam (36) caught behind, Pakistan did not look in trouble.
The surface offered barely any movement for the quicks and only slow turn for the spinners. Captain Babar Azam and wicketkeeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan – the backbone of Pakistan’s batting – milked the bowling and looked destined to dominate the middle overs.
Turning the strike over and chugging along around five an over, Azam and Rizwan made a great platform at 155-2 in the 30th over. And then, it all went wrong.
Sharma had just brought Siraj back into the attack to get some reverse swing on a dry surface with the old ball. The right-arm quick obliged with the ball of the match, tailing into Azam (50) and clipping the off bail past his angled blade.
Then Kuldeep Yadav broke the back of Pakistan’s batting by first trapping Saud Shakeel lbw on the back foot and then bowling Iftikhar Ahmed off a googly around his legs.
Pakistan had slumped to 166-5 within three overs. But Rizwan was still there, approaching a fifty and hoping to pull the team out of trouble.
Sharma sensed an opportunity and brought back his best bowler – Jasprit Bumrah. The in-form pacer settled the contest with a smartly disguised slower one that drew Rizwan (49) into a drive a week too early, rattling the off stump and Pakistan’s batting.
From there, India’s bowlers tried all the tricks in the book and Pakistan’s lower order fell for every one. Five Indian bowlers picked up two wickets each. Every bowler took at least one very important scalp – a collective effort in the truest sense of the words.
Bumrah finished with 2-19 from his seven overs, Yadav took 2-35 and Ravindra Jadeja 2-38.
The chase went along exactly as expected. Captain Sharma made his intention clear from the first ball as he clipped Shaheen Afridi for a boundary off his legs.
His partner Shubman Gill had just recovered from dengue, but did not look like he had been in and out of hospital as he caressed three boundaries off Hasan Ali’s first over.
Gill looked like getting a lot more before his innings was cut short as he middled a square cut straight to point.
But Sharma kept the pressure up, taking on Haris Rauf in the first over and depositing him for two sixes – down the ground and over covers.
The pressure was off and it was time to get the job done quickly. Sharma looked like a million bucks as he smashed six sixes and as many fours as he raced to 86 off 62 balls before he was deceived by a slower one from Afridi to be caught at midwicket, missing out on another World Cup century.
Shreyas Iyer (53 not out) finished the job in the company of KL Rahul, completing victory in 30.3 overs for their most comprehensive win in what was expected to be the most high-pressure game.