T20 World Cup 2021: Pakistan bowling flies under the radar having honed their skills in PSL – Firstcricket News, Firstpost

It is just as well that the adjudicator resisted what must have been massive temptation of picking either Mohammed Rizwan or Babar Azam as Man of the Match after the Pakistan openers chased down 152 for a comprehensive 10-wicket victory over India in the ICC World Twenty20 Group 2 league match in Dubai on Sunday.

Left-arm paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi richly deserved the prize for his opening burst that pricked any plans India may have had of posting a commanding score when batting first to insure against the dew factor that would come into play in the second half. He led a varied attack in its quest to tie down the strokeplayers in an unfamiliar situation.

Shaheen Afridi took three wickets to put put early pressure on India batting in the T20 World Cup 2021. AP

To bowl so fearlessly in a high-voltage game calls for a clarity of thought and simplicity in execution. Having honed their skills in Pakistan Super League (PSL) and many a T20 Internationals, Pakistan bowlers treated the big game as just another day in office and reaped ample rewards. They resisted temptation to break into emotional outbursts, focusing instead on the job on hand.

Come to think of it, they have flown under the radar most of the time since they do not get to compete with Australia, England and India as often as their collective talent deserves. But, on Sunday, it suited them just right to be in that position. Uninitiated in the business of the unreal pressure of India-Pakistan cricket matches, they were able to do what was expected of them.

It is not the easiest of tasks to ignore this pressure. There is no escaping the electricity in atmosphere in such games. The energy in the stands does tend to spill over to the middle. Of course, the converse is also true with the spectators echoing off the emotions being paraded on the pitch. Worse, it is tough to avoid the pre-match talk of pressure of playing the neighbour in a rare contest.

The Pakistan bowlers showed that it is not reputations that matter but it is the performance on the day that counts. And the Pakistan attack can hold its head high for pushing India on the backfoot and keeping it there through its innings. It was the kind of show that they can be proud of, notwithstanding that they do not boast of star value like some of their predecessors.

Truth to tell, the reputation of the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Aqib Javed, Shoaib Akhtar, Saeed Ajmal et al would always precede them. And the opposing batsmen would prime themselves up to deny them, finding some success along the way. But Pakistan’s attack on Sunday was mindful of the task on hand and did not over-reach itself.

There was sense of assurance in all that the Pakistan bowlers did. There was an acute awareness of the roles assigned and an almost school-boy discipline with which they executed those to perfection. For a change, instead of being in awe of Indian strokeplayers or even critical of the shot selection, fans and critics alike were given the opportunity to admire the rival bowling.

The Pakistan bowlers’ intent and intensity were unaffected by either the pressure of playing against India or the ‘history’ of 12 defeats in World Cup or World T20 matches. They drew on their rich experience –not just in PSL but in T20 internationals – and backed themselves to deliver the goods.

After Afridi’s swing beat Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul’s defence to land twin blows in his first two overs, other bowlers ensured that India would not escape the pressure. They turned up at the bowling crease and did what was expected of them with utmost diligence. There was not a hint of over-confidence, let alone arrogance, but an air of professionalism.

Shadab Khan’s dismissal of Rishabh Pant is indicative of the approach that pervaded through the 20 overs. The faith and fearlessness with which the wrist-spinner floated a googly, enticing the left-hander to go for a big heave and sky a top-edged shot, was reflective of the self-belief that the Pakistan bowlers brought to the pitch.

Similar was the case with the two other fast medium bowlers Hasan Ali and Haris Rauf. They sized up the right lengths to bowl on the Dubai track and picked up three wickets to peg India back further. Their diligence and sense of purpose stood them in good stead as they lent their shoulders to the wheel.

Pakistan ensured that India would get only a reasonable score despite Virat Kohli’s crafty half-century and lusty strokeplay by Pant. Each time an Indian batsman like Surya Kumar Yadav or Pant sought to counter-attack, Pakistan had the right answers. Perhaps, it also caused the Indian think tank to err in sending Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Hardik Pandya.

It was this collective effort that gave India little scope to stage a comeback and post a total that Pakistan would have found hard to chase. Years later when they sit back in their favourite arm-chairs and ruminate, each of the Pakistan bowlers, including the vastly experienced off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez, will be able to proudly recall his role in derailing Indian batting.

G Rajaraman is a sports journalist with 38 years standing and prides himself as a student of sport.

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