Diamonds in the Desert

Diamonds in the desert

India Vs Pakistan

Unimoni Asia Cup 2018

September 19, 2018

Dubai International Cricket Stadium , UAE

Copyright by Sanjit Misra, All rights reserved.

It’s a long arduous walk along the road lined with the desert sand , the harsh and unrelenting sun beating down as one makes the way to the Dubai International Cricket stadium in Dubai.  But the ordeal is worth its weight in diamonds for what lay in store. The Asia Cup was being staged here and India was playing Pakistan in a match billed to the be mother of all encounters. I have been fascinated by Cricket being played in Dubai since 2012 and was elated to finally be a part of this dazzling spectacle.

As I made my way to the stadium, I saw a lot of people selling Pakistan flags and T Shirts and people were also getting their faces painted. There was clearly a lot of support for Pakistan here. At last, I did see a person selling Indian flags. The advertising hoardings along the way had Angelo Matthews, Sarfraz Ahmed and Shikhar Dhawan modelling for Du, the local telecom operator. Clearly, the magnificent desert city was welcoming cricket with embracing arms.  There was tight security at the stadium and the guards did not let me take my pen inside. I have seen many quirky rules at different grounds, but this one surpasses them all. My hope of getting the autographs of a few players was consigned to the dustbin with my pen. I had to be content with the autographs of the few Indian players who I met earlier in the day at breakfast in my hotel.

The Stadium looks a box with a curved top from outside. It is quite magnificent inside with two layered stands and has a verdant field. One end of the ground is the Pavilion end and the other end has the stands for the masses. It has a queer looking glass box to the right side of the pavilion box which is the media center. The state of the art electronic  scoreboard is at the middle of the stand to the left of the stadium. The speakers in the stadium belted out the latest Bollywood and Pakistani hits as the players practiced in the middle. The heat was intense but I had made it to the Arabian Sands to watch the match.

India, led by Rohit Sharma won the toss and put Pakistan into bat. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled the first over from the Far end to Imam ul Haq. Kumar made the ball swing into the batsman and Imam could only block it. The third ball was on the pads of Imam Ul Haq who played in through mid wicket for the first runs. Jasprit Bumrah bowled the next over to Fakhar Zaman. Bumrah bowled a tight line and built up a good pace much to Zaman’s discomfiture. Zaman could only defend the six balls and it resulted in a maiden over.

Imam ul Haq stepped out to the next ball from Kumar, who pitched it short and in line with Imam’s body. Iman tried to pull it and the ball took the top edge of Imam’s bat and ballooned in the air. Dhoni ran in to take the catch and the Indian had drawn first blood. Pakistan was 2 for 1. The crowd erupted in joy as the Indian players celebrated. Babar Azam was the next man in. He pushed a ball through the point region to get off the mark. At the end of the 3rd over the score was 3 for 1. Bumrah bowled a fullish delivery to Babar Azam who played it to point. Bumrah bowled the next ball from wide of the crease and angled in towards the batsman. Babar could only push it to mid on. The next three balls were short but in were in line with the stumps and Babar Azam could only defend them. The last ball was straight and back of the length and Babar played it straight back to the bowler. Thus, Bumrah bowled with great guile for his second consecutive maiden over. Kumar bowled a short ball to Fakhar Zaman, who tried to play the pull shot and edged it. The ball soared high in the desert sky and the little man Yuzvendra Chahal ran back from mid wicket and held on to it. Pakistan was now 3 for 2  and Shoaib Malik was the next one in.

In the 5th over, Bumrah erred in line fatally and bowled a widish full ball to Malik who smacked it through the covers for the first boundary of the innings. Babar Azam who had been quiet until then leaned forward to a half volley from Kumar and drove it past the mid off fielder for a boundary. The next was short as expected and Azam stepped back and punched it through the covers for the same result. The Pakistani crowd which had been in torpor until them erupted in volcanic delight.  Bumrah , Kumar and the flamboyant Hardik Pandya bowled three consecutive overs with unerring accuracy. The batsmen could only defend at the end of the first powerplay of 10 overs the score was 25 for 2. The slowness of the innings took my mind back to a Nehru Cap match I had watched in Cuttack between Pakistan and England in 1989. Pakistan had scored 53 for 3 after 25 overs and I had almost fallen sleep. Only the thirst for water had probably kept my eyelids a bit open.

The leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal came on to bowl and the last ball of his over was flighted and pitched outside the off stump. Azam played a delightful square cut for a boundary. He also hit a ball pitched on the off stump from Pandya to the leg side bisecting mid wicket and mid off for a magnificent boundary. Azam was finding his magic touch. The esoteric Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav was brought on by the Indian captain Rohit Sharma. Shoaib Malik stepped out to a flighted ball from Kuldeep and hit over hard and high over the mid wicket fence for a Sixer.  In the next over from Pandya, Babar Azam deftly guided a wide ball through the slip area for a boundary to take the score to 55 f0r 2 at the end of he 14th over. Chahal bowled beautifully and conceded only 2 runs in the next over to put some pressure back on the Pakistani batsmen. Shoaib Malik tries to play the late cut to a ball from Pandya and the ball reached Dhoni’s outstretched hands. To Malik’s delight and Pandya’s despair, the ball bounced off Dhoni’s hands and fell on the turf. A dropped chance which could be worth a king’s ransom in future. The score remained at 60 for 2 at the end of 16 overs and the players broke ranks for a well earned drinks break.

Chahal resumed after the throats had been watered and thirst had been quenched. The Pakistani batsman found the angles and ran the singles and two to score seven off the over. Babar Azam played a mellifluous cover drive off Pandya in the next over, much to the delight of the crowd. Pandya collapsed to the ground after bowling the fifth ball. All the players hemmed in to determine what happened. Soon he was stretchered off and we learnt that he has had a back injury. This crippled the Indian bowling attack as Pandya was one of their main bowlers. Chahal started to bowl with less flight and though the batsmen could read him but found it difficult to slip the ball through the gaps in the field. Kuldeep continued to beguile the batsmen from the other end and try as they might the Pakistani batsmen could not play him. At the end of the 21st over, the score had trudged along to 85 for 2. The bulwark of the Pakistan innings was being built by the judicious batsmanship of Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik before our very eyes.

Kuldeep Yadav bowled a flighted ball to Azam who stepped out to play it. The ball however pitched on the middle stump and before Azam’s bat could meet it, the ball spun away and hit the top of off stump. It was a masterful display of the “wrong un”.  The score was now 85 for 3 as the Pakistan Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed walked in to bat. Kedar Jadhav came in to bowl and with his deceiving low arm rounded action bowled five consecutive dot balls to Sarfraz, who somehow took a single off the last ball to deny Jadhav a maiden. In the next over Shoaib Malik played the slog sweep to Kuldeep and managed to top edge the ball which flew high on the leg side to midwicket. Bhuvneshwar Kumar made a complete mockery of it and spilled it. Shoaib Malik could not believe his luck and managed a wry chuckle. Kedar Jadhav continued to befuddle Sarfraz, who out of exasperation stepped out to hit a ball high to the long off fence. Manish Pandey the substitute fielder ran to his right and caught the ball. Just as he lost his balance and before he  stepped over the line, Pandey with a quick wit threw the ball in the air and then jumped back in to the playing arena and caught it. This spectacle occurred just in front of where we sat and our joy knew no bounds. At the halfway mark of 25 overs, the score was 96 for 4. Pakistan was in despair and they needed a knight with a swinging willow to fight their cause. Asif Ali was the next man in.

Kuldeep bowled a tight over to Shoaib Malik who was confounded with the mix of legspin, googly and the fast straighter one. He could barely keep the ball out of the stumps.  Kedar Jadhav bowled the next over. Asif Ali pushed to the off side and Shoaib malik the non striker rushed out to take a run. Asif Ali fatally sent him back. Rayudu picked up the ball and with a swift action hit the stumps with bulls eye precision. Malik was caught short of his crease and his innings came to an end for 43. Pakistan was 100 for 5 and crumbling.  Shadab Khan was the next man in. Kuldeep bowled a flighted ball in his endeavour to outwit to the batsman, but Asif Ali stepped out and hammered it over long on for a sixer. In the next over, Kedar Jadhav ambled in and bowled a short ball outside the off stump to Asif Ali, who rocked back and tried to play the square cut. He was late onto the short and edged the ball into the safe confimes of Dhoni’s big gloves behind the wicket. It was now 110 for 6. Faheem Ashraf came in and Kedar Jadhav befuddled him with different lines and length mixed with sharp spin. The result was a wicket maiden, worth its weight in gold.

Bumrah replaced Kuldeep Yadav and Jadhav continued to bowl from one end. Both the Pakistani batsman found it difficult to score. Kedhar Jadhav bowled a ball that drifted outside the off stump and Shadab Khan stepped out and swung hard at it. Alas his endeavour was fraught with danger. He missed the ball and the wily Dhoni knocked off the bails with a gleeful smile.  Pakistan was now 121 for 7 and was staring down the dark barrel of despair. Bumrah bowled an overpitched ball to Ashraf who caressed it through the covers for a boundary. Later in the over, Bumrah’s ball found the edge of the new batsman Mohd Amir’s bat and somehow threaded through the slips to the boundary.  Rohit Sharma brought in Chahal to clean up the tail. Faheem Ashraf stepped out to a flighted ball and hit it toward the non striker. The ebullient Chahal dived across the pitch and tried to grasp the ball, but was unsuccessful in his valiant attempt. To add insult to injury, Faheem Ashaf played an emphatic cover drive for a boundary off Chahal’s next over. The score was now 148 for 7 off 38 overs. Rohit sharma brought back his frontline seamers Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.  Bumrah bowled a slower ball just outside the off stump to Faheem Ashraf who went down on one knee and hit it high in the air on the off side. Dhawan deep at sweeper cover held on to the catch. Ashraf fell for 21 and the score was now 158 for 8. Kumar too joined in the act and drew a lofted shot from Hasan Ali and Dinesh Kartik at mid on snaffled it. Bumrah finished the last rites of the innings by bowling a yorker to Usman Khan and uprooting his off stump. The innings ended at the score of 162 in the 44th over.

The “hit man “ Rohit Sharma took strike and non chalantly turned the first ball of the innings from Mohanmmed Amir to long leg to open his account. The second over of the innings was bowled by Usman Shinwari. The second ball was fast and pitched on the off stump line and took the inside edge of Rohit Sharma’s bat and sped agonizingly past the stumps to the boundary. It was a wake up call and probably made the intent clear from Pakistan’s perspective.  Shikar Dhawan had an air of detente and he leaned forward to a full ball outside the off stump and drove it with elegant ease for his first boundary. The next ball was on his pads and he whipped it with artful use of his wrists and ran three runs.  At the end of the third over the score had reached 14 for no loss.

Shinwari found some rhythm and bowled a straight line on the off stump to Dhawan. The first couple of balls were on his off stump and  chest high and Dhawan could only play them down with soft hands. The third ball was on his pads and he blocked it. The fourth and Fist balls were angled across the bat of the south paw and Dhawan try as he might, could not find the gaps in the field. He was fortuitous in his endeavour to guide the last ball of the over to the third man region and collect a single.  Amir ran in to bowl the next over. The first delivery was fast and furious and Dhawan could only push it into the covers. The second ball pitched in the good length spot and bounced to hit Dhawan somewhere near his gloves. The third ball swung in the air and came in towards the batsman. It found the inside edge of Dhawan’s bat and thudded into his pads. Amir was hurling the ball faster than the gale force and his rewards were yet to be seen. The fourth and fifth balls were immaculate in line and Dhawan could only play them into the hands of the fielder at cover. The fielders in the ring resembled the impregnable phalanx of the fabled Roman army. Mohammed Amir completed an impressive maiden over by bowling the last ball on the off stump and Dhawan could only just block. This was the high noon of the Pakistani bowling but for them the bitter part of irony was in the offing.

Mohammed Amir ran in with vigor to bowl to Rohit. The length ball was pitched outside the off stump. Rohit leaned forward and cut it through the point region for a boundary. The next ball was a sumptuous half volley and Rohit with a gourmet’s class threaded in through the covers for four runs. In the next over an overzealous Shinwari committed the cardinal sin of bowling short to the Hit man. Rohit swung at it and ball flew over the keeper’s head for a sixer. The next ball was short too and Rohit guided it to the fine leg fence with great ease. To add insult to injury, the umpire signaled it as a no ball. Shinwari ran in from round the wicket and bowled a ball on the off stump. Rohit pulled it with great force and ball sailed into the night sky like a missile and landed in the stands. Rohit repeated the shot in the next over  for a boundary and send the crowd into febrile delirium. At the end of the 9th over the score read 52 for no loss.

Dhawan too found inspiration and played an exquisite square drive off Faheem Ashraf for a boundary. In the next over, Hasan ali dug one in short and Dhawan with the delicate balance of a Ballet dancer, stood on one foot and pulled the ball over midwicket for a sixer. He completed his act by flicking a ball from Ashraf off his pads with oriental elegance to boundary boards.

Rohit sharma had been watching his partner from the other end and when Hasan Ali bowled a bouncer , Rohit hooked it with great primacy and sent it flying into the stand in the long leg region. Hasan Ali tried to change his length and bowled a bowl of fuller length. Rohit stepped out and with a bat of immaculate straightness hit the ball high over mid off for a boundary and reach his half century. The whole stadium stood as one to applaud his magnificient effort. The score at the end of 13 overs was 86 for no loss.

Shadab Khan the legspinner came in to bowl. Rohit Sharma leaned forward to play the first ball but the ball slipped between his bat and pad and bowled him. He was out for 52 and India was 86 for 1 now. Ambati Rayudu came in to bat and opened his account off the first ball by driving down to mid on.  Dhawan got a half volley from Shadab and played a cover drive. The fielder at the cover boundary put on a hilariously comic act of fielding and the ball crossed the ropes with an amused smirk on its red face. Dhawan was quite severe on the Pakistan bowlers and when Hasan Ali erred in length by pitching short, Dhawan cut it primal power through the point region for a boundary. He mixed his aggression with the subtleness of artful wristwork by flicking a ball on his pads  from Faheem Ashraf to the fine leg boundary. A beleaguered Ashraf pitched the ball short and wide outside the off stump of Dhawan who, in a flash, hit it to the point region. The fall flew like a Roman projectile, but an agilent Babar Azam brought off a brilliant catch. Dhawan was crestfallen and walked back to the pavilion in abject sorrow. India was 104 for 2 in the in the 17th over.

Surprisingly Dinesh Karthik was sent in to bat ahead of Dhoni. The crowd was not happy with this. They wanted to see Dhoni and his swashbuckling batsmanship. Nonetheless as we resigned ourselves to seeing Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik bat , Karthik hit a long hop from Fakhar Zaman over mid wicket for a six. This brought some cheer to the multitude in the stands. Ironically that was to be the only form of excitement for us. Both the batsmen pushed and plodded over the next few overs and score moved to 140 for 2 at a snail’s pace. It was an anachronism in the fast moving world of ODI cricket. Clearly , both the gentlemen were playing for their places in the team. The crowd looked askance and indulged in satisfying the needs of the throats and stomachs. The chatter among the people shifted to the latest trends in fashion and the US -China trade war. I took the opportunity to admire the beautiful aesthetics provided by the lights in the stadium. The ring of Lights made the stadium look like a necklace of sparkling diamonds in the discerning desert.

A little later, the batsmen realized that their languid act  had reduced them to an inconsequential side show.  Karthik swept a ball from Shoaib Malik to the mid wicket fence to break the stupor. Rayudu too came down the track and hit a ball down to the long off fence for four runs. In the next over Karthik repeated his sweeping act off malik for a similar result . As Malik trundled in to bowl to Rayudu ,Victory with its splendid laurels stood at  India’s doorstep. The ball was short and Rayudu thumped it to the square leg fence and ushered in Victory with a grand welcome.

The crowd stood up to applaud yet another victory by India over its arch rival Pakistan. It was retribution for the shock defeat India had suffered in the finals of the Champions trophy trophy in 2017. Since India had defeated Pakistan in its adopted home, the victory in the minds of the Indian supporters , had the brilliance and sparkle of a diamond in the desert.

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