A contest that promised so much ended in a damp squib as a persistent drizzle forced both the Pakistan and Indian players to remain in the dressing room after no further play was possible in the second innings of the highly-anticipated Asia Cup clash in Pallekele.
India, who were bowled out for 266 in 48.5 overs after choosing to bat first, shared a point with Pakistan, who qualified for the Super 4s with three points, courtesy their crushing win over Nepal in Multan earlier in the week.
“We don’t have Shaheen, Naseem and Rauf in our nets,” India skipper Rohit Sharma had said while responding to a question in the media conference on the eve of the game.
India’s batters have had issues against pace. Especially left-arm pace. Hence, in the nets, you will find batters practising against side angle throw downs and against bowlers like Jaydev Unadkat, Pradeep Sangwan, Khaleel Ahmed and Aniket Chaudhary. However, none of them bowl over 140-plus like Afridi.
Rohit had negotiated the early overs from Afridi well, digging out full yorkers, having adopted a two-eyed open stance to avoid getting his pads in the way. The 25-minute rain break though, that came with India at 15 for no loss, gave Afridi a chance to revisit the length that he was bowling. It was too full.
The first two balls after the break were bowled on a length, leaving Rohit as he poked at them. A set-up was being played out. The third ball again on a length, hooped in after pitching and an unsure Rohit, late on the ball, played half-cock and the white kookaburra crashed into off and middle. It was the sixth time that Rohit had fallen to left-arm seam since 2021.
Virat Kohli walked in at No. 3 and scorched a cover drive off Naseem Shah. But against Afridi in the next over, a halfhearted dab to third man took the inside edge and castled him. It was Kohli’s fourth dismissal against left-arm seam since 2021.
When Rauf castled Shubman Gill for a laborious 32-ball 10 and then had Shreyas Iyer caught at mid-wicket off the pull shot for 14 in between another 20-minute rain break, India had slipped to 66 for 4 in 14.1 overs.
An embarrassing collapse was on the cards but all-rounder Hardik Pandya 87 (90 balls, 7×4, 1×6) and Ishan Kishan 82 (81 balls, 9×4, 2×6) mixed aggression with caution to add 138 for the fifth wicket.
There is a renewed sense of calm and responsibility in Pandya after he assumed the role of the captain in the IPL for his franchise Gujarat Titans and he carries that same demeanour when he dons the India blue.
While shepherding Kishan, Pandya played anchor, running ones and twos, and taking India to a position of safety. He left well on length and when the bowlers erred, like Rauf did in the 40th over, he carted them for boundaries.
After Kishan’s departure, Pandya added another vital stand of 35 for the sixth wicket with Ravindra Jadeja. The slog-swept six off left-armer Mohammad Nawaz against the spin raised visions of a 280-plus total.
Afridi, though, came back well, triggering another collapse to dismiss Pandya caught off a slower off-cutter and then had Jadeja caught behind in the same over to end with figures of 4/35.
Rauf too had a good finish, dismissing Kishan and Shardul Thakur (strangely preferred over Mohammad Shami, ostensibly to provide greater batting depth) to reduce India from 239 for 5 to 266 all out.
India face Nepal on Monday at the same venue and a win or a washout will take them through to the next stage.