© AFP
Hardik Pandya bowled the final over of the match © AFP

There is hardly anything Indian about Hardik Pandya. He bowls fast, often deceptively fast. He is an excellent fielder, but that is an understatement: every bit of Pandya oozes of raw athleticism. He hits the ball with more power, more bat speed than almost any teammate. In many ways he resembles the West Indian giants of the T20 generation, than the ubiquitous Indian. In other words, Pandya is as different from the unassuming Joginder Sharma as possible as they make them. You may blink for a second and miss Joginder; but you cannot miss Pandya, for he stands out even in a group of rock stars. LIVE CRICKET BLOG: India vs Bangladesh, T2o World Cup 2016, Match 25 at Bengaluru

But this was one of those days, when the two men, Pandya and Joginder, were put into the same shoes. The strategy was the same as 2007: identify your weakest link in the line-up; go for your best bowlers and bowl them out, which will ensure the biggest possible buffer for your weakest bowler; and make sure he holds his nerves.

But Pandya was not exactly a weak link. In fact, he was not an ordinary bowler at all; his first over had included two boundaries off Sabbir Rahman’s blade. Both balls had grown on Sabbir at alarming pace, resulting in a top-edged hook and a thick edge. Shakib Al Hasan had smashed him for six in his second over, but that was two balls after Ravichandran Ashwin had dropped him.

His figures of 2-0-20-0 were deceptive. On another day it could have been 2-0-15-2. “It is a great leveller, this game of cricket,” the commentators say on air. Pandya finished with 3-0-29-2.

Pandya measured his run-up. He looked unusually calm for someone who was about to bowl the most important over of his short career till now; it is almost unbelievable that Pandya, like Jasprit Bumrah, made his debut in 2016. ALSO READ: India vs Bangladesh, T20 World Cup: MS Dhoni keeps wicket without gloves on for the final delivery

But Pandya had to wait, for Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja were about to swap places. If Jadeja was the sole fielder manning the cover boundary, it was evident that Pandya would bowl outside off, pitching it up as much as possible. Whatever escaped the inner ring would have to make its way past India’s calmest, if not best, fielder.

Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim, two of the most senior Bangladesh batsmen, saw the change in field take place. Did Dhoni want to make them watch the change? Alas, the ability to probe behind the most inscrutable face in the world of cricket eludes me.

And so Pandya bowled. As if on cue, it was a low full-toss, outside off. The best possible result Mahmudullah could have achieved was to pierce the inner ring.

It was over to Mushfiqur, who had hit the winning run in Bangladesh’s upset win over India in World Cup 2007, exactly nine years before the match. He did not have the international exposure of Shakib, but he had bailed Bangladesh out of many a tough corner.

The camera panned to a long discussion between Dhoni and Pandya. It was not to hurt him or India, for the time spent after the last over commences is not taken into consideration while calculating over rates. Of course they had to discuss to make sure that they perfected the plan, for there is no denying that Mushfiqur is an excellent batsman with that special ability to switch gears and improvise.

Once  Mushfiqur anticipated the over-pitched delivery outside off. He was in place so quickly, that he almost seemed to wait for an eternity for the ball to arrive. When it eventually did, he placed it through extra-cover with ease. Jadeja, even Jadeja, had no chance. ALSO READ: India vs Bangladesh, T20 World Cup 2016: MS Dhoni says, team did not want Hardik Pandya to bowl yorkers

There was another conference, involving an animated Ashish Nehra. My mind rolled back to Eden Park 2002-03, after Nehra and Javagal Srinath had pulled off a 1-wicket win following a long mid-pitch conference. When Srinath was asked exactly what the discussion was about, the response was clear: when Nehra is a part of a discussion, he does all the talking.

So Nehra it was. Nehra, who had been summoned out of nowhere to play a Test and was sent into oblivion almost two decades back. Nehra, whose name was often associated more with injuries than performances till 2015. Till his comeback, that is.

The senior man of India’s pace arsenal advised his protégé. It did not work, for there was a reason they call the perpetually dangerous Mushfiqur a dangerous batsman. He knew the ball would be on off. Almost as a corollary, he knew fine-leg would be inside the circle.

Like a flash he shuffled across the wicket, and placed the ball in that narrow gap between Dhoni and fine-leg. You could not have placed a fielder there. Nobody would think of doing that. There was risk: he could have been bowled; the ball could have ballooned up; but it came off.

A pumped-up Mushfiqur punched the air in ecstasy as a bemused Pandya watched him. The flow of adrenaline in the Bangladeshis was eminent. They were a group of excitable individuals, motivated by Mashrafe Mortaza, the man they affectionately refer to as Mash on social media (often accompanied by the <3 smiley next to his name).

Mortaza had made them put in that extra bit. He led by example. And this time, they had come to the brink of victory.

A hush had come down on the stadium. There was another conference, a long one. It probably helped release the tension. The Indian camp looked calm, and none, Dhoni aside, looked more focused than Nehra.

It was a battle between adrenaline and focus.

Mushfiqur was pumped up. That much was evident. Would the surge in blood flow cause him to play one shot too many, instead of settling for singles?

Pandya bowled a slower delivery. It was short, but only marginally, and on off. Mushfiqur read the length and went for the pull, as any batsman would have; unfortunately, he did not read the line, and hit it straight to Dhawan’s throat at deep mid-wicket. ALSO READ: India vs Bangladesh, T20 World Cup 2016 at Bangalore: India’s stutter, Ravi Ashwin’s brilliance, epic final over and other highlights

And Chinnaswamy erupted. Was there a glimmer of hope?

A First-Class average of 41 is an indication of the batting talent Shuvagata Hom possesses, but this was about holding nerves. More importantly, he would be at the non-striker’s end, since the ever-reliable Mahmudullah would be on strike.

The forces were summoned again. Once again Nehra had a talk with Pandya. There was a period in Indian cricket when Srinath had mentored young fast bowlers. That mantle had passed on to Zaheer Khan with time. It had found a successor, albeit one approaching the end of his career.

Was Mahmudullah nervous? Did he get carried away when he realised that the attempted yorker was actually a full-toss? No one will be able to tell, for sure, but he ended up hitting it high, once again towards deep mid-wicket.

It seemed away from Dhawan, but… that was not Dhawan! Exactly when was Jadeja positioned there? The television cameras did not show that!

It was not an easy catch. Jadeja had to run in and to his right, then dive and roll and tumble, but he did come up with the ball.

In other words, he did a Jadeja.

For once, India were in the driver’s seat. More importantly, they held the initiative. Their bowler was on a hat-trick, albeit an irrelevant one. They had two new batsmen at the crease. They were not safe.

But they could get a single and take it to the Super Over, where it was anybody’s game.

If Nehra had been animated during the over, he took it to another plane now. He clearly meant business. He wanted something to be executed. There was conviction in his body language, in every bit of instruction he dished out to Pandya.

In between all this, Ashwin suggested Pandya look out for that Mankad. That was not, as we know, needed.

Dhoni did not crouch. He stood straight, his hands on his knees. More significantly, his right hand did not have the white wicketkeeper’s glove on it, for he knew he had to make a direct throw, if needed.

Third-man and fine-leg had been pushed back. The off-side ring inside the circle was back, with another fielder manning the ropes. Third-man was sent back. It was going to be on off, but they could not afford an over-pitched or a short-pitched delivery.

It had to be on a good-length, easy to hit for a set batsman with a super-bat, but not so for a new batsman who is not a T20 specialist.

Outside off, good length; and outside off, good length it was; and Hom flashed and missed; and watched Dhoni, probably the fastest sprinter in the side, gather the ball and make a dash for the stumps.

In hindsight, one cannot blame Hom. He had probably expected Dhoni to have a direct shot at the stumps, and he probably ensured that he had held ground as Mustafizur Rahman charged in.

It did not matter in the end, but had Mushfiqur or Mahmudullah shown the presence of mind Hom did, things might have been different.

By the time Hom left the crease, Mustafizur was halfway through. Unfortunately, despite being a decade-and-a-half younger to Dhoni, the youngster did not stand a chance. Pandya ran towards the striker’s end. Mid-wicket rushed towards the non-striker’s end to stop overthrows, if any.

They were all alert. There were eleven Dhoni’s on the ground, one real, the others groomed.

Dhoni made it before Mustafizur. The impact of the right hand, clad in only the blue inner gloves, uprooted a stump. And as the Indian’s converged, waiting for the television umpire’s signal, billions of viewers catching live telecast, legally or otherwise, saw the Indian captain mouth that one word they want to appear on the giant screen: “out”.

And Dhoni hugged his newly-found marshal-in-chief, Nehra.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)