Asia Cup: Clinical India brush aside Pakistan to go top
India bowled out Pakistan inside 45 overs. (Getty Image)

If there were any concerns about India‘s performance after their game against Hong Kong last night, discard those thoughts right away. Against Pakistan in match five of the Asia Cup, India dished out an emphatic performance, first restricting the opposition to 162, and then chasing down the target with ease by eight wickets to go top of the group.

Like their last ODI encounter – the Champions Trophy final last year – this one too proved to be an extremely one-sided contest. Ever since Pakistan lost their first wicket in the third over, they were never in the game. The only thing going their way was the toss, during which skipper Sarfraz Ahmed had predicted a total in excess of 280. But India’s bowling made for a well-oiled unit. Bhuvneshwar Kumar began the damage reducing Pakistan to 3/2, after which Kedar Jadhav‘s three wickets in the middle overs pushed Pakistan to a point of no return.

The key to India’s chase was to be watchful in the first ten overs, and that’s exactly how Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma batted, seeing off the early spunk of the new ball. And once set, motored along. Mohammad Amir and Usman Khan had their tail up, racking some serious pace, but the comfort of an asking rate of three was always going to favour India. They jaywalked their way to 27 in seven overs.

Once that period was over, Rohit launched into the Pakistan attack. He cracked back-to-back fours off Amir and took Usman for two sixes and four off three balls. Another four brought up his 50 off 36 deliveries, the quickest of his career. It was almost as if he wanted to make up for the missed opportunity against Hong Kong a day earlier.

Barring Lasith Malinga in the opening game, there hasn’t been much swing on offer, something that Pakistan would soon learn. Dhawan, coming off a century against Hong Kong, was in no discomfort against the pace of Amir and Usman, and once Rohit began his assault, the left-hander soon got into the groove. He went six overs without a boundary but his next five came took six overs, including a thumping six off Faheem Ashraf.

India were 14 short off 100 when Pakistan broke through, Shadab Khan foxing Rohit with a googly off his first ball. Dhawan, trying to muscle his way to another half-century, cut Faheem straight to point. The wickets had finally arrived for Pakistan, but at a point where India needed another 40-odd runs. Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik had their share of fun and finished the game inside 30 overs.

Yesterday, it had taken India 34 overs to pick up their first wicket. Here, it took them 13 deliveries. Imam Ul Haq was the first Pakistan wicket to go down, edging to MS Dhoni, followed by the wicket of the dangerous Fakhar Zaman for a nine-ball duck. After five overs, Pakistan were 4/2 with Jasprit Bumrah starting off with consecutive maidens.

Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik then rebuilt the innings with an 82-run stand, the only passage of play that belonged to Pakistan. In between, there were a couple of close chances. Dhoni dropped a tough chance and Bhuvneshwar overran at a chance that was coming straight to him at the deep-midwicket boundary.

Babar has been Pakistan’s most standout batsman in the past one year and he used that confidence to give Pakistan a move on. Back-to-back boundaries of Bhuvneshwar settled some nerves, and a deft touch that went towards the third-man fence brought up the fifty for Pakistan. That was the partnership Pakistan had to build on, but Babar could not read a googly from Kuldeep Yadav, and that triggered the slide.

Despite the wicket, Malik was going strong at the other end, concentrating mostly on running between the wickets. Sending him back required a terrific piece of fielding, which is exactly what Rayudu delivered. A direct hit and curtains for him. This was an ideal opening for India, with both set batsmen back.

Jadhav, making up for Hardik Pandya‘s absence – who had to be stretchered off the ground after going down in his follow through – sent back Sarfraz. Pandya’s substitute, Manish Pandey pulled off a stunning catch at the boundary to remove the Pakistan captain. With the spin trio of Jadhav, Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal bowling in tandem, Pakistan’s middle-lower order crumbled.

Ashraf and Amir tried to resist towards the end with a 37-run stand. Pakistan were expecting the two batsmen to take the total to 200, but Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah returning towards the end ended those hopes. Bhuvneshwar removed Faheem to break the stand and Bumrah wrapped up the tail to bowl Pakistan out inside 45 overs.

The two teams will next face each other in the Super four stage on September 23.

Brief scores: India 164/2 (Rohit Sharma 52, Shikhar Dhawan 46) beat Pakistan 162 all out (Babar Azam 47, Shoaib Malik 43; Bhuvneshwar Kumar 3/15) by eight wickets.