On its biggest stage, cricket’s most fraught rivalry really hasn’t lived up to its billing. Pakistan barely showed up, and the contest turned into an uninterrupted celebration of Indian excellence.
Rohit Sharma scored his second hundred in three games, a far breezier knock than his effort in a scrappy chase against South Africa, and at one stage he seemed set for a tilt at a fourth ODI double-hundred.
KL Rahul, batting in his preferred position thanks to the enforced absence of Shikhar Dhawan, made a solid half-century in an opening stand of 136. Virat Kohli came to the crease, occupied it like a favourite bit of lawn furniture, and made 77 at comfortably over a run a ball without ever seeming to stretch himself.
These efforts set Pakistan a target of 337. This was a flat pitch, and India lost one of their two main fast bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, to hamstring stiffness. And yet, apart from a brief period during a 104-run second-wicket stand between Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam, Pakistan never threatened to make a chase of it.
The Fakhar-Babar partnership only rarely hit high gear, partly because of the discipline from India’s bowlers and partly because Pakistan were looking to keep wickets in hand, perhaps with an eye on staying close to the DLS par score, given that rain had already caused a couple of brief interruptions.
A series of authoritative slog-sweeps from both batsmen brought Pakistan 26 runs from overs 21 to 23, one of them bringing up Fakhar’s half-century. At the 23-over mark, Pakistan were 113 for 1, 11 behind the DLS par score of 124 for 1.
That was as close as they got, as Kuldeep Yadav put India firmly on top once more with the wickets of both set batsmen. They didn’t arrive out of the blue; Kuldeep was consistently challenging the batsmen in the air and off the pitch, and he had already come close to having Fakhar stumped, ripping one across his bat face and causing him to overbalance.
The breakthrough arrived in the 24th over, courtesy a cocktail of drift, dip and turn. Drift drew Babar into playing at a wider line as Kuldeep floated one across him from left-arm over, opening a gap between bat and pad.
Dip forced Fakhar to top-edge a sweep in Kuldeep’s next over, and Pakistan were 126 for 3. When Pandya followed up in the next over with the back-to-back wickets of Mohammad Hafeez and the dreadfully out-of-sorts Shoaib Malik, the contest was all but over.
The game dragged on for a while longer, though, thanks to a 40-minute spell of rain that shaved 10 overs off the chase. When play resumed, Pakistan needed 130 in 30 balls, with four wickets in hand, in front of stands that had gone two-thirds empty.
The match was probably won and lost in its first ten overs, when Pakistan chose to bowl in overcast conditions and failed to make use of them. Unlike most of the grounds at this World Cup, Old Trafford has long straight boundaries and short square ones, and with the clouds massed overhead it was the one place at which to bowl a fuller length.
The quicks bowled nine of the first 10 overs for Pakistan, and of the 54 balls they sent down, 30 were pitched either short or short of a length. Rohit and Rahul scored 35 off those 30 balls, with Rohit in especially punishing mood with his square-cut and his range of pulls.
In comparison, India’s seamers bowled 36 balls on the fuller lengths in their first Powerplay, conceding 18 runs, and 24 on the shorter lengths, conceding 17.
India came into the World Cup with questions over their No. 4, but through the tournament they’ve found a solution by taking so long to lose their second wicket that they can promote Pandya.
They did so again, and he clattered 26 off 19, but there wasn’t really a proper end-overs explosion to follow his dismissal, as Amir’s angle and changes of pace tied down India’s lower middle order. India only made 38 off their last five overs, but by then they already had more than enough.