The Super 12 match between India and Pakistan in the ongoing International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 World Cup 2022 will go down as one of the greatest ever in the history of this version of the game. The manner in which India came from behind to clinch a near impossible victory will forever remain etched in the minds of the millions who watched this contest. Virat Kohli was the star of the show for India, staying till the end and guiding the side through the tense final moments. This stellar show not only proved that he remains one of the best batsmen in contemporary but also ensured his place in the pantheon of all time greats in Indian cricket.
The focus in post match discussions centred on the three sixes that Kohli struck during the last eight balls, when the asking rate had climbed to a humungous 3.5 runs per delivery. It goes without saying that the first of these three shots, which was a stupendous lofted straight drive struck off the back foot to a slower ball bowled by Haris Rauf that pitched just short of a good length and climbed above stump height, turned the tide in favour of India. Suddenly it appeared that India stood a chance of winning and one sensed a pang of worry cross the faces of the Pakistanis, who had till then been strutting around like champions. The next one was a flick above the fence at square leg where the pace of the delivery, helped by the sweet timing from the bat, carried the ball beyond the ropes. The last of these sixes came off the much debated no- ball, a full toss sent by Mohammad Nawaz in the final over, and landed just beyond the boundary after grazing the hands of the fielder stationed there.
However, even while applauding these shots which proved to be the game-changer for India, one must not forget that Kohli’s true contribution was in steadying the innings, in the company of Hardik Pandya, after the side was down in the dumps, losing fur wickets for 31 runs, after 6.1 overs were bowled. Kohli played himself in and took the game deep, something he had not done before. One was looking forward to some fireworks from Pandya to bring down the burgeoning asking rate but the tight Pakistan bowling did not give the Indian all-rounder many chances to flex his arms. Both of them struggled, but held on gamely, once going almost four overs without striking a boundary. Kohli stepped up the gas on the pedal only when he was absolutely certain that the time had come for the final assault that would take his side past the target. It was vintage stuff from the master batsman and the only comparable innings that comes to mind in recent times is the one played by Sachin Tendulkar against Australia at Sharjah, when the champion steered India single-handedly to a win against heavy odds.
In this mad scramble to eulogise the batsmanship of Kohli, one should not lose sight of couple of other stellar performances which had a bearing on the result of the match. Pandya would have been on the short list of contenders for the player-of-the-match award till Kohli launched his murderous offensive in the final stages of the game. He had swung the initiative in India’s favour by picking up three crucial wickets during the middle overs, just as Pakistan was looking to accelerate the scoring rate. Later, he arrived at the crease when his side was in dire straits and repaired the damage in the company of Kohli, the senior partner. His only lapse on an otherwise perfect day was that he allowed the pressure and excitement to get the better of him during the final over, when he was dismissed off the first ball.
The other star Indian performer was Arshdeep Singh, who bowled a brilliant spell, dismissing threee Pakistani batsmen in his four overs, conceding only 32 runs. He started by sending Babar Azam, the Pakistani skipper who is also their most dangerous batsman, back to the pavilion off his very first ball and did not look back after that. The dismissal of their main batsman, without scoring, was a huge setback from which the Pakistan side took some time to recover. Arshdeep followed this with the wicket of the other opening batsman Mohamed Rizwan and later came back for a second spell when he dismissed Asif Ali. He was spot on the target in all his spells, barely sending down a loose delivery, and demonstrated big match temperament as well by bowling neatly at the death. It was indeed a dream performance by this 23-year-old left-arm fast bowler from Punjab.
Finally, a word of praise is due for the umpires Rod Tucker and Marais Erasmus, who did a splendid job throughout the match. It is never easy to officiate an India- Pakistan match where tension levels are bound to run high. The fact that they were doing this in front of a crowd of 90,000-plus spectators in Melbourne must have added to the stress felt by these officials. And when the game went down to the wire it would have got even worse. But they kept their calm and handled the proceedings with aplomb during the final over sent down by Nawaz.
The fourth delivery of this over, a full toss that Kohli hit for a six created some confusion and scope for debate and hence needs some discussion. The rule book states that the umpire at the bowler’s end shall call and signal no-ball if a ball delivered by the bowler passes or would have passed, without pitching, above the waist height of the batsman standing upright at the crease. Though the responsibility for calling no-ball rests with the bowler’s end umpire, he usually takes the opinion of his colleague at square leg as the latter is in a better position to see whether the full toss dips as it approaches the batsman. Further, this decision can be subjected to a review by the third umpire only if a batsman is dismissed off this delivery. It is true that Kohli did a bit of playacting by indicating that this was a no-ball when he feared that the fielder at square leg would catch it, while Pakistani players demanded a review of this call. But the umpires were clear and firm and, more importantly, they acted as a team. The wide ball that followed complicated matters further as the free hit for the no-ball got carried to the next delivery where Kohli was bowled. Half of the Pakistan side celebrated while the remaining players thought that the ball had become “dead”, neither of which was the case as the Indian batsmen ran hard and completed three runs. Here also the decision of the umpires was correct, as was the call of wide ball after Ashwin came in and wisely left alone a ball that pitched outside the leg stump.
Thus, one can see that the umpires got all their decisions correct in the tense final over, when the match could have swung either way. It would have required tremendous amount of fortitude and poise to remain calm and control the game with composure when edge of the seat excitement and the resultant tension was wreaking havoc on the players and the crowd. One small mistake or the mildest indication of the extreme stress they were under would have spoiled the day for them as well as for the teams and even the followers of this game.
Let us doff our hats to these two men in the middle - Tucker and Erasmus - even as we celebrate the thrilling victory made possible by the splendid efforts of Kohli, Pandya, Arshdeep and the other members of Team India.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)