Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

India divide and conquer Pakistan, again, in one-sided Champions Trophy game

But for two Champions Trophy wins (2004 and 2009), Pakistan have never beaten India on the biggest stages. Now, there is such weary recognition that India are streets ahead as a limited-overs outfit.
India captain Virat Kohli, centre, and teammate Ravindra Jadeja celebrate the wicket of Azhar Ali, top-scorer for Pakistan, at Edgbaston on June 4, 2017. Michael Steele / Getty Images
India captain Virat Kohli, centre, and teammate Ravindra Jadeja celebrate the wicket of Azhar Ali, top-scorer for Pakistan, at Edgbaston on June 4, 2017. Michael Steele / Getty Images

Just over a year ago, FourFourTwo magazine, in a feature on the 50 biggest derbies in the world, had Glasgow’s Old Firm clash at No 3.

There was just one problem.

The rating was based on memories of an increasingly distant past, and had little to do with present-day reality.

If such a list was ever drawn up for international cricket, India-Pakistan would surpass even the Ashes rivalry in the estimation of many.

But when it comes to white-ball cricket, the gulf between the teams in blue and green is as wide as that between the Hoops and the Teddy Bears in Scotland.

The recent season showed that Celtic and Rangers are only notionally in the same league.

Celtic are better administered, better managed, have the better players, and a future to look forward to. All Rangers fans can see right now are their rivals disappearing over the horizon.

For years, India’s dominance of Pakistan at the World Cup was a topic of fervent discussion.

These days, that supremacy has been extended to the Twenty20 format as well.

But for two Champions Trophy wins (2004 and 2009), Pakistan have never beaten India on the biggest stages.

Time was when such a sequence of results would have attracted talk about luck and jinxes. No longer.

Now, there is such weary recognition that India are streets ahead as a limited-overs outfit.

A generation of players utterly at ease in the big events because of their exposure to the Indian Premier League (IPL) has left Pakistan behind.

The team they measure themselves against are Australia, who halted their hitherto perfect World Cup defence in the 2015 semi-final.

At Edgbaston yesterday, India did not even play especially well.

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The batsmen chewed up too many dot balls early on, even as Sarfraz Ahmed bemused many by opening the bowling with a left-arm spinner in overcast conditions.

Shikhar Dhawan turned it on to jump-start the innings, but with Rohit Sharma going into a shell after crossing 70, only 55 runs came in 14 mid-innings overs.

But as lax as India were, Pakistan were far worse.

The fielding left a lot to be desired, dropped catches gave both Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli reprieves, and the death-overs bowling – even before Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz limped off injured – had more hit-me-balls than the reverse-swinging yorkers that Pakistan were once famed for.

Kohli started off fluently enough, but then scratched his way to 45 from 57 balls, before a final blitz fetched him a further 36 from 11.

Fortunately for him and Rohit, Dhawan and Yuvraj – playing his sixth Champions Trophy/ICC Knockout and eventual man of the match – played sparkling hands to ensure that Pakistan never had a vice-like grip.

Once India smashed 72 from the last four overs, the game was as good as over.

Azhar Ali made a half-century, but with a batting rhythm a generation out of synch.

India’s fielding was abysmal, with Yuvraj, Ravindra Jadeja and Kedar Jadhav all guilty of bloopers and Bhuvneshwar Kumar dropping a catch.

Late in the day, Jadhav grassed a dolly as well.

Even with such largesse, Pakistan did not get within sniffing distance.

It was no different from watching Rangers chase shadows on their Ibrox turf last April.

Without getting out of third gear, Celtic won 5-1.

A few months after the 2003 World Cup game at Centurion in South Africa, Sachin Tendulkar, who played the decisive hand with a 75-ball 98, told this correspondent of how he had struggled to sleep in the fortnight leading up to the game. Kohli and his teammates may conceivably say such things for the benefit of the cameras, but you seriously doubt whether they mean it.

Unless Pakistan undertake root-and-branch change in the white-ball game, this “rivalry” will exist only in the memory and imagination.

Just like the Old Firm.

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Updated: June 4, 2017 04:00 AM

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