India Clinches Grand Finale

Having won the toss and batted, India was restricted to 157 for five from its twenty overs, with the undoubted star being Gautam Gambhir with 75 from only 54 balls faced. Having opened the batting, Gambhir was not dismissed until the last ball of the 18th over when he was caught by Mohammed Asif at short fine leg from the superb bowling of Umar Gul. Gambhir’s innings was most impressive, coming as it did in the face of some exemplary bowling and fielding from a Pakistan side which never really let India get away.

With Virender Sehwag ruled out with a groin injury, Gambhir opened with Yusuf Pathan who seemed not to be over-awed by the occasion as he rocketed to 15 from only eight balls faced before being caught by Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik from the bowling of Asif. From this point the boundaries dried up for India, leading to Robin Uthappa’s (8 from 11) vain attempt to lace Sohail Tanvir over cover being snaffled by a grateful Shahid Afridi.

Throughout the tournament Pakistan has used its spinners better than almost any other side, and once again Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez did the job today, until Gambhir began to slowly (if that term can apply in a T20 game) but surely wrest some initiative back for India. Gambhir’s upping of the tempo allowed the dynamic Yuvraj Singh to play himself in, however, just as Yuvraj looked like exploding, Gul had him caught and bowled for 14 from 19 deliveries faced. The comparatively slow rate of scoring was testament largely to Gul, who bowled a great spell worthy of a final in taking three for 28 from his four overs. Gul’s control of length was immaculate, and it is no surprise he finished the tournament as leading wicket taker.

Despite Gul’s best efforts, Rohit Sharma repeated his heroics from the match against South Africa with a punishing 30 from 16 balls faced. Nevertheless, it seemed that Pakistan were favourites chasing a moderate total on a good pitch with a short boundary to one side of the field.

Pakistan’s chase got off to the worst possible start as Hafeez was caught by Uthappa from the bowling of RP Singh in the first over for just one. Before long, Pakistan were 53 for 3 then 77 for 6 as India’s bowlers went to work on the Pakistani top and middle order. During these middle overs, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan bowled beautifully, giving no quarter to the batsmen, who in turn were forced to keep pressing on as hard as possible owing to the short format of the game.

All series Pakistan’s top order has frankly, despite the team’s results, let them down. And all series their middle and lower order has staged a fighting recovery. So it proved once again today. Like a boxer being pummeled against the ropes, Pakistan refused to go down, with Misbah-ul-Haq continuing his fine form in counter-punching partnerships with Yasir Arafat (15 from 11) and then Sohail Tanvir (12 from 4). Before long it was India which was wobbling, stung by the ferocity of the back-to-back jabs of these partnerships together with ul-Haq’s three-punch combination which launched Harbhajan Singh for three sixes in the 17th over. By the start of the 18th over Pakistan had clawed back to be an outside chance, requiring 35 runs from 18 balls.

Shanthakumaran Sreesanth then did his best to play Pakistan back into the game by bowling a poor 18th over, conceding 15 runs before decisively coming back to knock over Tanvir with his final delivery and expose a Pakistan tail which has had little recent batting. By the start of the 19th over, Pakistan required 20 from 12 balls with two wickets in hand and it was apparent that this one was going to be a test of nerve more than raw ability.

The nineteenth over, bowled by RP Singh, went for only seven runs as the bowler bravely mixed up his length and pace to deny Misbah a crack at the short boundary on the leg side. Gul, having not batted previously in the series, was unable to hold out and was bowled for a duck from the second last ball of the 19th over, leaving number 11 Asif to survive one ball in the over with 17 required. This he did with aplomb, guiding the ball to the third man boundary. Suddenly, Pakistan needed 13 from the last over, the in-form Misbah was on strike, the light was fading, fans were fainting, players were biting nails and your correspondent no longer needed a cup of coffee in the early hours of an Australian morning.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has impressed with his coolness under pressure this series, and his preparedness to gamble was once again shown here as he entrusted the last over to the inexperienced Joginder Sharma’s medium pace dibbly-dobblers instead of the experienced but so far expensive off-spin of Harbhajan. With Sharma bowling a parlous wide first ball, Dhoni must have been having second thoughts. Sharma then beat Misbah’s outside edge with the second ball which was also wide, but not wide enough to be called. 12 needed from five.

Dhoni’s heart would have been in his mouth 30 seconds later as Misbah hit a waist-high full toss straight back down the ground for a glorious maximum. Six from four required, and suddenly Pakistan were favourites. This was a shot which could only be played in the modern game – more down-the-line forehand than anything in the Wisden manual, played with enormous power, strong forearms and a bat like a cannon. It was also a shot of great skill, and tremendous courage played by a mature cricketer who has answered the call more than once in this series.

Now the pressure was palpable. Dhoni consulted his bowler, moved his field. The batsmen chatted mid-pitch, then returned to their creases. Then chatted again. A Pakistan official was seen praying on the side lines. Cameras panned to the dug outs – a curious mixture of quiet calmness and boiling anxiety. They were a microcosm not just of the thousands in the ground and the millions watching around the world, but of the human condition – part seething tumult under pressure, part quiet serenity. All the while hearts pounded.

After what seemed an eternity Sharma bowled and Misbah, having come so far and done so much to get Pakistan over-the-line, made the fateful decision to scoop the ball over the fielder at short fine leg with three balls still to go. Sadly for him, and for Pakistan, he succeeded only in top-edging the ball to Sreesanth who gleefully accepted a nerve-jangling chance.

Pandemonium. Indian players rushed each other in congratulations. Pakistan players were crestfallen, and one could not help but be devastated for Misbah, who had all but climbed the mountain, only to fall within reach of the summit. Rarely could someone surrounded by so many have felt so alone. It seemed unfair, it was unfair -that someone had to lose this match, which was a fitting end to a frenetic tournament.

For those not familiar with clashes between these great rivals, one might have expected a Twenty20 contest to represent nothing more than an organised pick-up game in the park. No way. This match had real meaning. You could see it in the players’ faces, the coaches’ faces and those of the spectators. Since it started there has been a “who cares?” factor about Twenty20 cricket. It’s fast pace, dancing girls and rock’n’roll aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Many say it isn’t serious enough. That can’t be said about the sharp end of this tournament, and especially not about this game.

The confluence of events which has seen cricket’s most bitter rivals play in the first international T20 tournament final has gone a long way to legitimising this form of the game. Moreover, this snappily-run event has shown the 50 overs event earlier this year as the long-winded farce it so obviously was. The contrast could not be greater, and for the game’s administrators, more challenging.

Make no mistake, Twenty20 is here. And it’s here to stay.

India 157-5 (20 overs)
Gautam Gambhir 75, Rohit Sharma 30*
Umar Gul 3-28

Pakistan 152 (19.3 overs)
Misbah-ul-Haq 43, Imran Nazir 33
Irfan Pathan 3-16, RP Singh 3-26, Joginder Sharma 2-20

India won by 5 runs.

Cricket Web Man of the Match: Irfan Pathan
Cricket Web Man of the Series: Shahid Afridi

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