Mohammad Amir. And Virat Kohli.
So many people, Kohli being the latest, have said so many times that had Amir not messed things up for himself, he would have been one of the best in the world today. Who knows what could have been, but on Saturday (February 27) at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, Amir proved just how incredible he still can be, what he can do to batsmen by using nothing apart from old-fashioned swing, bowled at pace.
Indeed, if there were any doubts about Amir’s skills, they have been dispelled.
And if there were any doubts at all, even the tiniest one, about Kohli’s ability to deliver under pressure, those were dispelled too, even if he couldn’t actually hang around and finish the job, given out lbw to Mohammad Sami off a big inside edge with just eight runs left to score in 35 balls. That didn’t take much doing, even though Sami sent Hardik Pandya back as well, and India crossed Pakistan’s 83 all out with five wickets in hand in 15.3 overs.
It was expected to be a contest between India’s batting and Pakistan’s bowling, their stronger suits. But India’s perceived weakness turned out to be far superior to Pakistan’s, and Amir could only do so much in his four overs, which he ended with 3 for 18. Instead, Kohli made the night his own.
Amir charged in on a dewy evening, the moisture in the air helping his cause, in the mood to weave magic. Rohit Sharma could have gone lbw first ball. He didn’t, as the umpire deemed that the ball would have missed offstump. There were no doubts second ball, speared in and hitting Rohit plumb in front. Last ball of the over, Ajinkya Rahane, playing in place of the injured Shikhar Dhawan, had no answer to one that slanted in exactly as it should have and beat bat to strike pad in front of the stumps. Suresh Raina fell soon after, top-edging Amir to Wahab Riaz at mid-on after shuffling around at the crease.
But, looking at the scoreboard, Amir had to be bowled out. He was. And Kohli, who had been playing Amir sensibly, trying to see off his spell, then took over.
The other Pakistan pacers bowled as well as they could. Mohammad Irfan, in fact, repeatedly got the better of Yuvraj Singh and Wahab Riaz then had Yuvraj in all sorts of trouble as well. But Yuvraj, well below his best as a batsman these days, still had the courage and the will to be there to support Kohli. He was anything but comfortable, but his unbeaten 14 from 32 balls against seriously good bowling was an important contribution.
And Kohli was all sweet timing and exquisite class, cover driving, flicking, gliding his way to glory. It was, in fact, Amir’s last over, the seventh of the innings with the field spread out, that Kohli started off from – one flick off the hips and one perfect cover drive, both for fours – and it took the nth poor bit of umpiring for him to stop – after 49 from 51 balls, with seven hits to the fence.
Earlier, after Pakistan had been asked to bat, the collapse started in the first over itself. Mohammad Hafeez dealt well with one from Ashish Nehra that kept low, but the next one bounced a little more than he expected, and the edge went straight to MS Dhoni.
Jasprit Bumrah bowled two maiden overs – within the Power Play! – and made the ball move this way and that. Pandya kept it quick and straight. Yuvraj Singh and Ravindra Jadeja directed everything at the stumps and, for a change, R Ashwin was hardly needed – he did bowl three overs, but didn’t get a wicket and conceded 21 runs.
The bowling was excellent, the batting anything but. Wickets fell in a rush, almost every other ball, while Khurram Manzoor was bang in the middle of two very interesting bits of action. First, he survived a caught-behind appeal when he tried to scoop Nehra but only managed to send it to Dhoni. Not out, said the umpire. But no harm done. Manzoor, who didn’t play a single Pakistan Super League game though he was a part of Islamabad United, took off for a run that wasn’t, shuddered to a halt mid-pitch with the bat flying out of his hand, then saw Kohli knocking down the stumps direct, and walked back shaking his head all the way.
Pandya got Shoaib Malik’s edge, Umar Akmal played down the wrong line to Yuvraj, Shahid Afridi was run out to a brilliant throw from Ravindra Jadeja, who then caught Wahab lbw and then went past Sarfraz Ahmed’s swing to hit timber, before Pandya came back and sent Sami and Amir back off consecutive balls.
And, just like that, accompanied by loud sighs from an overwhelmingly pro-Pakistan crowd, Afridi’s men were shot out for next to nothing. Amir got the noise going later, but not for too long.