The meeting of India and Pakistan in cricket is among the most celebrated rivalries in all sports. Yet it increasingly lacks one crucial element: competitive balance. For the fifth consecutive year, India met Pakistan in an ICC event. For the fifth consecutive time, they won.
The margins of victory - eight wickets, seven wickets, 76 runs, six wickets and a crushing 124 runs here at Edgbaston - attest to how imbalanced the contest has become. While the Birmingham weather oscillated, the inexorable sense that India would win easily did not.
It encapsulated India’s dominance that there was no obvious stand-out performance, but rather a series of excellent, efficient displays to overwhelm a far inferior side. Pakistan have a well-deserved reputation for playing ODI cricket more befitting of the 1990s than today.
The deeper problem, though, might simply be one of skill. Never mind Virat Kohli; Pakistan lack batsmen to play with the finesse of Rohit Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan, or power-hitters to rival Yuvraj Singh or Hardik Pandya.
For the bulk of India’s innings they had seemed to be playing a little within themselves, perhaps conscious of how a couple of quick wickets before a rain break could reduce Pakistan’s adjusted target. And then, mayhem. Yuvraj played with the nonchalant power and imperious crisp hitting that evoked his match-winning innings in the final of a triangular series in England a full 15 years ago. Kohli, reprieved on 43 at square leg, had played with unusual jitteriness, but smote Hasan Ali over long on to reach his half-century, an extraordinary flat-batted shot, and produced regal hitting thereafter in scoring 37 from his final 12 balls. Pandya clubbed three consecutive sixes in the final over. Once that was all accounted for, India had plundered 72 in the final four overs.
It was an extraordinary late burst of hitting, and yet far from unexpected. The modern ODI game tilts ever-more to the bat, even on a day interrupted by showers. Wicket-taking, therefore, is the only way for a bowling team to safeguard against later carnage. It took Pakistan until the 25th over to break up India’s opening pair. That was no reflection on the quality of Mohammad Amir’s opening spell, in which Sharma edged just past a wide slip, but shows the paucity of threat that the rest of the attack possessed.
Nor were they aided by a ragtag fielding display, even by Pakistan’s standards: the opening 20 overs brought five egregious misfields. Hasan Ali later spilled a regulation chance from Yuvraj Singh, eight runs into his 53. Pakistan’s shortages of ODI skill with bat and ball are one thing; their shoddiness in the field is altogether more reprehensible. The sight of the excellent Amir limping off halfway through his ninth over, and then the altogether less excellent Wahab Riaz - now averaging 51.52 since that wonderful spell to Australia in the last World Cup - spraining his ankle two overs later, and also being unable to complete the over, embodied Pakistan’s wretched end to the innings.
The start of Pakistan’s batting was a little more promising. Azhar Ali, who has already been sacked as ODI captain and then recalled as a player this year, played a couple of sumptuous early drives, and Pakistan’s opening pair put on 47 in nine overs before Ahmed Shehzad played across a delivery that jagged back from Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Thereafter, the game played out with an odd lack of intensity. The sun came out; Pakistan’s batsmen did not seem in any mood to enjoy it. Just as in the field, Pakistan’s woes were largely self-inflicted: Babar Azam cut straight to the backward point placed exactly for the shot; Shoaib Malik, who had shown rare intent, was run-out attempting to scamper a single; Imad Wasim meekly hit his first delivery straight to cover point.
And so India had begun another ICC event with an imperious victory. Perhaps it was all the more impressive because they were so palpably below their best - their fielding was shoddy, despite Ravindra Jadeja’s direct hit, and their performance lacked a little intensity - and yet still secured a crushing victory.
The crowd at Edgbaston had seen history - a record attendance at the ground - but a game that only rose above the mundane during India’s assault in the final overs. Forget the cliches about unpredictable Pakistan: they are predictable in their ODI mediocrity, which is why they are languishing in eighth, and might even fail to secure direct qualification for the World Cup. On the evidence of this performance, and their entire run since the World Cup, only Amir would get into India’s team.Reuse content