Melbourne: Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 83 and Hardik Pandya’s 40 helped India pulled off a four-wicket victory over Pakistan in a final over thriller at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup here at Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday.
Not for the first time – and unlikely to be the last – former skipper Kohli turned back the clock with a brilliant individual knock of 82 from just 53 deliveries that saved the day for India.
Kohli came to the crease in the second over when KL Rahul (4) was undone by Naseem Shah (1/23) and things looked forlorn for India when a fired-up Haris Rauf (2/36) reduced India to 31/3 after the powerplay.
But Kohli kept his nerve and, just like he has done so many times previously, expertly guided India home in front of a crowd in excess of 90,000 at the MCG.
India never looked like winning it, but with Kohli and Hardik Pandya at the crease there was always an outside chance they could pull a rabbit out of the hat.
There was 31 needed from the last two overs and Kohli hit Rauf for two massive sixes on the final two deliveries of the penultimate over to make the equation 16 the final six balls.
Pandya fell on the first delivery of the final over, before Kohli put Mohammad Nawaz into the stands off a waist high full toss to make it six runs required from the final three deliveries to pull off the unlikely win.
Kohli was bowled on the ensuing delivery, but given it was a free hit India scrambled three byes to leave them in the box seat with just two needed from the final two balls.
Dinesh Karthik was stumped on the second last delivery to give Pakistan hope, but Ravichandran Ashwin came to the crease to find the boundary with the final ball of the match to clinch a thriller for India.
The lack of a decent fourth seamer proved costly for Pakistan, with India targeting Mohammad Nawaz during his spell while keeping their pacers at bay.
It was Shaheen Afridi that did the damage with the ball in Dubai last year, but this time around it was his fellow quicks as Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah broke through India’s top-order.
Pakistan’s pace trio bowled with sheer pace to reduce India to just 31/3 from their batting Powerplay and there was more carnage on the first ball of the seventh over when Axar Patel – promoted to No.5 in the batting line-up – was run out attempting a run that wasn’t there.
But Kohli and Pandya timed their run perfectly to guide Rohit Sharma’s side home in a thrilling encounter in Melbourne.
Earlier, half-centuries from Shan Masood and Iftikhar Ahmed helped Pakistan post a competitive total 159/8 in full over quota.
Iftikhar took a particular liking to the spin of Axar Patel, as he helped Pakistan overcome the loss of Babar Azam for a golden duck and Mohammad Rizwan for just four to post a respectable total at a packed MCG.
Arshdeep Singh (3/32) had both Pakistan’s openers back in the pavilion by the end of the fourth over, only to see Iftikhar (51 off 34 deliveries) and Shan Masood (52* from 42 balls) dine out on India’s spinners during the middle overs.
The pair put on 76-run stand for the third wicket to resurrect Pakistan’s innings, with Shaheen Afridi (16 off eight balls) hitting some big late blows to help boost the total.
Iftikhar took 21 from one Axar over, with the right-hander smashing three sixes inside four deliveries to help bring up just his second T20I half-century of his career.
Veteran India seamer Mohammed Shami (1/25) was brought back into the attack with immediate effect as he removed Iftikhar, before Pandya (3/30) picked up a pair of wickets to reduce Pakistan to 106/5 with five overs remaining.
A composed Masood brought up the third T20I half-century in the penultimate over, leaving India with a decent total to chase to claim bragging rights on the big stage.
Pakistan have three days off before their next encounter and will look to bounce back to winning ways when they take on Zimbabwe in Perth on Thursday.
India’s next assignment is in Sydney on Thursday against the Netherlands.