How do you celebrate your game-changing 50 in an India-Pakistan game? If you are Babar Azam you barely lift your bat and try to hide behind your batting partner. Unlike any of Pakistan’s captains, Babar has a subtle and nuanced approach to his batting and also his captaincy. He is measured in his batting and also in his communication with the players. When Shaheen Shah Afridi was having a horror of a last over, he didn’t throw up his arms or shout at him for the totally uncalled-for overthrow. Babar is from the Kane Williamson and Eoin Morgan school of leadership, he has a restrained aggression, such a rare gift. While his opening partner Rizwan would get frustrated on missing out the countless short balls that the Indian bowlers bowled, Babar would walk down and talk to his junior. On one occasion, he actually hit a ball over the fence as if to show Rizwan, how it was done. Considering how important the game has been for Pakistan, Babar gave a template to his team how they should approach these pressure situations.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Kohli. Babar. Rizwan. THE BEST! pic.twitter.com/YwJtMHYlK8
— Shiraz Hassan (@ShirazHassan) October 24, 2021
Lording over Lala land
Earlier this year Shahid Afridi confirmed the engagement of his eldest daughter to Shaheen Afridi by saying: “We are not relatives but Shaheen’s family was approaching us for the last two years with the proposal. I asked my daughter and we made the decision together. We Afridis have eight tribes, Shaheen and we belong to different tribes,” he said. Later in a tweet, he would also say “my prayers are with Shaheen for his continued success on and off the field”. Very early in the game against Pakistan, Shaheen did what his father-in-law would have dreamt – he got both the Indian openers to give his team a head-start. Not an overly aggressive pacer he didn’t exchange words or show the dressing room door to the batsmen, he merely stuck to his trademark spread-eagle pose and gave double flying kisses. Though, Shaheen holds the honour of fashioning the most underplayed celebration in world cricket. Once during the Pakistan Super League, he got the wicket of Shahid Afridi and hid his face with his hands. Shaheen also got the ’10’ number shirt that the original Afridi wore. After he was given the honour, he tweeted: “This is more than a shirt number. It represents honesty, integrity and immense love for Pakistan. I am humbled and honored that I will be now representing Pakistan in shirt # 10 of Lala.” Lala? Who calls his father-in-law Lala? Well, an Afridi of course.
A historic day for Pakistan as they banish ghosts of the past 💪
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) October 24, 2021
Long, painful, walk back
Left-arm pace, fast, in-swing and just the right amount of it. In the 80s and 90s, one bowler with this ace up his sleeve was Wasim Akram and he often struck early blows in games between the arch-rivals. He was perhaps a touch slower than the lankier Shaheen Shah Afridi, who pierced out both Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul with the ball that came in. Rohit and Rahul would have expected Afridi to bend it back in, but at that pace and a length which cramped them, they could do little. The walk back to the pavilion seemed longer than usual for Rohit, even for those watching on TV. Usually he wears a slight smirk in such moments of despair. But today it was a plain ashen face. He had been flummoxed by the left-arm pacers’ oldest magic trick.
Captions won’t do justice but what a wonderful game of cricket it was.
— MAD (@mad_nessss) October 24, 2021
Who knows, but not really
They say life imitates art. Though in these times of packaged sentiments, an instinctive reaction may imitate an emoji. And so it was when Hassan Ali bent his back to get that effortful bounce trying to tease (but not quite) an edge from Kohli as India tried to accelerate the scoring rate on the final straight. A halfway swing of the bat to steer it to third man would see Kohli not quite find the timing on that shot, and Mohammad Rizwan would collect the shooter. Rizwan would do the shrug shoulder with palms upturned, indicating he wasn’t sure if the dangerous batter had nicked. Unlike the shoulder gesture that bookends statements that can mean ‘who cares’ to ‘who knows’, this was more of a ‘well, nope’. An appeal had begun gaining decibel, but was stubbed by the keeper. Hasan Ali couldn’t stop Kohli, but got Jadeja the next over.
Lessons learnt, forgotten
Virat Kohli and Hassan Ali were locked in a duel for the majority of the Pakistani pacer’s spell, with the Indian captain taking the bragging rights. Kohli — who scored four of his five boundaries off Ali — was reading the bowler like a book. Understandably then, he chose to share some of the knowledge with partner Ravindra Jadeja. After crossing over for a single, Kohli turned towards Jadeja and rolled his fingers across an imaginary ball, gesturing for an incoming slower ball. The next delivery was perhaps a blip. Ali fired it in short and down the leg side, and Jadeja gleefully helped it over the short fine leg. Buoyed by the boundary, Jadeja forgot Kohli’s lesson. Ali then bowled it full and slow, fooling Jadeja with the change of pace, who was early on the shot and holed out to deep midwicket.
Virat, a throwback classic
However hard this slam bang format tries to keep conventional strokes out of the game, Virat Kohli keeps them relevant. So there he was playing text book cricket deep in the T20 innings as the army of Indian fans wanted him to smash the ball out of the ground. In the 16th over Hassan Ali was keeping him in the crease by bowling short. Kohli showed that he wouldn’t allow the bowler to curtail the run flow. Of his two boundaries, the second one would have had Test cricket followers drooling. Kohli leaned into the ball and placed it between extra cover and mid off. Both thought they had a chance to stop the ball but both were fooled, such was the perfect placement. The bat didn’t flow down with force but it was just placed with such precision that the ball hit it in the middle as it was coming down. Kohli showed you didn’t need to be a slogger to be relevant in T20 cricket.
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) October 24, 2021
Rizwan, drill… shrill master
Pakistan wicket keepers have been a thorn in the flesh of the opposition over the years… think Rasheed Latif, Moin Khan, Sarfaraz Ahmed. Not the most classy, but clever batsmen who possessed a get out of jail shot to complement their pushes, nudges and sweeps. And they come as ready-made busy bodies. The latest avatar being Mohammad Rizwan, unorthodox with the bat. Rizwan was in the thick of things, taking two sharp diving catches and milking the leg-side as an opener in the chase and running like a hare when he chose to. When he didn’t want to run, he was like a drill-master. His shrill ‘no’ is one of the loudest in the game. It was like he was admonishing his captain and opening partner Babar Azam. Pakistan’s best batsman trusted his ‘keeper’s judgement just like he placed faith in him during a productive opening partnership.