Champika Fernando reporting from Dubai
Indian openers Rohit Sharma (111*) and Shikhar Dhawan (114) hit centuries to lead their team to an imposing nine wicket win over arch-rivals Pakistan and set themselves in sight of a place in Friday’s Asia Cup final.
Sharma and Dhawan treated the bowlers with scant regard, hitting sixes and boundaries at will, as they chased down Pakistan’s target of 238 with 69 balls to spare. India, who had a mighty scare against Hong Kong in the tournament opener, has since then grown from strength to strength and is now a hot favourite to win the title.
This was India’s second win against Pakistan, having beaten their arch rivals by eight wickets in their first round fixture. They are now sailing smoothly with an unbeaten record and will meet Afghanistan in their last Super Four round match tomorrow.
Having elected to bat first, Pakistan put on a decent effort with the bat, setting a target of 238 to win under lights. But their bowling and fielding were not up to par, helping India to a thumping win.
Indian skipper Sharma and Dhawan, who have been in terrific form with the bat right through the tournament, continued their onslaught with a blistering 210-run opening stand. The partnership which set the tone for the crushing win was the second highest partnership at the Asia Cup for the opening wicket.
Sharma, who made an unbeaten 83 against Bangladesh on Friday, hit his 19th career century—an unbeaten --- while his partner-in-crime reached his second century in the tournament, a swashbuckling 114 off 100 balls.
Dhawan who hit a century (127) off Hong Kong in a first round match, hit two sixes and 16 boundaries to the ropes in his quick-fire knock to become the leading scorer of the tournament (327), well ahead of teammate Sharma (267). It was Dhawan’s 15th ODI century—a truly a masterful one. With 28 runs behind, Dhawan was run out—the only way India could make any impact in the field.
The partnership grew steadily after Imam-ul-Haq dropped a sitter at cover off seamer Shaheed Afridi to offer a lifeline to the dangerous Indian skipper. Sharma, who was on 14, made Pakistan pay for the costly drop, adding as many runs as possible to keep them on the hunt. Sharma was dropped yet again by Fakhar Zaman at short mid-wicket off Shadab Khan when the batsman was on 81. Sharma finished on an unbeaten 111 hitting four massive sixes and seven fours in his and along the way reached the 7000 run mark. It was only the seventh time both Indian openers hit centuries in an innings.
Pakistan who were desperate to avoid further humiliation following their eight wicket defeat in the first round, needed an outstanding batting effort to see off the strong Indian challenge. By the 16th over, however, they had lost three of their top order batsmen. Following a cautious start, Pakistan were dealt the first blow on the final ball of the 8th over when Imam-ul-Haq was trapped leg-before-wicket by Yuzvendra Chahal.
Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam attempted to rebuild the innings but the former fell leg-before-wicket, trying sweep off Kuldeep Yadev. Replays showed that Zaman may have earned a reprieve had he opted for a review but he decided against it despite consulting his partner. Azam walked back to the dressing room almost immediately, having been run out in the next over as India took control of the proceedings.
Shoaib Malik, who played a match winning knock against Afghanistan on Friday, then contributed to the innings with Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, sharing a 107 runs for the fourth wicket, before Kuldeep Yadev gave India the breakthrough in the 39th over by removing Sarfraz for 44.
Asif Ali, who joined Malik came alive in the 42nd over bowled by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, hitting two massive sixes to go with two fours but Malik's prized wicket fell in the 44th over when he nicked one to Dhoni when trying to glance one to the fine leg.
Jusprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav picked up two wickets apiece.