There may be more crucial battles to come on the cricket field between India and Pakistan before this year is done, but the former will atleast hold a psychological edge in their fierce rivalry having recorded a massive 228-run win in their Asia Cup Super 4 match yesterday – a result set in motion by Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, who scored unbeaten centuries, and completed by Kuldeep Yadav, who claimed a five-wicket haul.
The margin of victory was also India’s biggest ever over Pakistan by runs, and Pakistan’s second worst defeat against any opposition, underlining the sheer dominance in the win.
The two teams could meet again on Sunday, provided they qualify for the tournament’s final, with a more mouth-watering clash to come at the Cricket World Cup in India next month.
With the match pushed into the reserve day, an exception controversially given only for this Super 4 match, India resumed yesterday on 147 for 2 and batted out the remaining 25.5 overs of their innings, going on to finish on 356 for 2.
Pakistan were never really in the hunt during the run chase, the required rate gradually rising against some disciplined bowling from the Indian attack, eventually being bundled out for 128, in a truncated batting line-up as injured fast bowlers Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf did not bat.
Opener Imam-Ul-Haq was caught behind off the bowling of Jasprit Bumrah for 9 in the fifth over, before Hardik Pandya struck soon after the first Powerplay breaching the defence of the dangerous Babar Azam with a delivery that nipped back sharply into the right-hander.
An hour and 12-minute rain delay followed, teasing the possibility that the reserve day would also be washed out, but with the downpour being nothing more than a drizzle the match was always likely to resume.
Yadav, who bowled eight overs on the trot, then cut right through the Pakistani batting, dismissing Farkhar Zaman, who laboured to 27 off 50 deliveries but still was his team’s top scorer, before accounting for the wickets of Agha Salman, Shadab Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed and Faheem Ashraf, for figures of 5 for 25.
Earlier, Rahul marked his return to international cricket with an unbeaten 111 while Kohli added his third ton against Pakistan, extending his strong record in matches between the two teams.
The pair had slowly built a partnership of 26 off 38 before play was called off on Sunday, but they took on a completely different tempo yesterday, piling on runs more freely, rarely troubled by the Pakistani bowlers, to put together a third-wicket unbroken stand of 233 in 194 balls, the highest for any wicket for India in Asia Cup history.
Kohli faced just 88 of those partnership balls but plundered 122 of the runs, hitting nine boundaries and three sixes – more than half of his runs coming from running between the wickets.
The sparse crowd was treated to some of the magic that has made Kohli one of the greatest batsmen ever, including a six driven over the long off boundary against the pace of Naseem Shah.
His innings showed a remarkable turn of aggression too, needing only 29 balls to convert a fifty into his 47th ODI century.
Rahul had not played cricket since May this year, when he was injured during the Indian Premier League, but on his return against his country’s biggest rivals, he showed no signs of ring rust, his knock littered with classy hits to and over the boundary.
He hit 12 boundaries and two sixes in his century, which came off exactly 100 balls, raising his bat to the skies when he reached the mark.
The pair more than doubled India’s score after 30 overs, when they were on 175 for 2, adding 181 runs off the final 20 – the last 10 overs alone yielded 105 runs.
Pakistan captain Azam started the day with the news that he would not be able to turn to the services of fast bowler Rauf, who picked up an injury on Sunday, and the Indian batsmen capitalized on the sixth option bowler Iftikhar Ahmed, whose 5.4 overs went for 52 runs.
It didn’t help that Shah, who beat both batsmen in his first over of the day in a rare phase where Pakistan’s bowlers troubled either Kohli or Rahul, walked off the field two balls into his final over.
India 356/2 in 50 overs (Virat Kohli 122 n.o., KL Rahul 111 n.o.)
Pakistan 128 in 32 overs (Fakhar Zaman 27, Kuldeep Yadav 5/25)