Pakistan’s authoritative victory has turned them from tournament hopefuls to chief contenders for the coveted World Cup title virtually overnight.

Babar Azam and his team-mates woke up at their Dubai Festival City hotel on Monday morning with a big monkey off their backs. On Sunday night in front of a packed Dubai International Cricket Stadium and more than a billion fans watching the ICC T20 World Cup game around the globe, they achieved a cherished target which no other Pakistan team had achieved in history – beat India in a World Cup clash. And what a way to do it!

Young pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi softened up India by rattling the high-profile opening pair of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul with the new ball and later Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan – the steely combination of Pakistani openers – hit flawless, unbeaten knocks to shepherd Pakistan to a perfect 10-wicket triumph. 

In the world of sports, Pakistan’s drubbing of India in Dubai was far more stunning that even Liverpool’s 5-0 thrashing of old rivals Manchester United, also on Sunday night.

Entering the World Cup as one of the least prepared sides following several turbulent weeks back at home, Pakistan seemed to have little hope against the fancied Indian line-up. 

Both current form and past track record made India the clear favourites. The mere fact that Pakistan had never beaten India in a World Cup game in 12 attempts made their fans lose hope. But it turned out to be lucky 13 for the Greenshirts.

However, luck played little or no role as Pakistan gave a near perfect performance both with the bat and ball after Babar won a crucial toss and asked India to bat first. 

Pakistan’s game plan was simple: get early wickets with the new ball and keep India on the back foot in the extremely important power-play overs. 

Everything went according to the script for Pakistan as Shaheen bowled a series of unplayable deliveries to send Sharma and Rahul back to the dugout. India never really recovered despite a classy fifty from skipper Virat Kohli. 

If Shaheen was Pakistan’s bowling star then the likes of Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Hasan Ali and Haris Rauf played the perfect supporting cast. In the end India could manage 151, a decent total but far from enough for a Pakistan side that was hungry to rewrite history.

People in cities across Pakistan came out on the streets to celebrate their team's victory over arch-rival India.
People in cities across Pakistan came out on the streets to celebrate their team's victory over arch-rival India. (AFP)

Pakistan have seldom been good chasers but Babar and Rizwan batted like two men on a mission. Pakistan’s top order is known for its brittleness but the two openers were rock solid. They batted with clockwork precision, taking quick singles and doubles and hitting boundaries every now and then. 

As if on cue, the dew started falling midway into the Pakistani innings just when they needed to up the ante. While the Indian bowlers struggled with the wet ball, batting conditions eased a bit and both Babar and Rizwan went for the kill.

Babar played the winning shot off pacer Mohammed Shami in the 18th over finishing with a flawless 68 from 52 balls. Rizwan belted an unbeaten 79 from 55 balls as Pakistan gunned down 152 with 13 balls to spare.

Pakistan’s authoritative win has turned them from tournament hopefuls to chief contenders for the coveted World Cup title virtually overnight. Former greats like Australia legend Shane Warne are already tipping Pakistan to lift the trophy in Dubai on November 14.

"What a statement Pakistan just made in the #ICCT20WorldCup2021. Now favourites in my opinion after that emphatic win over India. Just a super all round & impressive performance," Warne tweeted.

Warne’s is a part of a long list of congratulatory messages that flooded social media Sunday night.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, the man who led Pakistan to their only 50-over World Cup title in 1992, said the players have made the nation proud.

“Congratulations to the Pakistan Team & esp to Babar Azam who led from the front, as well as to the brilliant performances of Rizwan & Shaheen Afridi. The nation is proud of you all,” he tweeted.

For Ramiz Raja, who last month took over as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Sunday night’s win is just a start.

“Alhamdolilla…It’s the first one, the most magnificent one but remember journey has just begun.. such a proud moment for all Pakistanis and thank you boys for providing us this moment to cherish,” Ramiz tweeted.

Back at home, as soon as Babar hit the winning shot, celebrations erupted with thousands of joyous fans taking to the streets. There was celebratory gunfire, firecrackers and music, as fans danced on the streets till the wee hours of Monday, forgetting the fact that the World Cup had just started. 

“It doesn’t matter, we have thrashed India and for me it’s better than winning the World Cup,” said a young fan before shouting: “Pakistan Zindabad!”

In the end, it was this image of India's captain Virat Kohli congratulating his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan that really stood out.
In the end, it was this image of India's captain Virat Kohli congratulating his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan that really stood out. (AFP)

Such outpouring of joy was hardly surprising. Pakistan cricket and its fans were desperately in need of a turnaround after having braved losses after losses at the hands of India in World Cup matches since 1992 (that was the first time Pakistan and India met on the World Cup stage).

The celebrations were not just confined to Pakistani soil. Monday morning I received a message and photograph from a Pakistani friend who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. The message which was preceded by a photo in which his daughter and son wearing Pakistan team jerseys are seen smiling, read: “My kids go to the Ardenwood Elementary School which has a 70 percent Indian population. Guess what my kids are wearing to school tomorrow?”

From the UK to US and from Kuwait to Japan, Pakistani fans everywhere in the world were celebrating this rare triumph.

But back in the Pakistani dressing room the players were being warned against getting carried away. With another “grudge” match against New Zealand, the team who dealt Pakistan a major blow by aborting its tour of the country last month, coming up on Tuesday (October 26), Babar and Co cannot afford to relax.

If you watch a video released by PCB Sunday night you’ll know that Pakistan are well aware of the tough task awaiting them.

In the video, filmed soon after Pakistan’s historic win, captain Babar walks in the dressing room barefooted and addresses his teammates and urges them to stay focused.

"This is not individual performance. We have won the match as a team. We can't let our momentum go. This is the start. Enjoy but don't get overexcited," he says.

 "We can enjoy tomorrow but we should start focusing again because we have a match the day after tomorrow. This match is gone now. Our focus is one. What is that? We have to win the World Cup.

"We can't afford to relax after this. Be it bowling, batting, or fielding, we have to give our 100 percent. As a team, we have won. We will enjoy it with our families, but we shouldn't get overexcited. Please, I am requesting you all. We can't afford to lose our focus.”

With a big win against India, Pakistan should sail into the last-four of the tournament. But such is the unpredictability of the T20 format that no team can take anything for granted.

That’s why Pakistan will need to take the field against New Zealand in Sharjah with the same intensity and determination that helped them conquer India. A win against New Zealand will almost leave Pakistan with a cakewalk into the semis with just league games against Afghanistan and qualifiers Scotland and Namibia remaining.

After the stunning statement made by Pakistan against India, even fancied teams like New Zealand will be wary of them.

Meanwhile, soon after the crushing loss, Kohli was all praise for Pakistan.

"They definitely outplayed us. There's no doubt about that," the Indian skipper said. "You don't win by ten wickets if you don't outplay the opposition. We didn't even get any chances - they were very professional and you definitely have to give them credit. We tried our best and we tried to create enough pressure on them, but they had the answers. There is no shame in accepting that a team played better than you. They definitely deserve the credit for finishing off the game very strongly and not allowing us to put any pressure on them through the innings."

Kohli’s India might have suffered an embarrassing loss but he won many hearts by embracing Rizwan after the game. The photo of the two with Rizwan exhibiting joy and Kohli wearing a gracious smile was one of the iconic images to emerge from what was a memorable night for Pakistan. 

Perhaps, maybe, it’s time to stop treating Pakistan-India cricket matches as battles and just enjoy them as high-voltage games that are meant to be cherished.

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Source: TRT World