India's chances of reaching the Asia Cup final received a serious jolt on Sunday when Shahid Afridi swung the match in Pakistan's favour with two last-over sixes that sent shock waves across India and jubilation among cricket-starved fans in Pakistan.
"This victory is for the people of Pakistan," said Man-of-the-Match Mohammad Hafeez after the win, which incidentally coincided with the completion of five years since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore on March 3, 2009. Since then, Pakistan has turned into a no-go zone for international cricket.
It was Hafeez's 75 that drove Pakistan's chase until Afridi took over with an 18-ball 34* to cross India's 245 courtesy two back-to-back sixes off R Ashwin in the last over of the match. Until then, with Pakistan needing 10 off the last five balls with just one wicket standing, India had turned the game around to become firm favourites; however, their old nemesis Afridi had other ideas.
India can lick their wounds now waiting anxiously for March 4 when they meet Afghanistan who they have to beat by a margin big enough to earn themselves a bonus point. That and the result of four remaining league matches will tell whether the out-of-form World Champions scrape through or take the flight back home.
India need to regroup before they face the gutsy Afghanistan who are upbeat after defeating Bangladesh for their first win over a Test nation. And for that, Virat Kohli and his men will have to look at why they couldn't win against Pakistan. Here are those four possible reasons:
1. Dinesh Karthik flops again
After getting out to a soft dismissal at a crucial juncture, Karthik once again came up with a blunder behind the stumps that cost India dearly.
Karthik and Ajinkya Rahane looked to be taking India to a total of 260-odd with a 52-run partnership when Karthik's sweep brought about his downfall at the score of 23. But he committed the bigger mistake behind the stumps.
Sohaib Maqsood had got his eye in having scored 21 and, along with Hafeez, was steering Pakistan to safety when Karthik missed a regular stumping chance. Seeing Maqsood charging down, Ashwin fired one down the leg side; Maqsood got foxed but Karthik failed to gather cleanly that allowed the Pakistani to rush back into his crease with Pakistan 167 for 4. Maqsood not only went on to make 17 more runs but also added another 37 in partnership with Hafeez.
Karthik also missed stumping Kumar Sangakkara in the match against Sri Lanka that India lost by two wickets. Sangakkara went on to get a hundred and win the game.
2. No death-over bowling specialist
Pakistan had lost two wickets in the space of three runs to crash to 203 for 6 from 200 for 4 by the end of 45th over, but Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar failed to capitalise on that and went for 13 runs each in the 46th and 47th over respectively - thus once again highlighting the lack of a death-over specialist in the Indian ranks.
But India managed to again wrest control in the final over when Ashwin bowled Saeed Ajmal off the first ball with Pakistan needing 10 to win. But the offie couldn't clean up last man Junaid Khan who found the single Pakistan needed to bring Afridi back on strike. The big-hitter then smashed two consecutive sixes to settle the game in Pakistan's favour.
3. No Dhoni down the order
Karthik has failed to grab the golden opportunity he got to show that he was India's second wicketkeeper batsman for the World Cup in 2015. His failure, both with bat and behind the stumps, has coincided with India failing to get those crucial 25-30 extra runs that Dhoni has so consistently provided in limited-overs cricket.
Not just those extra runs, there's no one currently who can match the reassurance Dhoni's composed presence in the middle gives to the fans and the dressing room in tense situations. The Asia Cup has explicitly highlighted that there's no replacement available for Dhoni yet, which in a sense is also a worrying sign.
4. Lack of an opening partnership
India's opening partnerships so far in the Asia Cup read 50 (vs Bangladesh), 33 (vs Sri Lanka) and 18 (vs Pakistan), which has exposed a young Indian batting line-up heavily dependent on Virat Kohli at the top and missing Dhoni down the order.
Openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have had one decent innings each in Bangladesh, but not yet in the Asia Cup have both come up with the goods in the same match. Dhawan hit 94 against Sri Lanka while Rohit played a knock of 56 against Bangladesh, but what India keep missing is those big stands the pair consistently provided in 2013 and were the cornerstones of India's Champions Trophy success in England.
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