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Pakistan picked up a huge confidence boosting 5 wicket win against arch rivals India in a pre T20 World Cup warm-up game in Colombo on Monday. India appeared to have the contest in the bag when they posted a massive 185-3 in their 20 overs with Virat Kohli (75*) and Rohit Sharma (56) making half-centuries. The Indians were also on top for large periods of the Pakistan innings, having the Green Army in trouble at 91-5 before Kamran Akmal (92*) and Shoaib Malik (37*) carried their team to victory with an unbeaten 95 runs for the 6th wicket with 5 balls to spare.
India's skipper MS Dhoni won the toss and opted to bat first on a hard deck in Colombo which should offer a bit of pace and carry. Both teams decided to stick with a 12-a-side contest with India naming an unchanged side from their win against Sri Lanka a couple of days ago.
That meant India once again went with 5 specialist bowlers including both offies R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh. The good news from the Indian camp was that Gambhir had recovered from the knock he had picked up on his wrist in the last game and was ready to play.
Pakistan welcomed back Shahid Afridi, who had recovered from his back spasm to take the field for this game. Pakistan's line-up also was rich with batting, while their bowling continued to be one of the best in the world. Allrounder Abdul Razzaq missed the game, having inherited Afridi's stiff back.
India made a steady start to the match, picking up a boundary in each of the first three overs to post 27-0. Sehwag was the early recipient of a life with a thick outside edge induced by Sohail Tanveer perfectly bisecting the keeper and first slip. Sehwag added insult to injury by slapping a short of a length delivery from the same bowler over cover for 6.
A poor first over from Mohammad Sami put India firmly on top as they helped themselves to another 14 runs. Umar Gul replaced the unlucky Tanvir from the other end, and struck gold removing an unsettled Gautam Gambhir (10) after tieing him down for three balls, enducing a false shot which the batsman dragged onto his stumps. Virat Kohli came out to bat at no.3 and struck a gorgeous boundary through the leg side first up.
Pakistan then brought on their trump card in Saeed Ajmal, and the off-spinner was in the thick of the action right away, almost having Sehwag caught at long-on first ball. It appeared that Sami had touched the rope while attempting the catch in the deep, before throwing the ball back into play, but in the absence of conclusive replays nothing was given. To compound their own woes, the lazy Indian batsmen didn't run at all. The very next ball Sehwag was dismissed for 26, well caught by Shahid Afridi at backward point, attempting to cut an off-break which spun back into him sharply.
Pakistan took the opportunity to squeeze in a few tight overs as India slipped to 51-2. While Kohli used his feet to the spinners to keep his scoring rate high, Rohit Sharma, promoted to no.4, took his time to find his feet. Sharma played out a few quiet overs and interspersed blocked balls with boundaries to catch up with his strike rate.
Sharma though found some form midway through the innings, presenting India with an excellent selection headache. The young Mumbaikar was soon matching Kohli shot for shot, and the duo powered India to 143-2 in 16 overs.
A 19 run 18th over which included a boundary to Sharma and a maximum to Kohli pushed India ever closer to 200, but Saeed Ajmal kept Pakistan in the contest by sneaking in a 4 run over which included the wicket of Rohit Sharma, bowled for 56. Yuvraj Singh looked rusty making 4 runs from 5 balls, but Kohli carried his bat through till the end, posting an unbeaten 75 from 47 balls.
Pakistan got off to a flier in response, smashing the in-form Irfan Pathan out of the attack, taking 17 runs from the 2nd over. Spin was called for early in proceedings, and did the trick with Ashwin getting rid of Imran Nazir for 13, caught well in the deep by Suresh Raina. India picked up a bonus wicket, that of Nasir Jamshed, run out without facing a ball due to a misunderstanding between the batsman and his skipper Mohammad Hafeez. Pakistan though stayed in touch with the asking rate, posting 52-2 in the powerplay.
Pakistan were threatening to run away with the game with Kamran Akmal and Hafeez adding a quickfire 51 for the third wicket before Ashwin did the business for his captain once again, removing the latter for 38, caught at long-on. A couple of balls later he picked up a second wicket in the over, having Shahid Afridi caught for naught at long-off this time. Suddenly, the game was back in India's favour with Pakistan in trouble at 84-4 in 10 overs.
Ashwin continued to have an excellent game when he caught Umar Akmal (2) off his own bowling in his next over, to take his fourth wicket of the innings as Pakistan slumped further to 95-5.
Kamran Akmal though was waging his own personal war against India, and brought up his half century by tonking Zaheer Khan for 6. The wicketkeeper batsman celebrated reaching the milestone by hitting another maximum on the very next ball. The over went for 19 runs as the former Pakistan skipper Shoaib Malik joined in the fun, hitting arguably the shot of the day, a lofted drive straight down the ground for a boundary. That left Pakistan with 56 to get from the last 5 overs to record a morale boosting win.
Harbhajan Singh's chances of selection in the first choice eleven were put in serious jeopardy as he conceded 10 runs in his last over to end with figures of 0-40 in his 4 overs. Shoaib Malik hit Bhajji's last ball for 6, to bring up the half-century of the partnership in just 27 balls to propel Pakistan ever closer to victory.
Off the very next ball, Akmal deposited Balaji into the stands over midwicket to bring the equation down to 39 from 23 balls. 16 runs came off the over as Balaji's lack of big match experience in recent seasons was also on display.
Pakistan's maturity in the chase was on display as they saw out Ashwin's last over without taking any unnecessary risks. Another 16 from Balaji's final over sealed the game in favour of Pakistan, who were left with just 6 to win in the last over. Kamran Akmal finished the game in style, spanking Irfan Pathan for 6 on the first ball of the final over to seal an excellent 5 wicket win.
Akmal Sr. ended unbeaten on 92, while Shoaib Malik's crucial 37 from 18 balls helped Pakistan over the finish line.
The tournament proper gets underway tomorrow with Sri Lanka playing host to Bangladesh, while India take on Afghanistan on Wednesday, while Pakistan are not in action till Sunday against New Zealand.
India: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Laxmipathy Balaji.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (c), Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal (wk), Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Sami
India 185-3 (20 overs, 9.25rpo)
Virat Kohli 75* (47) S Ajmal 2-22
Rohit Sharma 56 (40) U Gul 1-31
Pakistan 186-5 (19.1 overs, 9.25rpo)
Kamran Akmal 92* (50) R Ashwin 4-23
Mohammad Hafeez 38 (29)
Pakistan win by 5 wickets
File Photograph Copyright: ICC World T20
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