Squint a little, and this innings was almost the late 1990s for Pakistan. From one end, a masterful left-arm quick, bowling with sublime control, moving the ball off the seam. From the other end a right-armer generating serious heat from an explosive bowling action. As first-change, the fastest bowler of the bunch, delivering the most intense overs of the innings.
It’s been years since Pakistan had a seam attack quite this dynamic. On a slippery Pallekele deck, they blasted out one of the best top orders going, then ripped through the tail.
Shaheen Shah Afridi delivered the first breakthroughs, predictably. Setting Rohit Sharma up with a ball that went across him, Afridi slipped in that killer inswinger – the ball shooting between bat and pad to smash off stump. To Virat Kohli, Afridi needed only two balls. The first was a dot, left alone outside off. The second was a length ball outside off that Kohli attempted to deflect to deep third – one of his most productive one-day shots. Maybe this one sat in the pitch a fraction longer than Kohli expected. He was early into the shot.
Haris Rauf then took the wicket-taking baton, getting Shreyas Iyer who couldn’t clear midwicket with a well-struck pull shot, then Shubman Gill, bowled off the inside edge. His most impressive deliveries were arguably those that India’s batters could not make contact with at all. Right through his spells, Rauf was breaching 145kph, and at times touching 150. The Afridi first over is always unmissable. Rauf’s first spell wasn’t far behind.
Naseem Shah didn’t get his first wicket till the 45th over, but then he is becoming increasingly adept at wiping out the lower order. (This is not to under-sell his new-ball spell which though wicketless, was tight.) He had Shardul Thakur caught off a leading edge, then took down Kuldeep Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah with short deliveries in the 49th over.
Others played their roles too. As with 90s Pakistan, the fielding was modest. A difficult catch was dropped at square leg to deny Afridi his customary first-over wicket. Others let balls slip through their fingers, sometimes into the boundary.
India played a souped-up version of their 90s selves as well, prospering against spin and wilting against high-quality fast bowling.
It would have taken Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and co. bowling on this Pallekele pitch to put the Pakistani quicks’ performances into context. And the generally slower decks in Colombo will perhaps be a greater test of their wits. But as far as anyone could tell, the Pakistan quicks lived up to their billing.