Since the time T20 cricket was introduced by the ICC in 2005, there have been some fabulous matches over the years played between different nations. Some of them which instantly come to mind are the 2010 World T20 semifinal between Australia and Pakistan in which Michael Hussey singlehandedly won the Aussies a lost game, hitting 60 runs off the last 4 overs. Or the 2010 T20 international between New Zealand and Australia in Christchurch which went down to the Super Over, despite the Kiwi wicketkeeper batsman Brendon McCullum hitting a fantastic hundred.
But the match which probably qualifies the best to be the greatest T20 international of all time was the grand finale between archrivals India and Pakistan in the World Cup 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The match was obviously subjected to huge hype since the South Asian neighbours were playing each other for the first time since April 2006 and this being a dream World Cup final as well. Both the teams were knocked in the 50 over version of the World Cup 2007 in the West Indies in the first round itself, which proved how fortunes could change for any team in the shortest format of the game.
India and Pakistan in this tournament had played each other in a Group game at Durban which ended in a tie, but India won since they got the better of Pakistan in the bowl-out contest. Hence, India had the psychological advantage over their bitter opponents coming into the game. Dhoni’s men were called the Durbanators because they won most of their matches in Durban throughout the competition, including the semifinal against one of the pre tournament favourites and world champions Australia. But Pakistan performed better than India throughout the competition since India lost one game to New Zealand, while Pakistan won all their matches which included those against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Australia.
So this was to be a cracker of a contest. Would MS Dhoni win a World Cup title in his very first tournament as captain of an Indian team? Or will Shoaib Malik cement a regular place in the team if he is helped by his teammates to win a World Cup as captain for the first time for his country since 1992? At the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, Dhoni did not surprise many by winning the toss and deciding to bat first. India’s strategy so far had been to put up a big score on the board first up and then win the game by defending it successfully. But Pakistan did not mind this because they won most of their games chasing a total, and they had the batting firepower to do it against India as well.
India suffered a big blow prior to the game when the dangerous Virender Sehwag was declared unfit to play due to a freak injury. It meant that Yusuf Pathan was to make his international debut for India in a World Cup final, and that too opening the batting which he does not otherwise do in domestic cricket. He walked out to bat with his current Kolkata Knight Riders teammate and captain Gautam Gambhir in what was a magnificently sunny day in Johannesburg. But he was not able to trouble the scorers much, as he was dismissed for a cameo 8-ball 15. The No.3 batter, Robin Uthappa was in tremendous form but also succumbed to the pressure of playing in the final since India were 40/2 after 5.4 overs, the time he was given out to the talented left arm pacer, Sohail Tanvir.
Yuvraj Singh was to bat at No.4 and he was by far India’s best batsman in the competition. But Pakistan’s bowling was so disciplined that he was kept quiet for a long period of time. On the other hand, Gambhir was still at the crease and finally making his place in the team count. In this partnership, it was the Delhi opener who was more dominant and when Yuvraj was able to get strike at a point of time, Umar Gul dismissed him by taking a catch off his own bowling. He scored a 19-ball 14, and India were 103/3 in 13.3 overs.
Dhoni was another threat which Pakistan thwarted easily as he was bowled by a rampaging Umar Gul who was in his second spell. Suddenly, Gambhir was running out of partners and all was not well for an Indian side renowned for its batting, as they were 111/4 after 15.2 overs. But the then rookie batter and youngster Rohit Sharma made a name for himself in this game, with the whole cricketing world watching him. It was due to his marvelous exploits that India were able to cross 150, which was unlikely at one stage of the game. He remained unbeaten on 30 off just 16 balls, an innings which India needed from the likes of Yuvraj and Dhoni who were the experienced and ideal finishers in this team. Umar Gul finished with 3 wickets, capping off a superb tournament for him as he was one of the star in this campaign for his country.
Though it has to be said, that it was Gambhir’s innings which eventually separated the two teams. Smashing 75 runs off 54 balls in a T20 final requires exceptional temperament and skill and Gambhir proved why he was back then a world class batsman in the making. Four years later, and he would go on to hit a 97 in the 50 over World Cup final against Sri Lanka in Mumbai, and win that game for India too. This innings also was a prelude to his exploits in the Indian Premier League as he was an integral part of his home franchise, Delhi Daredevils before shifting base to Kolkata Knight Riders for a record $USD 2.4 million in 2011, making him the most sought after T20 batsman in the world.
Pakistan required 158 runs to win the championship they deserved to win the most. It was not that monumental a target, even as their batsmen were up against a resurgent Indian bowling attack. And Dhoni could not have asked for a better start from the Uttar Pradesh left-arm pacer RP Singh, who picked the wickets of opening batsman Mohammad Hafeez in the first over and wicketkeeper batsman Kamran Akmal in the third over. It was 26/2 after 2.3 overs when Younis Khan joined the dashing opener, Imran Nazir at the crease.
Nazir was severe on the Indian pace bowlers and thus it became necessary to get rid of him as soon as possible. The Indians could not find a way to get him out, until fate finally completed their desire. Robin Uthappa was in the thick of things again on the field, as his dead accurate throw from mid off resulted in his run out. Nazir finished with 33 runs off only 14 balls, and the game all of a sudden became wide open. Pakistan were vulnerable, even as their captain Shoaib Malik came out to bat with the situation not being that bad for the team, they were 53/3 after 5.4 overs.
But this pair was characteristically slow and that worked in India’s favour to a huge extent. Joginder Sharma, the rookie Haryana medium pacer was having a wonderful tournament and thus his confidence was sky high especially since he got the wicket of Michael Hussey in the semifinal against Australia. He accounted for Younis Khan’s wicket, as Dhoni had so much faith in him that he was promoted above Irfan Pathan in the bowling attack.
However once Irfan got the chance to bowl, he made it count big time. In the 12th over, he took two such wickets which clearly made many take it for granted that the championship will belong to India. He got the captain Malik out, which was actually good for Pakistan since he struggled to score 8 runs, taking 17 balls for it. But what was not good for the team was when their in-form all rounder and their most experienced player, Shahid Afridi getting out first ball. As it has happened so many times over the years, it was Irfan Pathan who once again succeeded in getting the better of Afridi. The biggest threat for India was out and everything was going according to plan for MS Dhoni and co.
At 77/6 in 11.4 overs, it was only a matter of time before Pakistan would accept defeat. But as long as Misbah ul Haq was there, the team still had a slight chance to pull off victory from the jaws of defeat. Misbah was attempting to make yet another comeback into the Pakistan team despite being above the age of 30, since he was always an irregular in a team filled with top quality batsmen such as Inzamam ul Haq, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf. With this innings, he proved that he could make up for all those years and finally be seen more often in Pakistani colours.
His was a very calculated knock, since he knew when to take on the bowling and when not to. The rest of the tailenders hardly contributed, so Misbah was the man who carried along a nation’s hope on his shoulders for a couple of overs. He made everybody move to the edge of their seats with his innings, because it got Pakistan much closer to the target when expected. The magnum opus over was the 18th over when he hit India’s No.1 spinner, Harbhajan Singh for as many as 19 runs and that made the equation out of nowhere, turn in Pakistan’s favour.
But the wickets column was the biggest impediment for Pakistan on their road of victory and the Indians were always in the hunt as the struggling Sreesanth got the wicket of the surging Sohail Tanvir, while RP Singh and Irfan Pathan also ended their four overs in style with three wickets each. Pakistan were 9 down, requiring 13 runs off the last over. This was anybody’s game as it went right down to the wire, and it became even tenser when Dhoni perhaps made the biggest gamble of his captaincy career at the time by ordering Joginder Sharma out of all the bowlers to bowl that dreadful last over.
Within the first two balls, 7 runs were scored as Joginder was clearly nervous. He bowled one of the balls outside the off stump as a full toss, which was a gift for Misbah and he responded aptly by hitting it over the long off boundary, straight down the ground. This was the best placement for the shot and it did not seem that Misbah was under any sort of pressure. Now Pakistan had to win for sure! Indian fans would have also not given their team much of a chance, because there were 4 balls to go and the archrivals needed only 6 runs. Plus, Misbah was still on strike!
But a similar thing happened to Pakistan, which happened to South Africa in the 1999 World Cup semifinal against Australia. The in-form batsman made the fatalist of all errors, on the ball which mattered the most. In this game, Misbah tried to shockingly play the scoop shot over short fine leg so that it could go for a four or a six but he could not pull it off well enough and Sreesanth, who had a poor game before this took a simple catch. India were the World Champions of T20 cricket, and the first ones ever to possess this honour! 5 runs was what separated perhaps two of the most entertaining teams in world cricket.
Joginder Sharma became a household name for a while after that wicket, and this was the beginning of an illustrious career for MS Dhoni in terms of captaincy. 24th September 2007 was perhaps the greatest day in the history of Indian cricket since 25th June 1983 when Kapil Dev lifted the 50 over World Cup in England. This was such a critical win because it began the surge of Indian cricket as the country went on to become No.1 in all three formats of the game within the next two years and it also laid the foundation for the 50 over 2011 World Cup win in the Indian subcontinent. Plus, it also played catalyst for the beginning of the Indian Premier League, an idea which was previously shelved by the BCCI because of the team’s disastrous performance in the World Cup in the West Indies in March 2007.
While the Indian players sans the non participating Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were felicitated by an open bus ride across the city of Mumbai, Pakistan’s players were dejected. Even if Misbah could not do a Miandad and finish it off for Pakistan, spare a thought for him! He kept his side in the game when India were anyway meant to win after 13 overs of the Pakistani innings. Irfan Pathan won the man of the match award in the final, but Shahid Afridi won the man of the series award for being the best player throughout the tournament out of all the countries.
The defeat should have spurred Pakistan to play better cricket from then but they worsened and only won the World T20 2009 in England as a notable achievement. Pakistan took this as festival cricket, but this was their format to succeed in since their nature of cricket is unpredictable. They could have used this tournament to improve their ODI game and succeed in the limited overs formats of the game, if not Test cricket. Although Pakistan did make it to the semifinals of the ICC Champions Trophy and the World T20 in 2009, as well as the World T20 2010 and the ICC World Cup 2011.
This has undoubtedly been one of the greatest T20 internationals of all time so far and there are more to come in future, after looking at the increasing popularity of the shortest format of the game across the world.