In the Men's T20 World Cup held in the UAE last year, Hardik Pandya was a pale shadow of his all-round skills and far from his fittest self. He faced 45 balls with the bat and bowled only four overs, the effect of which was seen in India's early exit from the tournament.
Ten months later, Pandya is back in the Blue jersey and in Sunday's marquee clash against Pakistan in Group A of Asia Cup 2022, his all-round skills were the driving force behind India sealing a five-wicket win in an engrossing match.
With the ball, Pandya used his short ball to good effect and got extra bounce as well on a two-paced pitch to break Pakistan's innings mid-way with his spell of 3-25. Then, after Pakistan were bowled out for 147, India were in a scenario where 59 runs were needed off the last six overs.
From there, Pandya (33 not out) and Jadeja (35) shared a stand of 52 runs off just 29 balls. Even though the left-handed Jadeja fell in the final over, Pandya finished off things with a six over long-on to take India over the line and add another thrilling chapter in the history of India-Pakistan clashes.
The innings of both India and Pakistan had two similarities: eventful first overs and being penalised for slow over-rate in their last three overs as one extra fielder came into the 30-yard circle. In chasing 148, debutant pacer Naseem Shah (2-27) struck on just his second T20I ball, as K.L Rahul inside-edged to his stumps.
Virat Kohli, playing in his 100th T20I, was dropped by Fakhar Zaman at second slip while chasing a wide one, followed by a series of inside and outside edges. He showed signs of his authoritative self when he pulled slashed and whipped off his wrists to collect boundaries.
Rohit Sharma, cautious till then, opened up in eighth over when he slog-swept Mohammad Nawaz (3-33) over long-on. But the left-arm spinner had the last laugh as Rohit holed out to long-off on the final ball of the over. In his next over, Nawaz had another big scalp as Kohli chipped straight to long-off. Jadeja started off his promotion at number four by smacking Nawaz down the ground for a 98m six.
He and Suryakumar Yadav stitched a stand of 36 runs before Naseem knocked off Suryakumar's off-stump on the first ball of his second spell. Jadeja and Hardik Pandya hanged in to bring the equation to 32 off the last three overs. By then, Pakistan were struggling as their pacers got cramps and Jadeja survived an lbw appeal off Naseem Shah clearly in pain after a review showed the ball pitching outside the leg-stump.
On the very next ball, Jadeja lofted with a straight bat down the ground for six. In the next over, Pandya flat-batted off Haris Rauf over extra-cover and got a boundary as Babar chased the ball, but couldn't stop it from hitting the boundary rope. He then swatted Rauf over wide long-on and brought out a short-arm jab on the last ball for a four splitting deep mid-wicket and long-on for perfection.
With seven needed off the final over, Nawaz struck on the first ball as Jadeja was castled while going for an expansive slog. Pandya finished off the match in style by clobbering Nawaz over long-on to win an absorbing contest.
Earlier, electing to bowl first, Azam oozed gorgeousness while straight driving with full face twice through mid-off. In an attempt to pull off a Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4-26) bouncer, Azam sent a top-edge to a short fine leg.
Avesh Khan banged in short and got a faint tickle off Zaman's bat through extra bounce to be caught by the keeper. Though India didn't appeal, Zaman walked off, ruling himself out. Post power-play, Pandya and spinners, Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal, kept things tight with a hint of turn on offer. It didn't deter Pakistan as Mohammad Rizwan cut through backward point off Jadeja for four while Ahmed heaved Chahal high over long-on for six.
But India halted their charge as Pandya bounced out Ahmed and the top-edge was caught safely by Karthik. In his next over, he made a double strike with his short balls as Rizwan ramped straight to third man and Khushdil Shah slashed straight to cover.
Pakistan never recovered from those three wickets lost in overs 11-15, as Asif Ali holed out on a slower off-cutter to long-off off Bhuvneshwar. Arshdeep came back to have Nawaz nicking behind. Bhuvneshwar took out Shadab Khan and Shah on consecutive lbws. But Dahani smacked two huge sixes over leg-side before his stumps were disturbed by a quick Arshdeep yorker to end Pakistan's innings at 147.
Brief scores: Pakistan 147 all out in 19.5 overs (Mohammad Rizwan 43, Iftikhar Ahmed 28; Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4-26, Hardik Pandya 3-24) lost to India 148-5 in 19.4 overs (Virat Kohli 35, Ravindra Jadeja 35; Mohammad Nawaz 3-33, Naseem Shah 2-27) by five wickets