India vs. Pakistan, 2007 World T20 Final: Reliving the Game That Changed Cricket

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India vs. Pakistan, 2007 World T20 Final: Reliving the Game That Changed Cricket
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More than 24,000 fans packed into the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg for what would be a monumental encounter—yet few realised it at the time.

Unlike most crowds, those in attendance were split in equal measure for the two fiercest rivals on the planet. Already famous for an intimidating intensity, the "Bullring" hosted a starkly gladiatorial atmosphere on Sept. 24, 2007.

Yet until that point, the inaugural World Twenty20 had embodied a somewhat inconsequential feel. The event was essentially a trail run in the wake of the 2007 World Cup. Weakened teams had been sent; established stars had opted out.

Despite Yuvraj Singh's heroics against Australia and England in earlier matches, the tournament needed a spicy, tension-filled finale to not only justify its presence on the international calendar, but to establish the T20 format as a viable third act of the game. 

Those involved, however, knew little of the impact the final match of the competition would have on the future trajectory of the sport.

Winning his fifth toss on the bounce, MS Dhoni elected to set the tone by sending out his youthful but rather depleted batting line-up.

Yusuf Pathan, replacing the injured Virender Sehwag, opened the innings with Gautam Gambhir to make a promising but short-lived start. From 40-2 after only 5.4 overs, Dhoni's side meandered to just 111-4 from the next 10.

Robin Uthappa came and went, Yuvraj couldn't muster the energy or inspiration for a final tilt, while the captain succumbed to the brilliant and incisive Umar Gul. Only Gambhir's fluent 75 kept the innings ticking along.

In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, who had all skipped the tournament to foster the development of the nation's youth, India's outfit lacked both experience and intimidation. 

It was also a sign of the nation's indifferent feelings towards the format. Despite the first T20 International being staged in early 2005, India had been involved in just one such game prior to the inaugural World T20 in late 2007. Following a disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean earlier in the year that saw the country fail to progress from the group stage, the BCCI's priorities didn't centre on an event and format with an uncertain future.

Yet in the face of that doubt and pre-tournament skepticism, India had utilised the exuberance and vitality of youth to charge to the final. Along with Yuvraj's explosions, the team's energy in the field and with the ball had hit almost unprecedented levels. 

A public that had grown frustrated with its team's performances suddenly found itself embracing a side exuding a highly admirable and unexpected vibrancy. 

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Through some late hitting from Rohit Sharma, India edged their way to 157-5—a total considered well below par at the high-scoring venue in Johannesburg. 

That feeling persisted as Pakistan's innings commenced and it appeared certain that only one team could be triumphant when Imran Nazir blazed Sreesanth around the Wanderers in the early stages to offset the wickets of Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal. Such was Nazir's blistering start that the chasing Pakistanis had scorched their way to 53-2 at 10 runs per over. 

But the tide turned.

A surprise runout from Uthappa to dismiss Nazir put the brakes on Shoaib Malik's side, with the capture of Younis Khan a couple of overs later seeing a seismic shift in momentum. 

An Indian side that had overcome the cynicism of its own board quickly began to personify the burgeoning belief and daring approach that had won close to a billion admirers across the world's most influential cricketing nation.

The scoreboard, of course, suggested the match was still far from over. At 65-4, and then even later at 77-6, Pakistan were still within touching distance while Misbah-ul-Haq was at the crease.

But even with eight overs still to be bowled in a final on a knife's edge, the juggernaut that Twenty20 would become had already begun to roll. There was palpable tension in the stadium. After a parade of both disappointing and lopsided World Cup finals, the game's newest format was already in the midst of hosting the most captivating conclusion a global tournament had ever seen. 

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Misbah bravely edged Pakistan towards their target of 158 alongside the useful Yasir Arafat, with three quick sixes off Harbhajan Singh rapidly reducing the task to just 20 runs from 12 balls (it had once been 54 from 24).

As he'd done against both India and Australia in previous encounters, Misbah was again rescuing the enigmatic Pakistanis, with his exploits giving his side the apparent edge with two overs remaining.

A tight and disciplined 19th over from RP Singh, which saw the wicket of Gul fall from its fifth delivery, left just a tantalising final six balls remaining, 13 runs needed and only one wicket in hand.

There, in an iconic cricketing cauldron, with Joginder Sharma at the top of his mark, a revolution was being born. A nation that had flirted with the concept of a franchise-based T20 league was on the cusp of winning the format's biggest prize. Six balls separated both teams from victory, but few realised that those six balls represented the beginning of a new era in the game.

The formation of Indian Premier League would quickly follow the result. Multi-million dollar auctions would soon be an annual practice. Players' attitudes to the sport and the opportunities it offered would be forever altered; early retirements, T20 specialists and maligned mercenaries would all rise to prominence. 

Despite meeting T20 cricket with a customary resistance, the BCCI would soon hold the bulk of the game's wealth in its pockets, transforming India from influential to all-powerful. Even the "establishment" in England and Australia would find itself aligning with India, defining itself in relation to the polarising board and the glamourous IPL.

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The six balls became five, but only after a horrific wide from the first delivery of the over. Misbah then clubbed Sharma's next effort over the fence to make the equation six runs from four balls. 

Could history have been altered had the outcome of the next delivery been different? It's possible. A Pakistani triumph, while also significant, wouldn't have held the gravity of an Indian victory.

While Misbah's ill-fated scoop shot will be among the tormentors of his own mind, the batsman played an irreversible and iconic part in the alteration of the sport's future course. 

Sreesanth took the catch. Elation ensued. The game has never been the same since.

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