‘Shush, shush’, ‘no selfies’ and an exciting evening at the press box
The atmosphere inside the stadium was tense while the one inside the press box was tinged with scrutiny, despair and hope from the Indian media with a handful among the Pakistani reporters trying to see the funny side of things as the India-Sri Lanka game reached its closing stages in Dubai yesterday.
Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka and batter Bhanuka Rajapakse put the pressure right back on the Indian attack after spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Ashwin had got their side back into the game with four wickets in quick time.
Once the India spin duo completed their quota of overs, it was up to the pacers. At the end of the 16th over, Arshdeep Singh had two overs left, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya had one each.
At this point, a couple of journalists could be heard discussing how Pandya is not really that great at the death overs. 'Only a part-time bowler, that's that,' one said to another.
From 42 needed in 24 deliveries, the equation came down to 33 in three overs, as the 17th over bowled by Arshdeep went for nine. The match was slipping away from the hosts and Shanaka put away the fifth delivery of the Pandya over for six over fine-leg with a tremendous flick. Sri Lanka amassed 12 in that over as the stadium grew quiet.
In the following over, Bhuveneshwar was taken for 14, bringing the equation down to just seven needed off the final over.
23-year-old Arshdeep showed great nerve under pressure as his tight bowling took the game right down to the wire with Sri Lanka needing two off two.
A few of the media personnel at the press box went 'shush, shush', trying to cut the tension with a bit of comic relief as the chances of a Super Over loomed large. Shanaka could not connect the penultimate delivery from Arshdeep but had the presence of mind to run for it, chancing a tie with the last ball still to come.
Rishabh Pant held on to the ball and aimed at the stump in moments of absolute chaos. Pant missed the stumps at the striker's end as the duo ran a single, and Arshdeep latched onto the ball before aiming at the non-striker's end. He, too, missed as the two resultant byes saw Sri Lanka edge a thriller.
Shanaka held his arms aloft, without a bat in his hand, which he had lost during the scramble while diving for the second run. He did not care, nor did his teammates rushing in from the dugout. Arguably, this was even tighter than the last India-Pakistan game in Dubai.
Earlier, just a few overs before the end of the India innings, this reporter found former India coach Ravi Shastri in the dining room. Shastri was leaving for the comm box when this inquisitive reporter queried whether 180 would be a good score. Shastri replied: "Looks like a slower wicket than last night's [India-Pak] game."
India managed to post 173 for eight and despite the former India coach's hopes of it being enough, it just wasn't in the end.
At the end of the game, the press conferences were soon to begin as reporters left the Sky Box -- the name given to the entire media unit of the Dubai International Cricket Stadium -- and headed down to the conference room.
The press conference in the India-Pakistan game had seen journalists flock to Virat Kohli, asking for selfies. Thus, before the press conference of India skipper Rohit Sharma, the Asian Cricket Council's (ACC) Asia Cup media manager warned those in the press conference to not gather for selfies as it hinders the next player, in this case, a Sri Lanka player, coming in for the press event.
"There won't be any selfies today," one Indian reporter mentioned wryly, insinuating that the second successive defeat, that leaves them all but out of the Asia Cup, will not be taken so lightly this time around.
Rohit Sharma soon made his way into the press conference room. The first questioner asked if they were short of the score they wanted. Rohit's reply was sharp and fast: "What do you think?"
The India skipper did go on to say that they fell '10-12' short of what would have been a good score.
The skipper was not asked one single question about his brilliant 41-ball 72 that had set the foundation for his side's score to begin with. Instead, a hard question was in store for him.
"What happens to India in big tournaments like Asia Cup or World Cup since they win bilateral series convincingly? What is the side lacking?"
Rohit pondered on the question for a bit before replying. "There is no lacking. The team has the quality and have won lots of games. Somewhere down the line in these kinds of tournaments where the opponents are different, there is more pressure," he said.
"In bilateral series when you play the same opposition for three to five games, there you know what the opposition had done today and next day you know what plans you can make. But in tournaments such as the Asia Cup or World Cup, there is the challenge that teams come with different kinds of plans.
"We have talked about this in the dressing room about how to stay ahead of the other teams and to think ahead and that's how you get results. It's unfortunate we couldn't make it to the ICC World Cup knockout stage. We lost two matches in the Asia Cup now. The boys know it and it's a big challenge for us in the ICC tournaments. But if you see the overall history of ICC [tournaments], we played semi-finals, finals and won finals too. So I don't think we need to overthink but obviously, the pressure is great. When the boys come up against such pressure situations, they need to realise how to take decisions, what areas to bowl in, and what shots to play under pressure," came Rohit's thoughtful and detailed reply.
The presser was almost as exciting as the game, and today Rohit and Co will be hoping the Pakistan-Afghanistan result works in their favour as their title defence now hangs in the balance, with odds heavily stacked against the men in blue.