When Pakistan was skittled out for 83, inside its quota of 20 overs, against arch-rival India, in the Asia Cup T20 at Mirpur on Saturday, I felt a sense of profound melancholy. While the Indian fan in me was, without a doubt, happy that our bowlers put us in the driver's seat, such a meek surrender by the Pakistani batsmen was not what you had eagerly turned on your television to see.
Nobody needs reminding the passion and raw emotion flowing quite liberally during India-Pakistan contests in any field, none more than that when the two countries meet on the cricket field. Over the years, India-Pakistan matches have produced many heart-stopping finishes.
This rivalry has been celebrated, and a connoisseur of the game can neither forget Sachin Tendulkar's blitzkrieg during World Cup 2003 at the Centurion, nor Javed Miandad's last-ball six off Chetan Sharma back in 1986; neither Shoaib Akhtar's fearsome pace in the Eden Gardens Test in 1999, nor Virender Sehwag's record-setting triple century at Multan in 2004; and neither Saeed Anwar's mammoth 194 in an ODI in Chennai in 1997, nor S Sreesanth pocketing Misbah-ul-Haq's scoop that won India the inaugural World T20 in 2007.
It is beyond the scope of this article to list even a sliver of all the great performances that India-Pakistan matches have been witness to over the years. Suffice to say that players from both sides yank themselves up to a completely different level when this contest is upon them, and the result is one to behold.
Hence, there was an air of expectation before Saturday's face-off, and expectation that we would again be treated to a humdinger. But for all the build-up to this marquee contest, Pakistan's poor show with the bat was a terrible dampener.
So here I was torn between joy at the emergence of Hardik Pandya (who returned figures of three-for-eight in 3.3 overs) as a seriously good all-rounder for India in limited overs cricket, the return of Yuvraj Singh, the bowler, to his real self, the triathlete fitness of Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina, the charm of the evergreen Ashish Nehra, and sadness at how colourless and one-sided India-Pakistan contests have become.
Has India been too strong for its arch-rival in recent years to brook a competition, I wondered. At the halfway stage, anybody would have felt that it would be a walk in the park for India, especially considering the batting it boasts of.
But an individual named Mohammad Amir had other ideas. Yes, Mohammad Amir. The same person who was jailed in UK, and banned from international cricket for five years for being involved in spot-fixing in 2010. Such a massive setback, at such a tender age (he was 18 when it all happened), and the shame to go with it would have shattered him, but he stuck it out, and after the ban got over in September last year, he made it clear that he wanted to make amends, for a crime, he had held, he was under pressure to commit.
"I let everybody down, but I will return with honesty and dignity. I want to make it up to them and I want to do that by representing Pakistan again," Amir said.
However, some the Pakistani players didn't want Amir in the team. For instance, Pakistan's ODI captain Azhar Ali had tendered his resignation protesting Amir's presence in the national training camp and senior player Mohammad Hafeez had also refused to join the camp. Amir, however, got the support of Pakistan legend Imran Khan, who wanted to see Amir getting a second chance.
"I just have to bowl as well as I can and prove to people that I am good enough and deserve a second chance. I want to be loved by the fans again," Amir said.
And after Saturday, there can be no doubts about his intentions.
Pakistan knew that the contest on Saturday would not go the full distance. It would have been at the most a 10-15 over contest, and wickets were the need of the hour. And Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi unleashed Amir on the Indians.
The first ball he bowls to Rohit Sharma produces a vociferous appeal for leg before wicket, but is turned down. The second delivery beats Rohit comprehensively again. Another huge appeal. This time the umpire raises his finger. Virat Kohli walks in, carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. Kohli takes a single. Ajinkya Rahane to face his first ball. Amir is bowling with heart and tremendous pace. A wide ball after, he bowls another beauty. Rahane trapped in front of the stumps, out for a duck. Suresh Raina walks in and looks all at sea. He is relieved of his agony by Amir in his second over.
Amir's fiery spell restored my belief that India-Pakistan contests are alive and well. They are the mother of all contests. Even the Ashes pales in front of them. The tension and the atmosphere would have given anybody goosebumps. The Pakistanis were throwing all that they had at the Indians and were not ready to go down without a fight.
Raina's departure left Dhoni's team reeling at 8-for-3, and it brought Kohli and Yuvraj Singh together, and as we were marvelling at the fairytale comeback of Amir, another sub-plot was starting to unfold.
Kohli and Yuvraj weathered the storm and slowly and steadily were steering the Indian ship out of troubled waters. A fine shot for four off Mohammad Irfan got Yuvraj going, and then it was the Kohli show all the way. He hit Amir through square leg for a boundary, and followed it up with another through cover on the next delivery.
Kohli hit five more fours and by the time he fell to a debatable decision in the 15th over, the match was all but won. His 51-ball 49 may not have been the whirlwind T20 innings we associate with him, but it was a knock of supreme class and played under tremendous pressure against Pakistani pacers who were spitting fire. Surely, one of the best T20 innings that Kohli has ever played, or will play.
Yuvraj played a strong supporting hand, with a 32-ball 14. It may look very un-T20-like, but Yuvraj played according to the conditions which demanded a partnership. It was not Yuvraj in his six sixes avatar, but kudos to him for adaptability.
Afridi perhaps missed a trick by not having Wahab Riaz share the new ball with Amir. Riaz is best remembered for the way he threatened life and limb, and terrorised Shane Watson, in particular, during the World Cup quarter-final against Australia last year. Pakistan could have won this match only by taking wickets, and should have gone for the jugular.
All in all, it was an exciting game of cricket, and although a low-scoring affair, full marks to the curator for preparing a pitch which restored a balance between the bat and ball, something which you don't often see in T20s. It demanded the highest levels of expertise from both the bowlers and batsmen, and in the end, produced a contest that lived up to its billing.
The two teams will meet again at the highest stage - the World T20 - on March 19 at Dharamsala, and maybe in this tournament again. Are you prepared for the adrenaline rush?