Circa Feburary 2009. The Indian cricket team was in the process of wrapping up their tour of Sri Lanka with a final Twenty20 match at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Having taken the preceding ODI series 4-1, the then-T20 world champions were heavy favourites to win the last game of the tour.
But Sri Lanka did not make it easy for them.
First-time skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan won the toss and chose to bat. Opening the innings with the explosive Sanath Jayasuriya, the right-hander initially played second fiddle as the veteran left-hander smashed Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma all over the park.
After Irfan Pathan removed the rampaging Matara marauder, Dilshan took over, peppering the off-side with his uninhibited stroke-play and keeping the scoreboard ticking with fast running between the wickets. At one stage, 200 seemed well within his side’s reach.
But then came India’s slower bowlers: off-spinner Yusuf Pathan and debutant left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. The ‘spin twins’ wove a web around the batsmen, with Yusuf in particular troubling the left-handed Jehan Mubarak; the batsman finally lost his nerve and offered a tame return catch to the elder Pathan.
Chamara Kapugedara gave brief support to his skipper with a nine-ball 16 before becoming Yusuf’s second victim. Dilshan accelerated hard towards the end, with Chamara Silva, also hitting a couple of lusty blows. Sri Lanka finished on 171/4, with the captain scoring his first half-century in T20 internationals, eventually falling for 61.
In reply, India lost Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir early. Southpaws Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh steadied the ship with a 67-run partnership, with both hitting sixes to step up the scoring rate.
But taking a leaf out of his counterpart’s book, Dilshan brought on the slower bowlers, and was rewarded with quick wickets. From a comfortable 81/2, India slumped to 115/7. Leg-spinner Malinga Bandara took three of the five wickets to fall, with Jayasuriya and Mubarak taking the other two.
It was a hopeless situation. India needed another 57 runs for victory, and Sri Lanka looked well and truly on top. Bandara was breathing fire, and there was every chance that the home side might finally secure another win after a nightmarish ODI series.
For all practical purposes – at least for the Indian fans – the match was dead and buried.
India desperately needed a hero. They found not one, but two.
Enter the Pathan brothers. The left-handed Irfan quickly got off the mark, pushing a single off Bandara’s second ball to get his brother on strike. And what followed can only be described as mayhem.
Yusuf smashed the next ball for a glorious boundary over extra cover. Bandara gave the next one some air, around the leg-stump, but the Baroda bomber responded with a massive hit over long-on, and finished the over with a huge six over deep mid-wicket. Those 17 runs changed the course of the game completely.
Suddenly the smiles were back in the Indian dressing room. They weren’t out of it yet.
Dilhara Fernando kept spraying the ball down the leg side as Sri Lanka kept bleeding extras left and right. Unnerved by Yusuf’s ferocious assault, Dilshan dispensed with the slow stuff and brought the dangerous Lasith Malinga back into the attack, hoping to knock over the remaining three wickets quickly. The equation was down to 28 runs from the last three overs.
His move backfired as Irfan joined the party, blasting Malinga for a boundary to take 10 runs off the 18th over. India crossed the 150-run mark in that over, and the Pathans had already added 40 runs in quick time; 18 were now needed from 12 balls.
In the very next over by Fernando, Irfan pulled him for a massive six over deep mid-wicket, followed by a murderous shot between long-off and deep cover that rolled into the fence. In all, they scored 13 runs off the hapless Fernando, taking the score to 167 with one over left.
Malinga took the ball, and Yusuf quickly got off strike, having dug out the yorker outside off. With four runs needed from five balls, it was still anybody’s game. Sri Lanka’s hopes were on the slinger with Irfan on strike. The partnership had crossed 50, and the entire stadium was on its feet, waiting with bated breath.
And then, Malinga did something that would haunt him for a considerable period of time.
He delivered a length ball, on leg stump, to a left-hander. Almost immediately, Irfan swung hard, connecting with the sweet spot on the bat. And the ball took off on its aerial journey, flying higher and higher, until it landed right into the crowd.
The umpire raised his arms, signalling a six. But Irfan didn’t need him, he already knew.
It was over. One moment of stunned silence, then the Indian spectators erupted with joy. Yusuf ran down the pitch to hug his brother and the two did a little victory jig. Dilshan was disconsolate, Malinga shell-shocked.
The Indian dressing room was jubilant as the entire team swarmed on to the ground, engulfing the brothers as they made their way back. It was one of the most thrilling games ever played, and cricket is all the richer for it.
And coincidentally, it was a day of brothers: Mike and David Hussey steered Australia to a win over New Zealand in the fourth ODI of the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.
But the night of February 10, 2009 will remain etched in gold for cricketing eternity. The Pathan household will savour this for generations to come.