As things got really nervy out there in the middle of the ‘Ring of Fire,’ Hardik Pandya gestured to Dinesh Karthik, his partner at the other end, as if to say: ‘Stay calm, I’ve got it covered'.
With six runs needed from three deliveries, Pandya nonchalantly smacked left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz over long-on, to get the job done.
In a high-octane contest, both the arch-rivals provided a match befitting of the occasion in front of a sell-out Sunday crowd at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
It ebbed and flowed before Pandya took matters into his own hands to hand India a five-wicket victory with two deliveries to spare.
In fact, Pandya finished what he had started. The all-rounder was the ideal support act to pace partner Bhuvenshwar Kumar, picking up three wickets, to keep Pakistan down to 147.
Pandya finished unbeaten on a 17-ball 33 that was peppered with four boundaries and a six after Ravindra Jadeja had stroked 35 from 29 balls with two fours and two sixes.
Earlier, Virat Kohli, playing his 100th T20I, weathered the early storm following KL Rahul’s dismissal to conjure some delectable strokes in a 34-ball 35 that had three boundaries and a six.
Opener Rahul, who was returning after almost a nearly three-month layoff due to a sports hernia surgery as well Covid, was done in by a ripping delivery from Naseem Shah, which he played on to his stumps, off the first ball he faced.
Kohli, who earned a reprieve when he was yet to open his account, after Fakhar Zaman dropped a tough chance at third slip, showed flashes of his old brilliance.
He rocked back to dispatch Shahnawaz Dahani for a boundary after which he top edged a short ball from Haris Rauf for a six. Kohli later went on to slash Dahani through the covers for a boundary. Kohli then slapped a short of a length delivery from Rauf to the midwicket boundary.
Rohit, meanwhile, who was playing second fiddle to Kohli, struck left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz for a six.
But the bowler was to have the last laugh as Rohit danced down the track to smack it over mid-off but only managed to miscue it to long-off, where he was gobbled by Iftikhar Ahmed. Rohit and Kohli had put on 49 from 46 deliveries, for the second wicket.
Kohli was shaping up for a big score but it was not to be as he fell in trying to force the pace. Kohli tried to clear Nawaz over long-off but couldn’t as Iftikhar took a simple catch.
The two new batsmen at the crease — Jadeja and Suryakumar Yadav — then came up with a 36-run stand from 31 balls for the third wicket but the latter was castled by a peach of a delivery from Shah. Yadav made a run-a-ball 18.
Earlier, pacer Bhuvneshwar and Pandya struck telling blows as India restricted Pakistan.
Bhuvneshwar snapped up four wickets, while Pandya three as Pakistan mustered 147. It was only through some late order hitting from Dahani and Rauf that they managed that total.
India thought they had opener Mohammad Rizwan off the second ball of the match after pacer Bhuvneshwar rapped the opener on the pads and was given out by the umpire. But Rizwan reviewed it almost immediately and he was proved right as it had height and was missing the stumps.
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam, meanwhile, showed promise with a delicious boundary straight down the ground, off the first ball he faced.
Rizwan was in the firing line again in the opening over after India thought he had got a faint edge, off the last ball of the over. He was given not out by the umpire and Rohit promptly reviewed but the snickometer showed there was no spike.
Azam had shown promise after he came up with another straight-driven boundary off Arsheep Singh. But his stay was cut short by a short ball by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, that grew big on him and he only managed to top edge it to Arshdeep at short fine leg.
Pakistan tried to recover from that early loss with Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman putting on 27 runs from 19 balls for the second wicket. But Zaman departed with Avesh Khan striking in his first over, eliciting an edge which Dinesh Karthik lapped up in his gloves.
Pakistan managed to reach 50 in the seventh over as Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed went about repairing the damage.
The pair helmed 45 from 38 deliveries, the highest partnership of Pakistan’s innings before Pandya tempted Ahmed with a bouncer. Ahmed fell for the bait and only managed to top-edge a hook to Karthik. Ahmed left after making a controlled 28 from 22 balls which had two fours and a six.
After Rizwan became Pandya’s second victim following a brilliant catch by Avesh Khan, the writing was on the wall for Pakistan as wickets fell in a flurry.
India beat Pakistan by 5 wickets
Pakistan: 147 all out in 19.5 overs (Mohammad Rizwan 43, Ifitkhar Ahmed 28, Shahnawaz Dahani 16, Haris Rauf 13 not out, Fakhar Zaman 10, Babar Azam 10, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4-26, Hardik Pandya 3-25)
India: 148-5 in 19.4 overs (Virat Kohli 35, Ravindra Jadeja 35, Hardik Pandya 33 not out, Rohit Sharma 12, Mohammad Nawaz 3-33, Naseem Shah 2-27)
Opener KL Rahul and number four Suryakumar Yadav hit half-centuries for India
Pakistan's bowling attack also features two other express fast bowlers, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain
Captain Rizwan revived the innings after the top-order collapse against Bangladesh
Spinners Aryan Lakra, Aayan Afzal Khan and Karthik Meiyappan impressed for the home team
With their lethal combination of pace and swing, Pakistan's four fast bowlers could breathe fire on the fast and bouncy wickets in Australia
Afghanistan star Naveen, who took 10 wickets in nine appearances last season, joined the selection committee at the draft
The UAE will take on Bangladesh at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Tuesday