<%-- Page Title--%> Sports <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 147 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 2, 2004

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Clash of Titans?


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. India versus Pakistan in the best of five Samsung Cup one-day internationals in Pakistan. Can’t get any better than this for any cricket lover in the sub-continent, can it?

Nearly 8,000 Indian fans travelled by road, rail and air to see India take on Pakistan in the series billed “as the clash of the titans”. Many Indian industrialists like the Ambanis and politicians like Shatrughan Sinha and the Gandhi scions Priyanka and Rahul viewed the thrilling matches “The cheers from the Karachi fans after India won the first match and the standing ovation around the Rawalpindi stadium for Tendulkar when he reached his century brought tears to my eyes. This is what sport is about, this is what India-Pakistan cricket is all about” said an Indian executive who was part of a tour group.

The action was nail biting (Ganguly was often seen chewing his nails on the field) and agonising. The first game in Karachi was probably the most dramatic of all encounters when, after a valiant effort by the Pakistani batsmen, Pakistan required a six off the last ball to win but Moin Khan holed out in the deep. Pakistan coach, Javed Miandad, who had once hit a memorable six off the last ball in Sharjah to win the final against India, tried his best to give instructions from the dressing room for that elusive six. “You can’t get a six off the last ball every time,” he said later. But there were many Pakistani supporters who felt that Miandad was the only one who could have hit that sixer and clinched the game. An Indian fan, who was a heart patient, couldn’t take the heat and succumbed to a fatal attack just before the last over began. Another supporter committed suicide after India lost to Pakistan in the second one-dayer.

Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, nicknamed the Rawalpindi Express for his lightning pace, seemed to have derailed some time back. The latest example of his arrogance came in an interview last year when he exclaimed, “Imagine if I was playing for Australia with Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie softening them up, then I come on, I’d have got more wickets than anyone ever, mate. Here in Pakistan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis are in decline. They were great but they are not match-winning bowlers any more. So I have to make it all happen on my own.”

With a limited bowling attack that was missing four injured frontline bowlers, the Indians were able to dislodge time and again the top Pakistani batsmen. With the Indian team trailing 1-2 in the five-match series, Sourav Ganguly was critical of his bowlers: “The bowlers we have here have failed to get their act together. Where are the bouncers and yorkers to unsettle the batsmen” Indian coach, John Wright, was more confident, “Pakistan surely have the advantage but we can’t just lose hope.”

While Pakistani captain, Inzimamul Haq continued to insist that Shoaib was in a different league compared to the Indian bowlers, Sourav Ganguly hit the nail on the head. Questioned about the speed gun factor (the lack of a bowler of express speed like Shoaib Akhtar) he said that speed guns do not matter, it is line and length that matters. The ferocious Pakistan pace attack turned toothless thanks to the great number of wides and no-balls that were conceded. By the last game, the number of extras against India had gone down but then the batting came apart at the seams. The dew factor, which was going to hamper the bowling side after 20 overs, came into effect as predicted but by then there were hardly any wickets left to exploit the conditions.

India’s dismal record in tournament finals-- losing four one-day tournament finals in a row-- meant that were out to prove a point in the final at Lahore. They played beautifully and blended as a team in all departments of the game. Their highly professional approach was in stark contrast to their opponents’ haphazard display. Observers and cricket pundits were left aghast at the dismal performance of the Pakistani team. Former captain, Imran Khan, put it succinctly, “the batting was brainless and reckless.” Instead of digging in for a long innings, the batsmen seemed in a great hurry to reach the pavilion and played an array of shots that baffled all cricket lovers. The series has been dogged by allegations of betting and fixed matches and this kind of pathetic display gives credence to such rumours.

Mercurial, talented, unpredictable, temperamental, indecisive, unfit, lazy, defensive, lacking motivation, the Pakistan team has often appeared to be a bunch of players lacking in team spirit. Each individual seems to be playing more for himself than for his team and the cracks within the team and management are visible once too often. There are many disappointed fans who feel that it is time to replace the national team with the Under-19 team who played so well in Dhaka to clinch the ICC trophy. They have that fire in the belly which is such an intrinsic part of all winning teams.


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