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
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.