Vantage point

Thursday, April 01, 2004


When the 5th day's play started, I wondered if the last wicket would fall without a single run being scored. Because I remember that 5 years ago, 207 was the score on which Kumble got his 10th wicket in Delhi. It was not to be this time and 9 more runs were added. But the first win on Pakistani soil in 52 years finally happened, coincidentally with a margin of an inning and 52 runs.

Like Indian victories in the recent past, this one too has been a team effort. Sure, Sehwag's rapid 309 set up the win, but it was Pathan and Kumble's accuracy, Sachin's relentless genius both with the bat and the ball, Yuvraj's fielding, Chopra's atching, and Dravid's captaincy that helped us cross one more frontier.

Let me tell you what I find the funniest in this whole test. The series was hyped, mainly by the ignorant media, as a duel between Sachin (the batsman) vs Shoaib (the bowler). At the end of this test, notice that Sachin the bowler got Shoaib the batsman out for a duck!! Sachin was bowling with fantastic control. That, combined with Pakistan's traditional weakness against leg spin, meant that even the 4th change bowler was causing problems for them.

Sachin the batsman, through this innings, when combined with his Sydney one, shows signs of growing up. He is no longer the swashbuckler. He does not need to be, in company of people like Sehwag and Laxman. Notice that these two players, with whom he has shared back-to-back 300-plus partneships, have outscored him in those essays. Also notice, that both times, it was the other guy whose dismissal ended the partnership. The reason is that no matter how entertaining Sehwag and Laxman might be, they simply do not have his range nor his technique. Sachin can decide "I ain't getting out!!" and stick to it with a great degree of success. He can cut down the risks and still score at a reasonable pace. 194 off 360 balls is excellent strike rate for a test matches. That he can achieve it despite the curbs he has placed on himself spells doom for the opposition.

Bradman once said that he saw many batsmen who were more talented than him. They just kept getting out. I think Sachin has taken this quote to heart. Others will crib about how rarely he is playing the cover-drive, or how he does not charge the spinners any more. These people should remember that it is the result of the match that eventually matters. Sachin has been playing this was in only 2 tests. But I will stick my neck out and predict that he will keep playing this way. And he will have an extremely prolific 2004. Considering he has scored almost 500 runs already, and considering we have still to go.....2 tests against Pakistan....2 against Bangladesh (only team against which he hasn't scored a 100)....and 4 against Australia, I feel no trepidation predicting that he will cross the unchartered boundaries of "2000 runs in a calendar year" in 2004.

Ganguly will not be there for the next test. Yuvraj's guardian angel is working over time. This test match showed how valuable a player he is. His batting, fielding and bowling were instrumental in this win. Just his presence in the field puts doubts in the batsman's mind. (In the next two tests, just take note of how Inzy will refuse any singles unless they are absolutely safe :)). I think this presents an interesting dilemma for the selectors. Ganguly has not been missed in this test. As a player, Yuvraj outperformed him, and as a captain, Dravid proved to be his equal. One might be tempted to say that let Ganguly stay out.

I would say the jury is still out on this. If we see Dravid captaining the side well, even when ganguly is not there to advice him, then yes, I guess ganguly's test career might be (or should be) in serious threat. We pride ourselves for the Aussielike methods we have adopted. Well, they showed no gratitude for Steve Waugh. We should not for Ganguly either. If he has not been missed, he should not be alowed to walk into the side when he recovers. He can be ODI captain. However let us wait and see Dravid's captaincy sans Ganguly to make this call.

On to the next test now. Waqar Younis, a Lahore boy himself, says the Gaddafi track has been a batting paradise. That was amply evident in the two ODIs as well. However there is talk of Pakistan, under intense criticism from the likes of Imran Khan for preparing a flat pitch at Multan, deciding to have a greentop at Lahore. Now considering that it is traditionally a batting paradise, this presents an interesting scenario. Such pitches can be made paceman-friendly, but they will remain paceman-friendly for only the first 4-5 sessions or so. After that, the sting in the track will be gone. In this hot weather, it may be even sooner. So what will happen is that the dice will be loaded in the favour of the team that bowls first.

So if Inzamam wins the toss, puts India in to bat, and gets us out for a reasonably low score due to a combo of the pitch and the bowlers (like in the Peshawar ODI), he might as well say "Bismilla Rahmaney Raheem Sabse Pehle to Allahtaala ka shukar" after every over. However, if inspite of being put in on a green top, we bat with gumption, like we have done in the past at Headingley and Brisbane, then Pakistan can kiss the series goodbye. On the other hand, if we put them in, then with swing at both ends in the form of Agarkar and Pathan, we can dominate from ball 1. However a lot depends on whether Agarkar strikes his rhythm right away. Even if they bat first and post up a total, the track will have eased out enough for us to reply in kind.

The fact that we just toured Australia before coming to Pakistan is showing. Our bowling line up is mentally prepared to dismiss the Aussie top order. With that sort of preparation, Pakistan, with the exception of Inzamam, proves no threat. We have been able to maintain the level of intensity throughout the whole test. In Australia, we did that with the exception of 1 session in Melbourne.

Speaking of Australia, they just whipped Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka 3-0. It was a convincing performance and they did not show too much respect for the guiles of Murali. This basically silences those critics who said the only reason India dominated the Ozzies in Oz, was that we caught them at he start of their decline. This is hardly a declining team. The only change is Shane Warne, who has never, nor will he ever, perform well against India. The series in India later this year should be more than worth a watch.