October 18, 2006

Surprising Win? Not Really

October 18, 2006 Posted by Vijay 5 comments
What may have been a surprise for many wasn’t so for me. Pakistan won the match against Sri Lanka in the Champions’ Trophy at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. Pakistan, embroiled in a spate of controversies which began with the Oval Test fiasco and has reached a new nadir in the form of the doping scandal on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, struck back in the best possible way, by winning an all important game against the Lankan Tigers, whose 11 match winning streak was brought to an end yesterday.

For me, watching the Pakistan team has always been an enigma. As is the case for any cricket lover. You never know what they will be upto. They can get beaten hopelessly one day, but when they win, they do so, so convincingly, that they leave the opposition shocked and even hurt. They are capable of anything, and I always love watching them. My dad and my cousin always criticize me and say, that I always support the Pakistan team. Not really. It’s more about fascination than support. The amount of talent they have is unbelievable. They have bowlers for all conditions, spin, pace, medium pace, and have batsmen for all conditions too. Inzamam (when in the team), Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf as the pillars for the other strikers of the ball to come in and shake the opposition. Quality all rounders in Razzaq and Kamran Akmal. And to think that Salman Butt and Taufeeq Umar are not part of the team speaks for their talent pool. Whenever the Pakistanis struggle, it almost seems a problem of plenty, than dearth of talent.

Pakistan’s problems began with the ball tampering allegations and the subsequent refusal of Inzamam to take the field in the fourth and last Test match against England at the Oval. After a recent hearing where Inzamam was cleared of the ball tampering charges, he still banned for four ODI games for having brought the game of cricket into disrepute by refusing to take the field of play on the fourth day of the test match. Incidentally, Pakistan were in a commanding position in that match. So Inzamam had to be left out of the Champions’ Trophy fixture. So now, who would lead the Pakistani team? Of course the Vice Captain, Younis Khan. But controversies and Pakistan have an affinity, which even the staunchest of lovers would envy. Younis Khan declined the captaincy job, saying he did not want to be a dummy skipper and would not lead the team. Apparently, he wasn’t happy with the team selection.

That wasn’t all. Shaharyar Khan the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chief, who all the way supported Inzamam’s decisions during the Oval test controversy, stepped down just a day later. The drama of the Oval test and of Younis Khan refusing the captaincy, forced the decision. Now when the new PCB chief took over, Younis was fine with being a dummy skipper to lead Pakistan in the Champions’ Trophy. Pakistan cricket had witnessed another controversy, quite unnecessitated this time.

More was to come, when the doping bomb exploded right under the feet of the Pakistani cricketers. Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif tested positive for a banned performance enhancing drug. This, on the eve of the all important opening encounter against the resurgent Lankans. Pakistan and the entire cricket world were in a state of shock. It was a case of “Oh not again, Pakistan”. Shoaib and Asif were sent back to Pakistan, and could well be facing a ban of 2 years or even a life ban.

The Pakistan team, having had such a torrid time, could not have done more dismally on field in the game. They went into yesterday’s match, in a sense as if there was nothing to lose for them. Sri Lanka won the toss, and after a marauding Jayasuriya was dismissed by Iftikhar Anjum, the Lankans somehow lost the plot. All the main batsmen got starts of 20’s and 30’s but never kicked on. On a very decent pitch, the spinners of the Pakistan team contained the Lankans to a not too impressive 254. But it was not going to be an easy task to overhaul it, considering the fact that all the matches in the tournament had been low scoring ones and the sides batting second had always struggled. But, for team batting second, the dew factor would come of great help, especially if the opposition has their main bowlers in the form of spinners who would find it hard to grip the ball. Pakistan’s response was resounding. In both aggression and intent. They went on the field to prove a point. They were given a good start by Hafeez and Imran Farhat. There were a lot of bold shots played, especially by Farhat. But, the Lankans having had 11 consecutive victories, and with Pakistan in a state of turmoil off field, no one was willing to back the Pakistan team. Pakistan team bats deep, and has quality all rounders, and bowlers for all conditions. Abdul Razzaq was at his devastating best as he hammered a six to finish off the game emphatically for the Pakistanis.

Muralitharan’s stranglehold was especially vital for Pakistan to get rid of. This was done in supreme style by Shoaib Malik who stepped down the track and picked the stock delivery of Murali, and dispatched him high and handsome over the stands for a huge six. Murali for once got really shaken, and was mumbling away at Malik, even as his overs got over very soon. Razzaq was in a hurry to finish off the game. Although it seemed that Malik and Razzaq were taking far too many risks, it was obvious that the Pakistanis wanted to prove a point and how well they did it. They won the match by 4 wickets and Razzaq was deservedly awarded the man of the match.

It’s not surprising to see Pakistan play so well even after the spate of controversies. It is almost like a habit that the sub continental teams have in common. When they are performing well below par, due to players’ or issues off the field, they come back as roaring tigers and play some unbelievable cricket. India too, was in the middle of a huge controversy when Ganguly was dumped as captain and player last year after the series in Zimbabwe. India as a team had been faring very poorly, and had seen a series loss to Pakistan 4-2, at home. They were beaten convincingly by the Lankans in a tri series in Sri Lanka, and looked woefully out of form against an in form Kiwi side in Zimbabwe.

But the Indian team, which now had a new captain in Rahul Dravid, was unstoppable against the touring Lankans (ODI rank 3rd at that time) who were firm favorites to win the one day series. India handed out a thrashing to the hapless Lankans and humiliated the 3rd ranked team 6-1 in a lopsided one day series which saw the emergence of Dhoni as a dangerous batsman. This, just 2 months after the whole Ganguly controversy, which was capturing headlines all over. India went on to complete the humiliation of the Lankans by winning the test series also, 2-0, with services from the ever reliable Kumble. India in fact went on to register 17 consecutive wins during that time, chasing down targets. Astonishing for a side, which has been rated poor for chasing targets. And here was a resurgent India, chasing down targets of 260 and more, not only comfortably, but very convincingly too. India thrashed the Pakistani team in the ODIs 4-1, and then the English team at home 5-1, before a reversal of fortunes in the Carribean, where they were given a taste of their own medicine going down 4-1 in the ODI series there.

The Lankans, who were humiliated, now had a blessing in disguise in the form of Mahela Jayawardena, who stormed back from another disappointment against the Pakistanis at home, by whitewashing the English 5-0 in England and another set of convincing wins in the Champions’ Trophy before they were stopped in their tracks by Pakistan yesterday. Pakistan, who had a miserable run in the 1992 world cup edition, came out from the jaws of elimination, to win the world cup.

Everytime these teams have been cornered or completely written off, due to issues off field or on field, they have bounced back, and that too in convincing fashion. So it wasn’t really a surprise for me when the Pakistan team won against the Lankans so convincingly yesterday. It’s like when there is a calamity, it brings out the best in everyone. That seems to be the formula which the Pakistan team and the sub continental teams seem to have in such tumultuous situations.

It is imperative to note that, being the cornered tigers, Pakistan can be extremely dangerous. They are one team who can match the Aussies man for man, and give the Aussies a real torrid time. The treatment meted out to Sri Lanka should be a warning signal for all the teams in the competition. Pakistan team is on fire. It would be a thriller if Pakistan were to meet India in the semis or the Finals. That would be a real cracker of a match.


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