A 100 things go right for Inzamam

There is the usual pre-match buzz at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. The press box is filling up, the players are winding up their training sessions, and the television crew is busy with mock runs of the toss presentation.

S. DINAKAR

Inzamam-ul-Haq was felicitated on his 100th Test. The Pakistan Cricket Board chief, Shahryar Khan, is on the right.-V. GANESAN

MARCH 24: Day One: There is the usual pre-match buzz at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. The press box is filling up, the players are winding up their training sessions, and the television crew is busy with mock runs of the toss presentation. This is also a very special day when Inzamam-ul-Haq will step in for his 100th Test match and the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) is ready with a felicitation function. Every new Test is like opening a box of surprises and this key match is no different. Minutes tick by and finally the crowd roars as Sourav Ganguly and Inzamam-ul-Haq appear. Inzamam walks past Shaharyar Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, who is quick with his thumbs-up sign to the Pakistan skipper. Ganguly has won the last two tosses. Will the law of averages catch up with him? There is considerable attention on the spin of the coin. The captain who gets it right will have a chance to dictate the course of the game on a pitch that will increasingly assist the spinners. The television cameras turn to Inzamam first and we know that Pakistan would bat first. John Wright, even as he strides towards the pavilion, has an eye on the toss. In what could be his last Test as India's coach, he knows his team has a fight on its hands. Soon, Inzamam, with both sides lining up, is honoured for his 100-Test achievement. At the press conference a day before, he had appeared relaxed and comfortable despite the pressures of his side facing a must-win situation. When someone asked him about his unlucky streak with the toss, he had quipped, "Now all of you will accuse me of losing tosses also!" The Test gets underway, the Pakistan captain quickly finds himself in the thick of things. He conjures up an extraordinary hundred — the burly man has a delicate sense of timing. Inzy is the Big Easy of international cricket.

The legendary Pakistani cheerleader, Abdul Jalil, also known as `Chacha Pakistani' (Pakistani Uncle), waves the Indian and the Pakistani flags as Indian supporters reach out to shake his hand.-

March 25: Day two: The press box in Bangalore is an open enclosure right in the middle of the crowd. The view is excellent and one can get a real feel of the atmosphere. On the flip side, concentrating amid the noise and the din can be hard. Bangalore is the last among the major Test centres when it comes to an open-air arrangement for the media. Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, which resisted for long before finally falling in line in 2003, and Mohali all have enclosed media boxes where the laptops are protected from the dust as well. The foreign journalists relish the proximity to the crowd though. "This is a live audience", one of them says even as the crowd breaks into a Mexican wave. Bangalore is also a centre where everyone, from the spectators to the journalists, is close to the happenings on the ground. At a huge arena like the Eden Gardens, the cricketers can appear much smaller and the action more distant. There are also over 500 Pakistani visitors in the crowd, and leading the pack is Abdul Jalil, the legendary Pakistani cheerleader from Sialkot. The 57-year-old man, now symbolic with the travelling Pakistani team, is passionate about the friendship between the two countries. "I want Pakistan to win, but above all I want to see and appreciate good cricket from both teams," says the man who has witnessed more than 350 Tests. His energy levels are quite astonishing. And the throbbing beats of a music band get him to break into a little dance of his own. Pakistan builds up a huge first innings score, Younis Khan goes from strength to strength, and the famous `Chacha' is a delighted man.

March 26: Day three: A television generated romance is flashed on the big screen. A young lady in the audience is in love with Zaheer Khan, at least so says her little placard, and the paceman blows a kiss towards the 19-year-old Noor Hussain. The Garden City crowd laps it up. Zaheer is among the reserves for this game, but his spirits are lifted, for the time being at least. The giant screen, recently installed here at the cost of Rs. 2 crores, is a big hit with the spectators. Rather wisely, the replays of the controversial dismissals are not shown since this can result in crowd violence. This is a day when Virender Sehwag produces the huge blows and the crowd waltzes. These entertainers have a symbiotic relationship with the spectators. V. V. S. Laxman gets to his fifty as well. In an interesting conversation before the Test, the Hyderabad batsman had dwelled on his cameo on the fourth day in Kolkata where he went out to bat with a swelling around his left eye. "I couldn't see anything with my left eye. It was all hazy. I also realised what a tremendous batsman Tiger Pataudi was, batting with just one eye for most part of his career," he said. In his moment of pain, he had discovered the greatness of another man.

Seems like old times as legendary spinners Erapalli Prasanna and Bishan Singh Bedi meet.-

March 27: Day four: He has eyes that still laugh. Erapalli Prasanna, that great match-winner of the era gone by, enters the press box. The former Indian off-spinner speaks about the controversial doosra, a delivery he says he bowled in his days although the ball did not have a fancy name then. Make no mistake, this man is a genius. Give him a cricket ball even now, and he will make it hiss in the air. The KSCA decides to honour India's three great cricketing sons — Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid — for their outstanding achievements. Interestingly, the Anil Kumble Circle is just a stone's throw away on the M.G. Road. Meanwhile, the Test is hotting up. The final day could be dramatic.

The KSCA honoured Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble. The Karnataka Chief Minister, N. Dharam Singh (extreme right), gave away the trophies.-K. MURALI KUMAR

March 28. Day Five: On a long, hot and seemingly endless Monday, the series ends. In a gripping finish, and amid excruciating tension, Pakistan scores a facile win. During the tea break, PCB chief Shaharyar Khan meets the media. He is an erudite former diplomat and a lover of the game who is keen on more `people to people contact' between the Indians and the Pakistanis. He is also hugely enjoying his stay in the country. In Pakistan, a year back, he was quite the perfect host. It is now the turn of the Indian Board to reciprocate. Despite the excitement of the contest, he is calm and collected. Minutes before the break, Tendulkar had just been reprieved and the Pakistani media contingent has serious doubts about Inzamam's men pulling off a win. The evening ends with the Pakistan captain and his men dancing for joy. This is a day when Pakistan cannot be denied. This is also another forgettable day in the office for Sourav Ganguly. A section of the crowd does itself no credit though by booing the Indian captain during the prize-distribution ceremony. There will be ups and downs in a sportsman's career. It's called the cycle of life.