A colourful history of thrills

IT was a Dream within a Dream. A Perfect 10 at the Feroze Shah Kotla ('99) and leg-spinner Anil Kumble was living out a childhood fantasy.

S. DINAKAR

That's Anil Kumble's 10th wicket of the innings against Pakistan in the Delhi Test '99. Wasim Akram, the victim, is being caught by V. V. S. Laxman. — Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

IT was a Dream within a Dream. A Perfect 10 at the Feroze Shah Kotla ('99) and leg-spinner Anil Kumble was living out a childhood fantasy.

The young man wiped sweat off his brow and began his long, rhythmic run-up in the dusty Faisalabad stadium ('78). Kapil Dev Nikhanj's remarkable journey in the world of international cricket had begun.

With glasses on, he appeared more like a professor than a batsman extraordinaire. However, he could do magic with the willow. Prolific and wristy, Zaheer Abbas was India's nemesis ('78 & '82-'83).

The ball turned viciously and bounced on a minefield of a pitch in Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium ('87). Yet, here was a supreme craftsman who was middling every delivery. In his final Test innings for his country, Sunil Gavaskar had carved out a masterpiece.

The handsome Pathan was in a mean mood all right, achieving wicked swing, knocking down stumps, finding the edges. Imran Khan was as deadly as they come during the 1982-83 series in Pakistan.

A boy in a man's world. But then, he was a rather special lad. He would spill blood on the surface, take blows on his body from the quicks, but would not give his wicket away. The 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was taking his first few steps in international cricket ('89), in Pakistan. He would go on to... .

A humdinger with a sensational climax. It was the last ball of a gripping final at Sharjah ('86), four runs were required, and Javed Miandad faced Chetan Sharma. The full toss soared over the mid-wicket fence, and Pakistan was a different side from then on.

Cricket knows no boundaries, no barriers. The Chennai crowd provided a standing ovation to the Pakistanis after Wasim Akram's men had pulled off a last gasp victory in '99. An unforgettable vignette from India-Pakistan clashes.

The Pakistanis were being blitzed at the biggest stage of them all, Tendulkar unleashing strokes of thunder in the World Cup clash at the Centurion (2003). The cricketing world watched in awe even as a nation celebrated.

It is one of the great rivalries. India versus Pakistan, a high-octane ride where the emotions run high, and the demands mentally are huge. Those who survive here, are those who will keep head above water on the international stage.

Indeed, it has been quite a journey since India faced off with Pakistan in Feroze Shah Kotla, 1952-53. It was also a Test where that phenomenal all-rounder Vinoo Mankad spun a web around the Pakistanis with his left-arm spin, with a 13-wicket match haul. In its first official Test, Pakistan had been defeated by an innings and 70 runs.

However, Pakistan levelled the series at Lucknow, the next Test, with that master seam bowler Fazal Mahmood scalping 13 batsmen in the match, as India went down by an innings and 43 runs.

That then was the beginning of the story, which after two dull, drab, and defensive-minded series in 1954-55 and 1960-61, resumed in Pakistan in 1978-79. Cricketing relations between the two neighbours had resumed after 17 years, a period of much mistrust and acrimony on the political front, and the Indians were accorded a warm welcome.

Bishan Singh Bedi, left-arm spinning legend, was the skipper of the Indian side, while Mushtaq Mohammad, the all-rounder, led Pakistan.

There was no dearth of drama in the three-Test series, played with much passion and pride. After a drawn first Test at Faisalabad where debutant Kapil Dev impressed with his lively pace, the wristy Gundappa Visvanath conjured a strokeful hundred and Zaheer Abbas signalled his intentions with knocks of 176 and 96, the cricket caravan travelled to Lahore for the second Test.

Pakistan, after a post-tea run chase on the final day, clinched this Test by eight wickets. The game had some wonderful moments; Zaheer Abbas' brilliant 235, a determined opening stand between Gavaskar and a dogged Chetan Chauhan when everything appeared lost for India and Visvanath's silken touch.

However, Imran's pace and Sarfraz Nawaz's cunning gave Pakistan a winning chance and the home team batsmen requiring 126 runs in 100 minutes knocked off the runs in style.

The final Test in Karachi will be remembered for Gavaskar's tremendous knocks of 111 and 137. He countered the magnificent pace pair of Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz, ticked off sessions, concentrated hard, displayed a water-tight technique and carried a mountain of responsibility on his shoulders.

Pakistan eventually scored an eight-wicket win after Javed Miandad, who had scripted a hundred in the first essay, and Asif Iqbal, running exceptionally between the wickets, fashioned a tremendous run-chase in the climactic stages.

Zaheer Abbas ended with 583 runs in three Tests at a phenomenal average of 194.33 and the series witnessed the decline of the legendary Indian spin trio of Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekar, who found the going tough against a bunch of Pakistani batsmen who used their feet and wrists to fine effect.

Though Bedi's side lost, that was a watershed series in Indian cricketing history. The country finally emerged out of a phase when it depended completely on spin with the emergence of Kapil Dev. The Haryana Hurricane bowled at a lively pace, apart from batting in a natural, free-spirited manner. A star all-rounder was born.

When Asif Iqbal's star-studded side visited India in 1979-80, it was in for a rude shock. Just about everyone expected India to struggle against an outfit of tremendous talent and class, instead it was the Pakistanis who crumbled under the weight of expectations. Pakistan went down by 131 runs in the Bombay Test where swing bowler Roger Binny struck vital blows dismissing Zaheer and Miandad cheaply in the first innings.

Then, it was all India in the Madras Test, where skipper Gavakar made a masterly 166 and Kapil Dev turned in a match-winning all-round display, with 11 wickets in the Test, and a rollicking 84. India romped home by ten wickets and a famous series was won.

It was Pakistan's turn to dominate in 1982-83. Imran, who had matured from being a tearaway to a complete fast bowler, imposed himself on the series with 40 wickets, and Zaheer, Miandad and that determined opener Mudassar Nazar rattled up tons of runs. For India, comeback man Mohinder Amarnath had an outstanding series, standing firm against the fiery Imran and the clever Sarfraz.

The next two series in the 80s were drawn with Mohinder Amarnath's century of great resolve and character in Lahore (1984), his city of destiny, rescuing India when defeat appeared certain, standing out.

We then had Imran men's touring India again in 1986-87, a series where Gavaskar took a major step forward in cricketing history by becoming the first batsman to cross 10,000 Test runs, a feat which the little big man achieved in Ahmedabad.

The otherwise drab series came alive during the last Test in Bangalore where the Pakistani spinners, Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed, bowled their side to a 17-run victory on a treacherous track. India lost at the business end of the series, but the final Test and the series were made immortal by Gavaskar's 96, his last Test effort.

Imran'a big dream of conquering India in India was realised. A great leader of men, he had managed to extract the best out of the youngsters.

In 1989-90, when Krishnamachari Srikkanth captained an inexperienced side, that included a 16-year-old prodigy from Mumbai, many backed the Imran Khan-led side to canter home. The Indians sprang a surprise though, battling tenaciously, and, under difficult conditions, drawing all four Tests.

Sanjay Manjrekar, technically accomplished and composed, proved hard to dislodge in the series, the highlight being his epic 218 in Lahore. And Tendulkar provided more than a glimpse of his awesome potential. It was also a series where two neutral umpires stood for the first time in international cricket.

Then, after a lengthy gap, when Pakistan toured India in '99, we witnessed a nerve-wracking match in Chennai, that had all the ingredients of a classic Test. India, inspired by Sachin Tendulkar, who withstood a serious back injury to take India to the doorstep of victory, lost its way in the final stages.

Wasim Akram, that exceptional left-arm paceman and off-spin wizard Saqlain Mushtaq managed to pull the rug from under India's feet. However, Tendulkar's 136 will have to go down as one of the great knocks in Test cricket.

It was Kumble's turn to attain cricketing immortality in the next Test at the Feroze Shah Kotla, where he became only the second bowler in Test history — England's Jim Laker being the other _ to claim all 10 wickets in an innings. And India levelled the two-Test series.

In the Asian Championship Test that followed soon in Kolkata, young fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar fired Pakistan to a hard-fought victory. However, Indian paceman Javagal Srinath, with a match-haul of 13 wickets, and Pakistani opener Saeed Anwar, who made a near double century, played major roles for their sides in the Test.

In the limited overs arena, India has four successive wins over the Pakistanis in the World Cup, including the high-voltage quarterfinal clash in Bangalore — remember the Aamir Sohail — Venkatesh Prasad confrontation? — and the recent duel at the Centurion where Tendulkar whipped up magic. India, captained impressively by Gavaskar, also got the better of Pakistan in the decisive duel of the World Championship of Cricket (WCC) tournament down under in '85. It was a prestigious one-off event.

Sharjah has witnessed some extraordinary contests including India's stunning defence of 127 in '85, Pakistan being bundled out for 87. In '86 arrived the Australasia Cup where Miandad delivered a body blow to Indian morale and confidence.

That defeat would go on to haunt India for years as Pakistan established a stranglehold in Sharjah. However, India gradually overcame the Pakistan bogey in tournaments other than the World Cup, too.

India clinched the Sahara Trophy in Toronto subduing Pakistan, and in the Independence Cup in Dhaka in 2000, India lifted the trophy after pursuing 316 in the final, then the highest winning score on the chase in limited overs cricket.

Even in essentially a cricketing piece, it would be unfair to ignore hockey, for this game too has a place in the consciousness of Indian sports fans.

Gentle's short corner that sunk Pakistan in the final of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics forms one of the golden moments of Indian sports. This triumph united the nation as one.

Four years later in Rome, Pakistan would have its revenge, thanks to a stunning strike by Nassen Bunda. India was, at last, floored in a hockey final.

In the Kuala Lumpur World Cup in '75, the Ajitpal Singh led Indians, the skilful Ashok Kumar and the more direct Govinda among them, quelled the Pakistani challenge 2-1 in the summit clash. At that point of time, hockey was perhaps, as big as cricket in the country.

However, the disaster at Montreal followed and India has still not recovered from the slump that began then. Pakistan's hockey held its own, even on astro-turf, but the Indians struggled to adapt.

Yet, even in the worst of times for Indian hockey, an India-Pakistan encounter was a big draw, for the sheer display of skills, for those dazzling dribbles and intoxicating moves that could create a goal out of nothing.

From the late 70s till the mid-80s, Pakistan had one of its strongest sides with a sizzling forward line of Islahuddin, Samiullah, Manjur jr., Hanif, Kaleelullah and Hasan Sardar.

Perhaps the most gifted of them all was Shahnaz Sheik, who made it a habit to slice open defences, such was his anticipation, speed and control over the ball. If Pakistan had some outstanding forwards, it also possessed a mercurial centre-half in Akhtar Rasool. Indeed, one of the highlights of the India-Pakistan battles was the duel between Rasool and Ajit Pal, two men of great vision in the middle of the field.

In the 80s, India developed an attacking combination - Zafar Iqbal, Mohammed Shahid and Mervvn Fernandes - that is yet to be matched. However, success continued to elude the side.

Over the last 15 years, some fine players have worn the Indian shirt like Pargat Singh, a defender who could make inroads himself, and Jagbir Singh, arguably the best poacher India has possessed over the last 25 years, and Mukesh Kumar, a winger with a hot pair of heels.

Things are looking up for Indian hockey, even as Pakistan appears to have gone off the boil. The current Indian side, a vibrant one, revolving around the dash and flair of the experienced Dhanraj Pillay, has begun to defeat Pakistan on a regular basis. The true test would, however, come in the mega events - World Cup and the Olympics.

India vs Pakistan... it's a match-up made in heaven. There will be moments of great joy and much anguish, heroes would emerge, others might lose out. The duel between these two great nations must survive. That would be the big test and the challenge.