A path-breaking series

Man of the Series Virender Sehwag, Man of the Match Rahul Dravid and captain Sourav Ganguly with the Samsung Cup. — Pic. REUTERS-

History may have been made by India, but let the achievement not cloud our perspective, for the team has to keep working hard in times to come, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

IT was a landmark tour for many reasons, some cricketing, and some others — not with Indian fans waving the tricolour in arenas across Pakistan an unforgettable image etched for posterity.

If India won the Test and the one-day series, its first ever on Pakistan soil, it was not only a reaffirmation of the progress made by Sourav Ganguly and his men in recent times but also a shocking statement on the decline of Inzamam-ul-Haq's army.

Whether or not it actually brought the people of the two nations together, the series did highlight their cricket.

The intensity of the one-day series was clearly missing in the Test matches. The fizz went out with the one-dayers, leaving the Test matches totally flat. The poor response from the spectators only underlined their lack of faith in the home team and the 2-1 result was just about a fair indication of India's domination.

The pundits had projected the series as a battle between a very good pace attack and an in-form and experienced batting line-up. But the quality of the contests was never high. Pakistan succumbed tamely.

The inconsistency of the players of both teams, not to forget the umpires, highlighted the first two Tests before India returned to flatten the opposition in the decider with a fabulous batting show, backed by incisive bowling. It certainly helped India that it took the lead in the Test series, just as it had against Australia.

Imran Khan bemoaned the lack of a proper cricket structure in his country even as Pakistan's decline showed an alarming trend. It was unfortunate that it lost key players to injuries at various stages of the Test series, but nothing should take away the credit from the inspired Indians, who also arrived in Pakistan with an attack that was inexperienced, with the glorious exception of Anil Kumble.

India was bound to draw its strength from the splendid form shown by the batsmen. Of course, one must not forget the inexperience factor that affected the Pakistan attack. In batting Pakistan could bank only on Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf Youhana but India did not have such worries in its ranks.

There was no doubt that pressure got to the Pakistani youngsters more than the Indians. The Pakistanis, especially their batsmen, failed to cope with the hype the series generated. It was thus highly commendable that new comers such as L. Balaji, Irfan Khan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh adapted so wonderfully to serve the Indian team with distinction.

It helped India that its batting clicked for the second series in succession. Led by the explosive Virender Sehwag and the reliable Rahul Dravid, the Indian batting shut Pakistan out in the first and then the final Test to make history. What stronger teams in the past had failed to achieve was accomplished by this bunch of ambitious Indians.

What went wrong? Inzamam-ul-Haq in a pensive mood at the presentation ceremony. — Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

On the one occasion that the Indian batting failed, the match was lost comprehensively at Lahore. The hard work that Shoaib Akhtar put in was not matched by the inconsistent Mohammad Sami. And then, the injuries to Umar Gul and Shabbir Ahmed left the home attack depleted. A further blow was the poor form of off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, who had been primarily drafted in to lend experience.

It must be documented here that the Indians were scoring a series victory overseas for the first time in 11 years, the last one coming in Sri Lanka, and significantly with just one spinner — Kumble — in the attack. It speaks for the immense faith the team management had in its medium-pacers, even if they fielded a new combination in every match.

Pakistan had little to gain from the series. In fact, it ended up flat on its face after the unwise pre-series announcements by coach Javed Miandad. Introspection will certainly leave Pakistan shattered. Its bowling just did not live up to the expectations. Where was the much-talked about reverse swing Miandad wanted to unleash?

In comparison, India finished with reputation enhanced. The vision document on Indian cricket looked rosy at the end of the series, what with Balaji and Pathan confirming their promise.

The find of the tour was Balaji, who won hearts on and off the field with his excellent demeanour. He has surely arrived. Come to think of it, Balaji got into the team only because Avishkar Salvi, the original choice for the tour to Australia, was ruled out because of an injury.

What should one say of Pathan! He improved as the series progressed and demonstrated his potential of serving the team long, if handled properly. It must be mentioned that Balaji and Pathan can be groomed for the one-dayers since both can bat a bit and have the right attitude.

Dravid stood out in his role as captain in the first Test, making some innovative changes and supporting his bowlers with the field of their choice. When the pressure of captaincy was off, he responded with a defining knock in the final Test. Dravid's monumental effort at Rawalpindi was in stark contrast to the blazing show by Sehwag at Multan, both, however, having enjoyed a huge slice of luck. The triple century was a package of highlights as Sehwag set the tempo for the series by smashing 228 on the opening day. Pakistan never really recovered from those blows.

If there was a jarring note in the Indian camp, it was the continuing tinkering with the opening pair. An ungrateful team management dumped Akash Chopra in favour of an untried Yuvraj in that position. That Parthiv Patel, regardless of his success, ultimately assumed the role reflected poorly on the team management's overall thinking. The declaration episode, leaving Sachin Tendulkar stranded at 194, was in poor taste. If anything, it will ensure the master increases his scoring pace when nearing a double century next time.

This, however, cannot be the greatest Indian team ever. For that, it will have to conquer Australia and South Africa.

This Pakistan combination, a mere shadow of its old self, was one of the weakest for a long time. History may have been made by India, but let the achievement not cloud our perspective, for the team has to keep working hard in times to come.