Great memories of razor-sharp contests

THE India-Pakistan matches always have an extra edge to them. As cricketers we could feel it. There was a distinct additional pressure to perform.

K. SRIKKANTH

Sunil Gavaskar, the master technician, made it a habit of excelling against Pakistan. — Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY-

THE India-Pakistan matches always have an extra edge to them. As cricketers we could feel it. There was a distinct additional pressure to perform.

This is one of the great rivalries in cricket. A stage on which everyone wants to excel.

Yet, is this the right time for the resumption of cricketing ties between the two countries? If the matches were to be held in either of the two countries, then security must be given top priority. That is one aspect that cannot be compromised at any cost. This holds true even for a neutral venue.

I remember when I led the Indian side to Pakistan in '89, which incidentally was the last occasion when we toured that country, an ugly incident during the Karachi Test made the headlines.

It happened when India was fielding. All of a sudden a man ran on to the field, and he charged towards Kapil Dev. At first I thought he was a fan of Kapil. Then, Kapil moved a few steps back, and it was then that I realised that something was wrong.

The man shouted words of abuse at Kapil and he then turned his attention on me. These kinds of situations are dangerous. What if the person concerned had carried a knife?

He appeared fanatical and it was a situation that could have been avoided. It is here that we have to be careful. There can be no compromises.

The cricketers should not be put under any kind of risk. Just imagine what would happen in India if anything were to happen to Sachin Tendulkar! Instead of strengthening relations, things would take a turn for the worse.

On that tour of Pakistan, the ODI in Karachi had to be abandoned because of crowd trouble. India was doing extremely well in the contest after the pacemen had made early inroads into the Pakistan line-up.

The Indian team was disappointed for this was a fine opportunity for us to beat Pakistan in Pakistan. Lack of proper security at the venue had deprived us of the chance.

Things have been looking up in the relations between the two countries. However, we should not get carried away and must concentrate on precautionary measures.

If the players feel safe to display their skills, I am sure India-Pakistan matches will throw up high-quality cricket. This is a duel that can be emotionally draining on the players but manage to get the best out of them.

While lesser names have been inspired to come up with some sensational performances, the legends often revelled in such contests. Sunil Gavaskar, the master technician, made it a habit of excelling against Pakistan, while Javed Miandad would get charged up during these encounters. Some of Miandad's best performances have surfaced against India.

Kapil Dev and Imran Khan were involved in some stirring duels and that indeed was the era of the great all-rounders. Those memories have stayed with me.

The expectations are often so high when India takes on Pakistan. I recall when we travelled to Sharjah in the 80s, there would be any number of supporters who would tell us — "You have to win the game on Friday.'' The India-Pakistan matches invariably took place on Friday in Sharjah.

These were high-pressure matches with the crowd getting right behind the team they were backing. The cricketers would be aware too that countless fans back home would be following the contest and the stakes would invariably be very high.

I remember my first tour to Pakistan in 1982-83. It was a series where Imran Khan achieved remarkable success, getting the ball to swing big.

Though India lost the campaign, that tour, at least from the point of view of the crowd, was a lot more pleasant than the subsequent one in '89. The spectators, some sections of them, did appreciate good cricket from us.

That was a series where India was up against a very good Pakistani side, and our task was made considerably harder because Imran Khan managed to swing the ball prodigiously.

In the mid-80s, when Pakistan toured India, I scored a hundred against Imran Khan and Wasim Akram at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, before my home crowd, and that was easily one of my most memorable knocks.

That series, however, ended on a disappointing note for us, with India losing to Pakistan in the final and decisive Test of the series in a thriller in Bangalore. That was a minefield of a wicket, and Sunil Gavaskar ended his Test career with a masterpiece.

Then, yours truly was named the captain of the Indian side for the 1989 tour of Pakistan. I had a young and inexperienced side under my command and it was a challenge.

There was trouble before the tour commenced with a dispute between the senior members of the side and the Board over gradation of payments to the cricketers. There were doubts whether the team would be able to focus on the job in a gruelling campaign. I am happy to say here that the Indian side exceeded expectations.

The youngsters in the squad responded magnificently to the demands of the situation and we managed to draw all four Tests, which, considering the odds against us, was a tremendous achievement. Before the series, there were talks of a 3-0 or 2-0 result in favour of Pakistan.

Imran Khan tried every trick in the book, and the Pakistani attack had Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, who were both young and hungry. I must add here that Sanjay Manjrekar batted in an outstanding fashion in that series.

Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut on that tour, and the manner in which the boy of just 16 adjusted himself mentally to the demands of international cricket was remarkable. We knew then that Tendulkar would go on to become a superstar.

We played well as a unit on that tour and a drawn series was as good as a victory for us. Sadly, India and Pakistan have not met subsequently in Test cricket in Pakistan.

I would like to add here that the players from both sides get along well with each other, and even if there is some acrimony on the field, it is not reflected off it. In several respects we are similar people and there is no reason why cricket should be a casualty.

However, safety to the players must be guaranteed first. Especially in the age and times we are living in.