PAKISTAN GETS TO THE OASIS

PAKISTAN HAS BEATEN archrival India and it's all that matters to the team.-PTI

The Indians lacked the drive to raise their game when it mattered. The bowlers came a cropper in the final, especially Rudra Pratap Singh, who was expected to be the main weapon, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

Cricket in the middle of a desert can hardly be termed an exciting prospect. The heat and dust can be sapping, but if the stage presents you the opportunity to stake your claims for higher honours, then it does not matter if the playing conditions become a greater challenge than the opposition.

At the BSNL EurAsia Cup cricket tournament in Abu Dhabi, youngsters from six teams came across a competition with a good concept. The teams were divided into two groups to play the league in the first phase. For the second, the toppers from each group swapped places and at the end of another league, the teams with the highest points qualified for the final.

Pakistan `A' finished second in its group behind India `A,' but made it to the final where it played better and organised cricket to win the title. Skipper Hasan Raza, striving to make a comeback into the national team, played a stellar role by slamming a century in the final. Pakistan `A' had its priorities right. In picking a team with eight internationals, it made clear that nothing short of the title would be accepted and it looked a champion combination all the way in the final.

The Indians lacked the drive to raise their game when it mattered. The bowlers came a cropper in the final, especially Rudra Pratap Singh, who was expected to be the main weapon. The left-arm seamer from Uttar Pradesh did not distinguish himself and proved a poor role model. "He has a disturbing attitude. Please convey this to your cricket authorities," said Surjit Singh, joint-secretary of the Abu Dhabi Cricket Council (ADCC). The ADCC was unhappy with R. P. Singh's behaviour during the official photo session.

R. P. Singh excelled when the opposition — UAE — was weak, as did V. R. V. Singh. They picked up five wickets each against UAE, but neither got the `Man of the Match' award. It went to Dinesh Kaarthick, who was easily the most impressive performer from the Indian camp.

True, Shikhar Dhawan, Reetinder Singh Sodhi and Rohit Sharma came up with delightful knocks, but even more impressive was Kaarthick. His collections on the leg side were stunning and he did make an effort to excel with the bat, too. In addition, Kaarthick can be very inspiring for the bowlers, who admitted to benefiting immensely from the valuable inputs given by the Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper.

For coach Robin Singh it was a challenge to get the players to combine and perform consistently. "They have so much to gain from playing in such tournaments. Teams like Pakistan and Sri Lanka offer good competition and it is important to perform in such conditions. It makes you a better player no doubt," said Robin, who deserves a longer contract to prepare the talented youngsters for stiffer challenges.

Pakistan `A' was a compact combination with skipper Hasan Raza standing out with the bat. Opener Muhammad Hafeez chipped in handsomely, while Bazid Khan, son of the majestic Test batsman Majid Khan, came up with two hard-hitting innings. Leg-spinner Mansoor Amjad, adjudged the best bowler of the tournament, was consistent in commanding respect from the opposition.

The organisers, the ADCC and the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Trust (JNST), offered the best of facilities to the players. The JNST provided impeccable technical backup with Vikram Kaul and Harish Mehta working tirelessly behind the scene, and the support from Sheikh Nhayan Bin Mubarak Al-Nhayan, the Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, ensured the smooth conduct of the tournament.

The Indians had suffered humiliation during the two-match India-Pakistan charity series when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President Sharad Pawar, Union Minister for Civil Aviation Praful Patel and BCCI Vice-President Lalit Modi were stopped at the gates, but the explosive situation was reportedly defused by the timely intervention of the ADCC President B. R. Shetty.

"What happened was sad and we have assured nothing of this sort will happen again," remarked Shetty, the man responsible for bringing cricket to Abu Dhabi. The scenic Sheikh Zayed Stadium, a marvel amidst sand dunes, was a Shetty's dream project and received appreciation from the Indian and Pakistan teams.

"The two one-day matches (involving India and Pakistan) and the EurAsia Cup have helped us create an image in the world of cricket. We guarantee the best of conditions for future international matches here," said Shetty. The tournament, which drew packed houses for the two India `A'-Pakistan `A' matches, came in for praise from the International Cricket Council Chief Executive Malcolm Speed. "It is nice to see such an audience. The concept of the tournament is good and we hope the players would make the most of such opportunities." Just in case the BCCI has reservations of returning to Abu Dhabi, the JNST is game to exploring new venues.

For Holland, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates it was a learning process. "The tournament meant a lot to us. We could test our potential against stronger teams and learn from the defeats," said Khurram Khan, UAE's best batsman. A purser with Emirates Airlines, the affable Khurram, who hails from Multan, did duty on three flights during the tournament, two of them to Chennai and one to Mumbai. He hit a flawless century against Sri Lanka and the knock reflected the spirit of the UAE team.

Ireland did not quite measure up to the standards set by the rest, while Holland sent its second string. "Our senior players did not get leave from their employers," lamented the Dutch coach, Hans Schiferli. The team was wiser for the experience gained in the fortnight-long tournament.

THE SCORES

Final: Pakistan `A' 288 for four in 50 overs (Taufeeq Umar 40, Hasan Raza 106 not out, Misbah-ul-Haq 73) beat India `A' 252 in 47.5 overs (Reetinder Singh Sodhi 70, Yalaka Venugopal Rao 69, Umar Gul three for 37, Mansoor Amjad four for 68).

FIVE WHO CAUGHT THE EYE

Shikhar Dhawan: An attractive left-hander with a penchant for playing on the rise. Can handle pressure well and proved his credentials with quality innings of 127, 52 and 91 not out.

Dinesh Kaarthick: Gained a lot from the tournament to push his case as the best wicketkeeper in the country after Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A fierce competitor, his innings of 75 saved India much embarrassment against the United Arab Emirates.

V. R. V. Singh: Bowled with purpose but came in for a lashing in the final. Enjoyed the faith of coach Robin Singh and looks a good prospect provided he works on his fitness.

Rohit Sharma: A batsman with a future, according to former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja and former Indian Test batsman Ashok Malhotra. His positive approach and wide range of strokes speak for the youngster's immense potential.

Hasan Raza: The Pakistan skipper worked hard for a comeback into the national team and his century in the final laid India `A' low. Earlier efforts of 24 and 62 showed his consistency and he led by example to help his team win the title.