Pusillanimous Pakistanis

The visitors had come under flak for their underwhelming cricket. Dhoni said that the current Pakistani team was not as aggressive as the past ones. It could offer an explanation on the quality of the cricket. People were harping on the lack of intensity, but what was missing was the contest, writes Nandita Sridhar.

It was a well-deserved series win for India. The home team batted better and bowled better. The ground-fielding evened itself out, and India’s misses did not cost it too much. The fourth match of the Indian Oil Cup at Gwalior was elevated from an uninspiring runfest to a batting spectacle by Sachin Tendulkar. His 97 runs came off 102 balls and had 16 sterling boundaries. Each of them was imperious, and executed with control and balance. The reaction-time he had for s ome was minimal, but it was a day when he could pick the length with ease. He functioned, in what most describe, as “the zone”.

Tendulkar’s runs were not weighed down by the past few months. He had to deal with a spate of nineties dismissals, and the pressure of having his place in the squad questioned after the success of the Twenty20 side. There were calls to push for more youth into the one-day side. The once-linchpin of Indian batting was having his every failure analysed threadbare. He couldn’t afford to be human. He was Tendulkar.

But the batting in this series so far showcased nothing of that. November 15, 1989 was when Tendulkar made his international debut. Exactly 18 years after that, the signs of age, pressure and the likes did not show up. It was batting at its best. The track was harmless and so was the bowling.

More than the results of the shots, it was their execution that was awe-inspiring. The wrists were deployed for the boundary through square-leg, and the punch on tiptoe produced runs through extra-cover. The straight drives and the brilliant flashes through point made it a feast. The only thing you could ask for was a hundred to justify such brilliance.

But it wasn’t to be. Umar Gul, who had denied the genius a hundred at Mohali, spoiled the party again. He sent it in with some swing. An inside edge found a bail. Tendulkar paused a few seconds, his bat planted on the ground. Had it happened again?

Virender Sehwag, who has traversed the journey from Tendulkar-like to a Test discard, was offered the best seat in the house. He summoned the Sehwag of yore with a still-footed six over mid-wicket off Shahid Afridi. There were other boundaries, all executed with the swiftest, smoothest of bat-swings.

Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni made the business end of the chase one-sided. Both batted brilliantly through the series. Yuvraj, possibly striking the ball much better than he’s ever done, played his patented shots; the six over mid-wicket being the most destructive. Dhoni ended the match with his most powerful strike. Having had enough of the likes of Salman Butt given a bowl, he clobbered one over the bowler’s head for a six. The series was won.

“What can I say about Sachin,” said the captain. “It’s a pleasure to have someone like him in the squad. We felt awful when he missed out on the hundred.”

Tendulkar’s brilliance overshadowed a fine innings from Mohammad Yousuf. Yousuf was left stranded on an unbeaten 99 after a gracefully constructed knock. Pakistan’s innings had been sporadically impressive. Younis Khan and Yousuf’s partnership, and Misbah-ul-Haq’s hitting were the highlights.

But the Pakistani innings was more significant for some of the landmarks that the Indian bowlers reached. Sourav Ganguly’s dismissal of Afridi earned him his 100th wicket in ODIs. Ganguly became only the third player in ODI history to complete the double of 10,000 runs and 100 wickets, after Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya. Zaheer Khan also picked up his 200th ODI wicket.

Pakistani captain Shoaib Malik looked desolate after the match. “The bowling cost us the match. We decided to bat looking at the past record. I don’t think the dew was a factor,” he said.

The visitors had come under flak for their underwhelming cricket. Dhoni said that the current Pakistani team was not as aggressive as the past ones.

“The earlier teams were very aggressive and played better. This team is trying, but they’re not as aggressive.”

It could offer an explanation on the quality of the cricket. People were harping on the lack of intensity, but what was missing was the contest.

THE SCORES

Fourth ODI, Captain Roop Singh Stadium, Gwalior, November 15. India won by six wickets.

Pakistan: S. Butt lbw b R. P. Singh 0; S. Malik b Zaheer 31; Younis Khan c & b Yuvraj 68; Md. Yousuf (not out) 99; S. Afridi lbw b Ganguly 1; Misbah-ul-Haq b Pathan 40; S. Tanvir lbw b Zaheer 6; K. Akmal (not out) 2; Extras (lb-6, w-2) 8. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-78, 3-129, 4-134, 5-228, 6-243.

India bowling: R. P. Singh 10-1-53-1; Pathan 10-1-52-1; Zaheer 10-0-40-2; Harbhajan 10-0-52-0; Yuvraj 3-0-12-1; Sehwag 2-0-11-0; Ganguly 5-0-29-1.

India: S. Ganguly c Younis Khan b Akhtar 5; S. Tendulkar b Gul 97; G. Gambhir c Tanvir b Anjum 3; V. Sehwag (run out) 43; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 53; M. Dhoni (not out) 45; Extras (lb-8, w-6) 14. Total (for four wkts., in 46.3 overs) 260.

Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-48, 3-155, 4-159.

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 10-0-49-1; Tanvir 7-1-43-0; Gul 8-0-42-1; Anjum 10-0-35-1; Afridi 10-0-67-0; Butt 1.3-0-16-0.