Two debutants make their mark

Yuvraj Singh... sending the crowd into fits of delirium in Ahmedabad.-Pics. K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The revival of bilateral ties between the sub-continental neighbours after a gap of fives years produced some scintillating cricket. Pakistan won the opener in Bangalore, while India bounced back to level the series 1-1. By K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

The name Mohammed Basheer may not ring a bell. But whisper Indo-Pak cricket and may be you might put a face to that name. Of Pakistani origin, Basheer runs a restaurant in Chicago and the moment he heard about the current series of limited overs matches involving his motherland and India, he was on the plane to Bangalore where the first Twenty20 of the two-match series was held.

Basheer was keen to witness the revival of bilateral cricket between the sub-continental neighbours after a five-year gap. He was also seen in Ahmedabad for the second Twenty20 and he symbolised the passion that drives fans on either side of the Wagah border. The portly middle-aged Basheer held the flags of both the nations and proved that the lines drawn in 1947 cannot dim his sense of brotherhood with the Indians.

The friendship-spirit was also evident in the stands at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium as there was grudging applause for Pakistan’s dominance though at Ahmedabad’s Sardar Patel Stadium the few streaks of excellence from the visitor were greeted with a deathly silence.

“The passion that the sub-continent has for its cricket cannot be matched anywhere else,” said Naveed Akram Cheema, a key Pakistan Cricket Board official.

Flying in from the United States of America, it was easier for Basheer to come to India but for a lot of other Pakistanis, the delay in ticket disbursement derailed their visa process and most of them are now expected to throng Delhi for the last match of the subsequent ODI series.

The hoary history that shapes India-Pakistan cricket is too huge a body of work to elucidate and the latest revival fits in neatly behind the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s bid to have more high-profile series. In a sense, jousts between India on the one hand and Australia and England on the other, have been stretched to saturation point though not on the levels that characterised the frequent games against Sri Lanka in the past few years.

Amidst these same-opposition stories, the resurrection of cricket against Pakistan within a bilateral structure will also lend buzz to television ratings and it can be a win-win situation both commercially for the advertisers and emotionally for the fans.

Mohammad Hafeez with the man of the series trophy. He came good with the bat in both the Twenty20 matches.-

In a time frame that witnessed the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, one of the prime terrorists, who created mayhem in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, the resumption of civilised talk between New Delhi and Islamabad also ensured that cricket got its rightful place. The backdrop of the long pause perhaps was the perfect appetiser for the frenetic cricket-with-a-twist that was witnessed both in Bangalore and Ahmedabad.

A snappy recap of the two games, which ended in an equal sharing of the spoils as the series score-line of 1-1 would indicate, is in order.

The Christmas spirit and Pakistan’s dominance

The opening fixture between India and Pakistan on Christmas day in Bangalore, was defined by the meltdown of the ‘Men in Blue’ and the twin comebacks made by Pakistan. In the end, Mohammad Hafeez’s men won by five wickets to gift cheer to the streets ranging from Rawalpindi to Multan, back home.

India started well as its first 10 overs yielded 75 for no loss. The innings’ second part however was an unmitigated disaster at 58 for nine and with that M. S. Dhoni’s decision to go in with a raw attack without R. Ashwin in its ranks, came back to haunt during Pakistan’s chase.

Debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s dream spell of three for nine that nipped Pakistan’s top-order failed to rein in the visitor as the experienced duo of Hafeez (61) and Shoaib Malik (57 n.o.) with their 106-run fourth-wicket partnership, sealed the match.

The contest will also be remembered by the impact of another debutant, the tall Mohammad Irfan, who extracted disconcerting bounce and tested the Indians while a touch of notoriety will linger around the needless fracas between Ishant Sharma and Kamran Akmal.

Yuvraj is at it again

Ahead of the second Twenty20 in Ahmedabad on December 28, Hafeez spoke about his team’s quiet confidence and the optimism about doing well right through the tour. His bunch of men were on cusp of winning the series 2-0 but those plans never materialised as boxed into a corner, India found its riposte through Yuvraj Singh’s rousing bat.

The southpaw’s 72 (36b, 4x4, 7x6), that bruised the rival attack, specifically Saeed Ajmal, and his 97-run fourth-wicket partnership with M.S. Dhoni, helped India post 192 for five. The steep target left Pakistan gasping at 181 for seven though Hafeez’s 55 (26b, 6x4, 3x6) threatened to alter the game.

“It could have been anyone’s game and I thought Ashok Dinda bowled well with his yorkers and the exceptional catches taken by Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, won the match for us,” Yuvraj later said while under-playing his key knock that actually was the corner-stone of India’s triumph.

Yuvraj also struck a powerful chord by posing with two kids, who were dressed in the colours of India and Pakistan. Sport truly had built a bridge though its strength will entirely depend on the political landscape.

THE SCORES

Bangalore, Dec. 25: India 133 for nine in 20 overs (Gautam Gambhir 43, Ajinkya Rahane 42, Umar Gul three for 21, Saeed Ajmal two for 25) lost to Pakistan 134 for five in 19.4 overs (Mohammad Hafeez 61, Shoaib Malik 57 n.o., Bhuvneshwar Kumar three for nine).

Ahmedabad, Dec. 28: India 192 for five in 20 overs (Yuvraj Singh 72, M.S. Dhoni 33, Ajinkya Rahane 28, Virat Kohli 27, Gautam Gambhir 21, Umar Gul four for 37) bt Pakistan 181 for seven in 20 overs (Mohammad Hafeez 55, Nasir Jamshed 41, Ahmed Shehzad 31, Umar Akmal 24, Ashok Dinda three for 36).