Wonderful Ambassador

While Intikhab Alam is incisive in how he reads the conditions or the flow of the game, his relaxed exterior has a soothing influence on the boys, notes S. Dinakar.

Intikhab Alam is a man of many summers. He has been through it all as a former Pakistan captain — he was a capable leg-spinning all-rounder — manager and coach. The affable Pakistan coach also comprehends as much about the human mind as strategy.

Ahead of the first semifinal at Nottingham, he gets most things right in a rather thinly attended press conference. “If we bat first and make 150, then it is a match-winning score on the pitch at Trent Bridge,” he declares.

The only difference is that Pakistan, electing to bat, sets a target of 150. And South Africa stumbles on the chase. And as Intikhab predicts, the pitch turns increasingly spinner-friendly and dry as the game develops. He then targets the famous South African fragility in knock-out games during the climactic phase.

“They choke on the big occasion. Winning is the name of the game. They are a professional side, they play well but do not win titles,” says Intikhab. He also dwells on Shahid Afridi’s batting. “You got to allow him to play his natural game. His mind should not get confused. If you tell him one thing, he will do the opposite!”

The following night — after a blistering innings at No. 3 — Afridi reveals, “Younis (skipper Younis Khan) did not send me with any instructions. He just asked me to go out there and bat the way I want to.”

While Intikhab is incisive in how he reads the conditions or the flow of the game, his relaxed exterior has a soothing influence on the boys. A popular coach for Punjab in India’s domestic cricket, Intikhab is also a wonderful ambassador for his country. You see some old fashioned goodness in the man — humility, respect for the game and those around it and immense commitment.

Meanwhile, all roads around Trent Bridge are blocked as waves of Pakistani supporters celebrate the semifinal win with gusto. They honk and circle the stadium in their cars even as the traffic is choked.

Not everybody, though, is convinced about Twenty20 cricket. The scorer, a man from Yorkshire, admits, “I would rather prefer Test cricket where the batsmen can bat and the bowlers can bowl. And the spinners can send down long spells.”

And the cabbie in London is worried that cricket is going the football way with fat contracts, player-agents and a mad rush for endorsements. “Cricket should be like rugby here, which is still a largely amateur sport but played in a professional manner,” he says. These are words of wisdom.

It’s a rush from Nottingham to London to be in time for the Sri Lanka-West Indies semifinal at the Oval. The effort is worth it.

Tillekeratne Dilshan conjures a magnificent innings under duress. The ICC too has put up a good show.

The Pakistani supporters are guarded ahead of the summit clash. “Sri Lanka is a well-balanced side. Tough to beat. It would have been easier for us if the West Indies had won,” confesses one. Pakistan has self-destructed in the past.

The Pakistani fans have a different tale to tell this time. Their side outplays Sri Lanka at Lord’s. They dance and sing. Wasim Akram gets out of the press enclosure on the slow-moving lift for a quiet moment. “Memories of 1992,” he says reflecting on the side’s World Cup triumph in Australia under Imran Khan. Akram then adds, “Much needed for Pakistan.” Indeed.