A historic victory

Print edition : May 07, 2004

The Indian team celebrates the victory at Rawalpindi. - S. SUBRAMANIUM

Even as India records its first series victory against Paksitan players and spectators help build a new bond of friendship between the peoples of the two countries.

THE investment made in youth paid off handsomely, and nothing signified it better than the roles played by the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan in India's historic series victory in Pakistan. By winning the one-day series and the Test series, the Indian team firmly established its dominance over an opposition that had not known defeat against it at home in the 52 years since they met for the first time on the cricket ground.

The newfound self-belief in the Indian cricketers had its roots in the success achieved in Australia on the preceding tour when the series ended in a 1-1 draw. "We had the right kind of preparation for the Pakistan series in Australia. Playing against a tough opposition helped us and I must say that it was a team effort in every sense," said skipper Sourav Ganguly.

The emphasis remained on making a concerted effort than expecting individual brilliance to show the way. The team drew its strength from the rich experience and talent, with the seniors performing their roles to perfection and the juniors grabbing the chance to establish themselves. After all, success against Pakistan was the key to cementing one's place in the side, and there was plenty for the team management to bank upon.

The pre-series prediction of India's domination came true for many reasons. The Pakistan team was in the process of transition. It was short of confidence once the one-day series was won by India. The manner in which India trampled the opposition at Multan in the opening test confirmed the home team's fears that it was in for a tough time in the longer version of the game too. But Pakistan hit back to square the series, only to suffer ignominy in the decider when India exploited the conditions to document one of its finest triumphs overseas.

"The one-day series had shown us the way actually. We had to play to our potential to dominate the Test matches too and nothing proved it better than our bench strength. We had the right combination to win," said Ganguly, who missed the first two Tests and returned to lead the side in the last. The win at Rawalpindi meant Ganguly is the most successful India captain.

It was a series that attracted the attention of the world. The fact that the governments of both countries had worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the series was just an indication of its importance. The overwhelming security measures were necessary and the Indian cricketers' apprehensions at the start of the tour were understandable, considering the recent happenings in Pakistan. But the tour opened new avenues for friendship, even though time will decide how far cricket has succeeded in easing the tension between the two countries who have fought three wars.

War minus shooting was how cricket between India and Pakistan was visualised before the first ball was bowled, but there was nothing to suggest any increase of animosity between the players or the spectators. Stories of excellent hospitality and camaraderie flooded the media, and cricket seemed to have taken the right course. There was fierce competition on the field, but there was also genuine appreciation of the opposition by both teams. That, one thought, was the feature of the series.

India moved in the right direction from the time Virender Sehwag blazed his way to 228 on the opening day of the first Test at Multan. He eventually became the first Indian batsman to compile a triple century in Test cricket, and his innings reflected the spirit of the team. Confidence was high on the Indian side, and its positive approach led to a domination that may have surprised even the Indian team.

Pakistan's meek surrender at Multan and Rawalpindi was against the character of the home team. This team had a legacy to live by. The huge success achieved by Mushtaq Mohammad's team in 1978-79 and Imran Khan's assault squad in 1982-83 continues to give nightmares to some Indian cricketers, but Inzamam-ul-Haq had a mediocre combination, in comparison.

To put things in perspective, it is important to remember that Pakistan lacked the attack to challenge India's formidable batting line-up. True, India was bowled out twice in the second Test by the sustained seam and swing that Umar Gul achieved. But then Gul missed the next Test owing to injury and Pakistan appeared to have lost the sting in its bowling. The presence of Mohammad Sami did not help much, and the over-rated Shoaib Akhtar proved that his team could not rely on him as consistently as it could have relied on Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis. The failure of Akhtar, now being accused of having shirked responsibility, was a big blow to Pakistan's hopes.

In comparison, the Indian team propelled ahead on the strength of its batting. Sehwag and Rahul Dravid played two stellar innings when it mattered most. Sachin Tendulkar batted below his potential even though he made his presence felt with a highly committed knock in the first Test when he was left stranded at 194 following a senseless declaration by acting skipper Dravid. It is another matter that Ganguly later admitted it was a mistake to have declared the innings and Tendulkar himself dismissed the incident after initially expressing his disappointment. To say that the decision implied the team's new attitude towards approaching a match was silly because none understood the importance of time more than Tendulkar, who was batting. And it would be most uncharitable to suggest that the declaration meant that the team was more important than the individual. Tendulkar has been as selfless as any in the team, without really looking for individual honours. The declaration only conveyed the lack of communication between the team management and the batsmen in the middle.

To Dravid's credit, he led the team astutely in the absence of Ganguly, who did play his role perfectly in the decider. The fact that the team was performing collectively made matters easy for Dravid and Ganguly. Pakistan lacked the character to handle the pressure that the Indians created in every session of the first and last Tests. For once, the street-smart Javed Miandad met his match in the Indians, who opted to let their cricket do the talking.

The rise of the genial Balaji and the pleasant Pathan was the biggest gain for India from this series. The spirit of the contests was captured in the fact that the two Indian seamers received priceless and timely tips from two Pakistani greats, Imran Khan and Waqar Younis, not to forget the session they had with Wasim Akram during the tour of Australia.

The Indian cricketers lived up to the expectations of their well-wishers, and at every stage they remembered the message of the Prime Minister to win not just in cricket. "Win their hearts too," was the refrain and new bonds were established as the younger generation in Pakistan acknowledged the presence of Indian cricketers with a warm response. Cricket became the binding force as fans interacted with each other and Indian cricket won on and off the field.

The fact that the series ended without one unpleasant incident, on the field and off it, was a tribute to the spirit in which it was played. Cricket followers in the two nations have indeed come of age.

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