Arjun Raja is a NRIOL featured sports columnist. To read about Arjun Raja, please Know more.
The World Cup jinx against India continues to haunt Pakistan. Sydney in 1992, Bangalore in 1996 and now Manchester. Every game a thriller and a constant winner. It is a bit like India's jinx against Pakistan at Sharjah.
However jinx or no jinx every once in a while the Indian team pulls off a performance that makes us proud to be Indians and not desire to surrender our passports at the nearest Indian Consulate! The win against Pakistan was one of them and a lot of credit must go to the "Bangalore Boys" as Rahul, Kumble, Srinath and Venkatesh are called. Rahul scored 61, Prasad grabbed 5 wickets for 27 and the Man-of-the Match Award as well, Srinath got 3 and Anil Kumble 2 wickets to help India post a convincing 47 runs victory over Pakistan.
Every member of the team contributed, a complete turnaround compared to the game against Australia. It appears that the Indian side needs to feel the pressure of the possibility of being knocked out of the World Cup to perform at a higher level than usual.
Today was one of those days. The match itself had all the makings of something close to a nuclear war, with the tension prevailing at the border adding to the pressure among the fans. Azhar knowing fully well that the team chasing was going to feel that pressure decided correctly to bat first on winning the toss.
Today was Azhar's day as well. He walked in to bat at 107 for 3 in 27 overs,... and departed 111 runs later for a well made 59 in 77 balls. To top it off he took two very good catches and crucial ones at that, of Saeed Anwar and Ijaz Ahmed.
His captaincy was also different from usual. With a good score behind him and a couple of good catches, he was soon the most communicative person on the field. He attacked more and rung the bowling changes whenever a partnershipthreatened and his bowlers didn't let him down. Prasad has always bowled well against Pakistan and today he returned with his best analysis in one-dayers, his first 5 wicket haul. Srinath bowled beautifully and received good support from Mohanty, Robin and Kumble.
Earlier in the morning under some cloud cover, Tendulkar and Ramesh - in place of the injured Ganguly - safely negotiated a wonderful opening spell from Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram. Akhtar bowled much slower than usual concentrating on line and length rather than sheer pace. However at 37 in the 11th over, Ramesh played an adventurous stroke and was bowled for 20.
This brought the batsman of the World Cup to the wicket. Rahul played his usual stylish and technically correct innings along with his new found urge to score quickly. With the master Sachin finding his rhythm and timing, orthodoxy dominated and at 95 for 1 in 20 overs, a perfect platform was set for Tendulkar to break free. He tried just that but his shot selection was poor. He walked out and flat-batted a half-volley from Azhar Mahmood straight to Saqlain at wide deep mid-off. Saqlain seems to have made a habit of playing a part in Tendulkar's dismissals of late. It was a good piece of captaincy by Akram who kept Saqlain half way down to the long-off fence in a bid to lure Sachin to clear him.
Jadeja was sent in ahead of Azhar, having scored a great hundred against Australia in the previous game. But this time Jadeja didn't succeed and this brought Azhar to the crease. He truly struggled in the earlier stages and runs were hard to come by as Azhar just couldn't rotate the strike. Finally Rahul tried to compensate for Azhar's lack of form by hitting out, and was caught at extra-cover by Afridi of Akram. During the innings Rahul passed 400 runs in the competition, a truly fantastic achievement on so called bowler-friendly pitches and conditions.
To Azhar's credit he began to find his touch and didn't give his innings away. He scored quickly towards the end of the innings using all his experience of 322 one-day games. India, who generally do not score 70 runs in the final 10 overs against Pakistan, did so this time.
A score of 227 was never going to be easy considering the frailty of the Pakistan top order in this World Cup and a couple of early wickets were bound to put them on the back foot. They got off to a blazing start but after Ijaz was dismissed by Srinath in the 10th over, it was always going to be tough. Inzimam played a terrible innings, at one stage he had scored 7 in 42 balls which is ridiculous for a batsman of his calibre.
The required rate kept rising and soon Pakistan were sinking without a lifeboat in sight. Moin played a fine knock of 34 in 37 balls but Prasad had him caught at deep square leg by Tendulkar and that was the final straw. Wasim and Inzimam both fell to Prasad and Pakistan lost their third match in a row.
At the toss in the morning, a very confident Wasim had called this match a practice game before their semi-final. Boycott called his statement not overconfidence but arrogance, and surely those words must be haunting Wasim now because another loss to a supremely confident Zimbawe will all but end his dream of lifting the Cup at Lord's.
As far as India are concerned, we hope the team does not relax now that the biggest match of the World Cup as far as a majority of Indians go is over. They must win the next match against New Zealand on 12th and only then will they stand a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. Read more
- Arjun Raja in Dubai, UAE1999
The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online. For a listing of past columns by Arjun Raja, please Know more.