Reviewing the performance of the Indian team is a bit like playing an old record. Nothing changes. New coaches, consultants appear on the horizon, changes are promised for the better but at the end of the day the results remain the same. Bobby Simpson was in Sharjah as a Consultant to the Indian team and by the looks of it, his presence made no difference.
When the Coca-Cola tournament started, I predicted that Pakistan would win if they played to potential and they proved me right. A win against Pakistan in the final league match looked like the ideal tonic for the Indian team. With three wins in as many matches, it looked like India would win the final as well. But it proved to be a damp squib and an anticlimax if ever there was one. But as stand-in captain, Ajay Jadeja did a fantastic job winning a couple of matches and it seemed that the much needed fighting spirit had returned to the team.
s an Indian expat living in Dubai for over 6 years now, I have never had the privilege of watching India beat Pakistan in a final at Sharjah. In fact the last time we did beat Pakistan in a final was 14 years back in 1985 - which means that nearly a whole generation of Indian cricketers have been unable to achieve this feat. Let me put it this way - Azharuddin is the only Indian player currently playing who has experienced the feeling of beating Pakistan in a final at Sharjah, which gives us the true picture of our dismal record against Pakistan at Sharjah.
Coming back to the tournament. Our first game against Pakistan was
an action replay of the recently concluded Pepsi Cup final in Bangalore where India were thrashed. In this match replying to a huge total of 279 we batted disgracefully to reach only 163. The team looked jaded and totally lost, the skipper wasn't helping matters with his aloof behaviour bordering more on a "chalta hai" attitude. Read more
In direct contrast, Wasim Akram stood at mid-off and kept encouraging his bowlers all the time and the result was a forgone conclusion - a win for Pakistan.
Something had to be done and done fast to change things around. As an absolute stroke of good fortune for India, Azharuddin injured his toe missing a yorker from Flintoff during India's first match against England. Ajay Jadeja was therefore given the skipper's hat and did a wonderful job. He was like a breath of fresh air to the side and they all lifted themselves on the field. He even bowled an over at a crucial stage, rather bravely I thought, when England needed 21 in 3 overs to win and his gamble paid off. For someone without an international wicket for nearly 3 years,to suddenly get 3 wickets in one over was a pleasant surprise to all concerned, most of all to Jadeja himself.
The second match against England won, and Azharuddin injured for the third match, this meant Jadeja led the team in the third game and India won a slightly closer game although it must be said that they never looked like losing it.
The return match against Pakistan was a win for India against the run of play so to speak, since Pakistan had won all 8 of the recent matches played against India starting from Toronto in Sept 98. A fine bowling performance and an outstanding fieldingdisplay along with some motivational captaincy restricted Pakistan to 205 in 50 overs. This was followed by a highly thoughtful and disciplined batting effort by both Ramesh and Rahul Dravid who saw India through quite comfortably reaching 206 for 4 wickets.
Therefore all was set for what was expected to be a smashing final. India appeared to have the edge having won its last 3 games while Pakistan had lost their last two games but all that was put to rest by the king of swing Wasim Akram.
In a matter of 3 balls he reduced India to 0 for 2 with both the successful batsmen in the previous match Ramesh and Dravid back in the hut. But I thought Dravid's LBW decision was a real shocker by umpire Darell Hair.
Azharuddin, back from injury, was totally out of sorts. He should have been leg before off the first ball to give Wasim a hat-trick but it was a no-ball. A few overs later he decided to test the catching abilities of Azhar Mahmood and flayed at a wide ball from the quickest bowler on planet earth - Shoaib Akhtar.
India could never recover from such a miserable start. Poor running between the wickets resulted in a couple of run outs, a few more loose shots and India were all out for 125 in 45 overs. In one day cricket, it is a crime not to bat the full 50 overs. Shouldn't the captain or coach instruct the tailenders not to try anything fancy and bat the whole 50 overs?
The last time India were bowled out for 125 at Sharjah was the Rothman's trophy final in 1985. Then India defeated Pakistan by bowling them out for 87. Would Pakistan allow history to repeat itself? No way -they played like champions and passed the score in the 28th over.
It must be said here though that India's bowlers did a great job throughout. All the matches we won was because of them. Venkatesh Prasad was named Man of the Series for his fantastic bowling and Anil Kumble had an economy rate of just 3 runs per over which was outstanding.
All in all it was another disappointing display by the Indians, although the silver lining was the arrival as captain of Ajay Jadeja (atleast in one-day cricket). His body language was confident and positive and his boundless enthusiasm rubbed off onto his team mates and that is what a good skipper should have the capacity of doing. He was always smiling, enjoying his cricket and it showed in the performance of his mates.