India scaling new heights

Written by: Sajith Balakrishnan
Published: Saturday, April 17, 2004, 15:15 [IST]
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Ganguly and his boys have another slice of history as India registered yet another glorious chapter to its cricketing history by winning a Test series for the first time on Pakistani soil. The victory also ended a drought for India as it was its first Test series victory overseas since 1993.

The victory was made even more pleasing by the fact that the team had won the preceding One-day series too. So it was a case of double delight for India. Prior to the tour, the Prime Minister of the country had asked the team to win not only matches, but also hearts. India have done precisely that.

Contrary to the apprehensions, the Indo-Pak series went off peacefully. Credit goes to both the Boards as well as to the exemplary behaviour of the crowd that thronged the stadia in large numbers (though not for the Test matches) to cheer the teams. Even the ICC president admitted that Indo-Pak matches are necessary to sustain interest in the game.

Indo-Pak matches have always generated a great level of interest and have brought in the best from both camps, quite often separating the men out of boys. The present series was no different what with most of the ODI matches having come right down to the wire. The Test series too saw fluctuating fortunes, until the pendulum swung in India's way in the decisive third Test as they were more adept in dealing with the pressure situations.

Even before the start of the series, former Pakistan captain Imran Khan had said that the team that handles pressure more would emerge the victors and it didn't surprise many when the Men in Blue had the last laugh. To make matters worse, it looked as though all was not well in the Pak camp with the captain making a scathing attack on his frontline bowler for not showing the commitment needed at the hour.

For India, it has been a successful summer. They began from where they had left off in Australia. The only difference this time was that they erased the 'chokers' tag and showed more resilience especially when it mattered the most. Quite often, they have been accused of squandering the initiative they have had in the early part of the series. History repeated itself as they kept up their dubious distinction of losing a Test immediately after a victory. However, they rallied together and went for the jugular in Rawalpindi and there was no stopping them.

While India always had the right man for the occasion in both the departments, be it in the form of Dravid, Sehwag or Pathan, the Pakistanis were a pale shadow of themselves as they could show only flashes of brilliance here or there be it in the form of Umar Gul one day or the captain the next. They could not sustain the momentum and ended up on the losing side, though they too did win hearts with their conduct on the field.

India's new-found resilience and their positive approach have seen them scaling new heights. The horses for courses policy paid them rich dividends in the Rawalpindi Test. However, it must be said that even though the move to promote Parthiv Patel clicked, it shouldn't be seen as a long-term option. India has had enough of the makeshift arrangements that have quite often spelt doom for the team, especially when playing on wickets that have more in it for the fast bowlers.

At a time when the Sehwag-Chopra combination was slowly settling down, the decision to tinker with it will prove costly in the long run. Considering the fact that openers' slot has been a perennial bugbear for the Indians ever since Sunil Gavaskar left the stage, it would be fair if, in the larger interests of the game, the so-far so-good combination of dashing Sehwag and dour Chopra is reinstated. Opening the batting is a specialist's job and one cannot compromise on it, especially in the longer version of the game.

If Irfan Pathan was the pick of the Australian summer, the same could be said of Laxmipathy Balaji in the Pakistan tour. This genial young man has made great strides after an eminently forgettable debut to his Limited Overs International career when he was whacked all over the ground by a rampaging Chris Gayle. The learner in Balaji came to the fore when he had a session with former Pakistan captain Waqar Younis (who recently announced his retirement from international cricket) who is considered as one of the pioneers of reverse swing bowling. The sight of Balaji hitting a six off the Rawalpindi Express and his broken bat might be part of the cricket folklore in the years to come.

Virender Sehwag took the opportunity to silence those critics who were pointing at his flaws in technique and faulty footwork. He carved a niche for himself by becoming the first Indian to score a triple century. The Man of the Series award was his and he continues to flay the coaching manuals.

And last, but not the least, the Great Indian Wall. When it comes to rising to the occasion, you can count on him. After inviting the wrath of a few for the timing of declaration in the Multan Test (which was simply blown out of proportion), he refused to be bogged down by such distractions and instead did what he could do best with the willow in Lahore. A match-winning knock indeed!

Sachin, Laxman, Kumble, Yuvraj all joined the party and made it memorable. Kudos to skipper Sourav Ganguly who now becomes the most successful captain in Indian history. Now that India has broken the Test series victory drought, the next goal must be or rather should be, to win a series outside the subcontinent, a feat that has eluded them since 1986.

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