Winning matches as well as hearts

Written by: Sajith Balakrishnan
Published: Saturday, March 27, 2004, 18:19 [IST]
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It doesn't get bigger than this. The Samsung Cup ODI series between India and Pakistan was a roller-coaster ride. The denouement came about at the thrilling atmospherics of the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, when India kept their sangfroid to edge out archrivals in the weekend double-header day-night encounters.

The victory marked a significant chapter in Indo-Pak cricket, as it was the maiden series triumph of the Men in Blue on Pakistani soil. What one saw in a fortnight was nerve-wracking action and drama all the way, with Team India rewriting history against all odds.

Prior to their departure to Pakistan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had asked Ganguly and his boys to win not only matches in Pakistan, but also hearts. The Indian team responded in a befitting way. Wherever they went, they won the adulation of the crowd who were quite sporting in their behaviour (especially the Karachi crowd) as well as the cricket pundits who were lavish in their praise for the bravura displayed by the team.

The Indian victory has more to it considering the fact that it was a team effort. The team carried on from where it had left off in Australia. The new-found resilience of the team was evident even in the batting display of numbers 9, 10 and jack who earlier just made up the numbers. The team deserves all the accolades for conquering the Pakistanis in their own backyard, that too, considering the fact that the team was playing without its frontline bowling attack.

It is said that catches win matches and Sachin Tendulkar did pluck one out of thin air in the series decider to get rid of the dangerous-looking Pak skipper who at one stage looked like he would take the match as well as the series away from India. The importance of the catch was underscored by an animated Sachin, who normally doesn't make such an obvious show of his emotions. That may also make up for his not making any substantial contribution in the finals.

There is no question of taking the credit away from the young Irfan Pathan, who is India's hope for the future. The wily old fox Javed Miandad might be repenting for the comments that he made about the Baroda lad. Pathan's exploits with the ball as well as the willow played a major part in the team's success. In the absence of frontline bowlers, he assumed the mantle of the strike bowler and delivered when it mattered most. This lad has come a long way since that dream spell against Bangladesh in the Under-19 level.

And when it comes to rising to the occasion, the best bet is V V S Laxman. It's not easy to comeback from an injury lay off and play to your best. But Laxman did precisely that. Glimpses of the vintage Laxman of Australian summer were evident in the fourth one-dayer itself, until it was cut short by a cracker of a delivery from the Rawalpindi Express. However, it was only a matter of time before Laxman found his feet and he stamped his authority with a clinical hundred that saw him winning the Man of the Match award.

Each member of the team contributed to the team's cause. India always had one man or the other for the occasion. If it was Ashish Nehra's stingy over that helped the team win the cliffhanger at Karachi, the Great Wall of Indian cricket and the unsung Mohammed Kaif did the series-levelling job in the fourth One-day. And it was time for Laxman and Pathan to join the party in the summit clash. Not to forget the useful contributions from the likes of Balaji, Powar and the lot.

The present Indian team is different from the past teams that relied on individual brilliance to bail the team out of crisis. This is TEAM INDIA. They have shed the 'chokers' tag and are a cohesive outfit willing to take the fight to the opposition camp.

Now, as the caravan moves from the coloured clothing to the white flannels, one can count on them to deliver. The tour Down Under has done wonders to their confidence.

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