India and Pakistan scripted yet another cricketing tale of romance, emotion and suspense to underline the sub-continent power in world cricket. On Tuesday at Old Trafford their Super Six league contest lent an oriental aura to the World Cup 1999.
It was India's turn to stand with pride on the victory podium with a 47-run triumph. The clash brought the best out of Mohammed Azharuddin whose reputation both as a skipper and as a player was at the lowest ebb. Now this 36-year-old stylist is the tallest Indian cricketer. All his blunders and errors would be ( or is it must be?) forgotten and he might be a different leader and a player in the remaining games in this World Cup.
Whatever be the fate of India in this World Cup , Azharuddin could go home with his status in tact. With today's win India got their first full points (two) in this Super Six while Pakistan are still resting on those four points they brought from the preliminary league. So today's result has given an interesting twist to the race for the top-four honours. Zimbabwe are leading the table with five points followed by South Africa (4), Pakistan (4), New Zealand (3), Australia and India (2 each).Wasim Akram , the Pakistan skipper, perhaps for the first time in his illustrious career, uttered a few words before the start of the match without realising the rapurcussions. He said," This is a practice match for us". What made his come out with such a pre-match statement could never be known.
But ardent followers of the game realised in the morning itself that Wasim Akram might have to regret for that. And he ate his words eventually. Wasim Akram, however, did no mistake as a leader when his team fielded first. He handled his enviable resources deftly and , more importantly ,his bowlers, especially Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq, responded as brilliantly as ever to restrict a powerful India batting line-up to 227 for 6 in 50 overs. Sachin Tendulkar (45), Rahul Dravid (61) and Azharuddin (59) were the batting heroes. Anything less than 100 by Sachin Tendulkar is being considered as a "failure". But the little master had done his job quite competently today. Rahul Dravid who is heading to become one of the heroes of this World Cup batted as craftily as ever.
This artistic batsman recorded his third 50-plus score ( he had also made two centuries thus far). Azharuddin, who has been the biggest batting failure in this Cup made no secret of his intentions. It was clear that he wanted to do something noteworthy today. Naturally he faltered quite frequently during his innings today but then he was there almost till the end showing glimpses of his artistry.
That was what expected of him. Paksitan began their chase imperiously with Saeed Anwar in electrifying form. The Indian bowlers soon recovered from the early blows and not only restricted the run-rate but also took wickets at regular intervals to keep Pakistan quiet. There was hardly a moment in the pakistan innings that could be termed as the bright "run-rate" period. Of course, the adventurous Moin Khan shone in characteristic style (33 of 37 balls) which proved not enough to upset the mood of the Indian bowlers who performed as never before in this Cup championship.