Thatscricket - ODI Series - India~~s tour of Pakistan- Cricket can~~t get bigger than this

Published: Monday, March 29, 2004, 20:17 [IST]
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Islamabad:If cricket needed to convince itself it was in robust health, it need not look further than the remarkable week just gone by.

India began its first full tour of Pakistan in 15 years with a magnificent game at Karachi on Saturday that ended as the highest scoring one-day international in history.

Shane Warne returned to Test cricket from a 12-month drug-induced ban with a match-winning 10-wicket haul against Sri Lanka at Galle on Friday, becoming the first spinner ever to claim 500 victims.

Two days earlier, wooden spooners Bangladesh had recorded their first international victory in five years when they overcame Zimbabwe by eight runs in a one-dayer in Harare.

The action on the field was so absorbing that, off it, few took notice of a match-fixing allegation against former Kenyan captain Maurice Odumbe and England's dilemma whether to tour Zimbabwe.

"This is cricket at its best, a real entertainer," remarked International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ehsan Mani. "Hope there are many more such weeks to follow."

Nothing, however, will surpass the magic that India and Pakistan worked up on Saturday to send millions of viewers on both sides of the border and across the world in frenzy.

Barely two years back the warring neighbours were on the brink of another catastrophic conflict, with their armies ranged against each another following an upsurge in militant violence over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Yet the cricket teams of both nations produced a classic slugfest played in good spirit before an appreciative capacity crowd of 33,000 at the heavily guarded National Stadium in Karachi.

In the end Pakistan failed to score nine runs in Ashish Nehra's final over despite a match aggregate of 693 runs on a belter of a wicket whose preparation was supervised by Englishman Andy Atkinson.

Pakistan responded to India's seemingly impregnable 349 for seven with 344 for eight, which overtook the previous record of 664 runs by Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Singapore in April 1996.

Exhausted by the experience, rival captains Sourav Ganguly of India and Inzamam-ul Haq of Pakistan termed the game a victory for cricket and whet the appetite for what could follow.

There are still four more One-dayers to be contested -- the second one is in Rawalpindi on Tuesday -- followed by three Test matches in what is regarded as the ultimate rivalry in the sport.

"It can't get better than this," said Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive Ramiz Raja, a former Test captain.

"Cricket was certainly poorer without an India-Pakistan contest and we are determined to make up for time lost."

Cricket chiefs of the two countries are already drawing up plans for future contests with a Pakistani team likely to tour India sometime next year.

When Warne was found to have taken a banned diuretic in February last year, many believed time had finally caught up with the champion leg-spinner.

He missed Australia's World Cup winning campaign in South Africa and was not even allowed to train with first-class sides during the year-long ban.

Yet he returned fitter and mentally stronger to show the cricket world he was the best spinner in the business with 501 Test wickets and almost certain to overtake the world record tally of 519 by West Indian Courtney Walsh.

Walsh, now retired, backed Warne to blaze his way to 700 Test wickets, saying: "Shane knows how to stay motivated and he is a great competitor."

Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan, who took 11 wickets in the same Galle Test, is breathing down Warne's neck with a tally of 496.

Cricket could not have hoped for more exciting times.

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