And the hype was followed by a tremendous amount of commercial success, even before a single ball was bowled. All the same, as the series progressed, intensity from the cricketers and passion from the fans touched new heights. And when finally India emerged winners in the closely fought series 3-2 (too close for comfort) there is an enormous amount of warmth and friendship. Indeed, the Friendship Series threw light upon a lot of winning moments equally shared by both the subcontinent giants.
The Winners list in the Friendship Series may be read as follows "Indians - Winners of Trophy", "Politicians - Winners of Votes", "Board Authorities - Winners of Sponsors", "Pakistanis - Winners of Indian Hearts", "Indians - Winners of Pakistani Warmth", "Celebrities - Winners of Box Tickets", "Media People - Winners of Hot Materials", "Cricket - Winner of Diplomacy" and peace and hope of its persistence between the two countries the ultimate winner.
With a lot of winners i.e., a combination of winners, a thought struck upon me to frame a winning combination of 11 players from both the sides and it turned out to be a delightful experience. A joint India- Pakistan team has been a fantasy for a lot of people and the memories of this combination striking gold in Sri Lanka (1996 World Cup) and Bangladesh (2000) still remain green. And when the combination was worked out, it revealed a dangerous side that may dismiss Australia's monopoly at the World ODI Cricket.
Definitely, this side is a winning combination. And let us immediately see the side, in batting order.
Let not the two dropped catches in the final disturb you, Taufiq is a player with great potential. His ability to easily handle pressure and his proven competency to shift batting gears at ease makes him an ideal player to have at the top. Taufiq has also proved to be a good makeshift keeper and can be employed as a batsman-keeper in the lines of Stewart and Dravid. Though Yasir and Sehwag have given performances to back them up, Umar is capable of great performances and may also account for the left-right opening pair, when he opens up with the Little Master.
His selection needs no justification. Though his performances were not in par with his superficial standards, he is an essential ingredient of any Dream Team in this era. He creates an impression one way or other, be it his ability to take batting to rarified heights, breaking crucial partnerships or create a sensation in the field. A person always in the thick of things, he remains the thickest thing in statistics and records.
With his improved close in fielding and increasing emphasis in consistency, Laxman has emerged as a very dangerous one down batsman. With his wide range of strokes, he makes the art of batting look easy and artistic. All the same, he has a simply devastating record of unsettling the bowlers who are on song. It is that very very special quality of Laxman that saw him pip out Youhana and Ganguly for this slot.
Devastation is this man. The strong built Inzamam alongwith Sachin is one of the seniormost batsmen in the list of current cricketers and is next only to Sachin in accumulating runs and playing matches. Inzamam has carried the Pakistan batting on his shoulders for more than a decade and has revelled in the same. His batsmanship has been full of calculated attacks on bowlers with both paceman and spinners treated with equal disdain. He has also been lucky and promising as a captain and the automatic choice for this slot.
The Mr Reliable is another person who picks himself. Rahul is either up when the chips are down or together with the chips, when they are up. With his dedication, attitude, knowledge, technique and consistency, Rahul Dravid is a valuable player any side would love to have. And trust him to share the wicket keeping responsibilities with Taufiq Umar.
The fearless, aggressive and immensely talented Yuvraj Singh is the ideal player halfway down the batting order. His ability to not get dismantled by situations and to play his natural game is one factor that saw him through Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi. Moreover he is a specialist fielder who can win matches with his captivating catches and outstanding outfielding. And the 21-year-old youngster can chip in with his unorthodox left arm spinners as well.
Razzaq stands as one of the very few genuine all-rounders in today's cricketing arena. Though Razzaq may have lost a touch or more in his bowling, his batting is getting spectacular match by match. With age behind him, the experienced Razzaq may revel as a dangerous all-rounder with proper guidance and support. He can surely be trusted for sending 10 overs quietly and creating fireworks with his bat especially in the slog overs.
The new sultan of fast bowling, this teenager has been consistent in making early inroads with his pace, swing, guile and of course sense. With a wonderful will to perform and a developing desire to learn, Pathan has performed potently in his first two tours, both incidentally high-pressure ones. Irfan has also shown his ability to wield the willow as a tailender and is also quick in the fields. A prospect with a bright future, Irfan is the best choice for an opening bowler.
The Rawalpindi Express has established himself as a frontline medium pacer and has significantly shown marvellous maturity of late. Forgiving his indisciplined bowling in the first ODI, Shoaib has been a sensation throughout the series with his devastating spells. He had a tough challenge bowling to a star studded Indian batting line up, but he emerged trumps. Shoaib's speed and responsibility should compliment Pathan's youth and guile and together they offer a right-left opening combination in the bowling department as well.
This slot was very tough to decide, as there was no eligible candidate. It really shocks me that there is a dearth of quality spinners in the land of Prassanas and Qadirs. With Murali Kartik inconsistent, Shoaib Malik far from convincing, Harbhajan injury prone and Kumble on twilight of his career, I had to incline to my favourite Saqlain Mushtaq. I was surprised that this bowler with nearly 300 wickets does not get the favour of Pakistan selectors. The Father of "Doosras" (now reportedly working on "Theesra") is the best spinner of all in the two sides by a huge margin and should be seen in action soon.
The toughest was deserved for the last, as I found out. As a supporting paceman, Sami was preferred over Laxmipathy Balaji after indeed a long thinking tenure. Balaji seemed to be ideal as a supporting paceman as he tends to stick with the line and length and surprises one and all with his unpredictable, yet entertaining batting. Yet Sami with his quick arm action can prove to be very dangerous, if he only avoids being erratic. And Sami has proved that he can bowl with confidence in the death overs, an area which Balaji has to gain a little experience. Nehra's proneness to injury and inconsistency didn't help the cause either as Sami was chosen as the eleventh player.
And think of a twelfth man, I couldn't think of anyone beyond Mohammed Kaif, who is simply electric on the field and developing as a specialist who takes catches that win matches.
I think this side may prove to be indeed invincible. As we all know, the Indians are presently strong in their batting, whilst the Pakistanis are in the bowling. The combination would just be stronger as the missing links are easily replaced. Allan Border had reportedly quoted long ago "Every side has two learn from India and Pakistan. From Pakistan the art of winning from a losing situation and from India that of losing from a winning position". I think when these two sides are combined they would teach the world how to reach that ultimate position.
My God. Just think of an India-Pak XI vs Aus XI. It is a dream match for a fan, for a sponsor, for the ICC and for one and all from the prince to the pauper of cricket. And we are all waiting with bated breath to watch the dream, if it comes true. Definitely, India and Pakistan can forge a winning combination against the best in the world. And that need not confine to cricket alone.