Making a billion proud

Published: Sunday, April 18, 2004, 19:19 [IST]
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Indian cricket is headed towards greatness, and the win in Pakistan is a giant step in that direction.

India has finally won a Test series overseas - it has been a very long and agonizing wait, but what a series to break the jinx. This team has truly created history. My heartiest congratulations to Sourav Ganguly and the rest of the team for their remarkable cricket in Pakistan.

This Indian team has clearly looked the superior side in the series -- be it in professionalism, work ethics, sheer talent, application and coping with pressure.

If there was one clear difference between the two teams, it was in the batting. I am at a loss of words to explain the great performance of Rahul "The Wall" Dravid. He means so much to this Indian team. Rahul Dravid has been in great form over the last two years and his technique, temperament and commitment is unmatched. He is a team man to the core. I have watched Dravid for many years now, beginning with a domestic game in 1998. I have always admired the skill and discipline of this exemplary man.

Dravid's fitness regime too touched a peak in the presence of our then trainer Adrian Le Roux, whose routine he still religiously follows. Only a supremely fit man could have carried on for over 12 hours in extremely hot conditions for his 270 runs. Had I been there I would have hoisted him on my shoulders and given him a lap of honour around the ground. Well done Rahul you were fantastic!!!

Cricket however, is a team game, and the support given by Parthiv, Laxman, Ganguly and Yuvraj ensured that India had to bat only once in this Test, on a relatively difficult pitch.

Opening the batting against a rampaging Shoaib Akhtar is difficult for the best of players, but young Parthiv showed great spirit and guts for a non-regular opener. Laxman gave the innings the impetus it needed, and Ganguly came back after an injury-break and scored a quick 77.

I had mentioned in a previous article that Pakistan's inexperienced batting would be exposed under pressure. Well, it got exposed twice in two innings in Rawalpindi. Sure, the pitch was doing things on the first morning, but to collapse the way they did showed a lack of experience and application from the top batsmen. Inzamam and Youhana flattered to deceive throughout this Test series, and the rest performed in patches.

India's relatively inexperienced bowling attack has performed brilliantly on this tour. I can't praise Lakshmipathy Balaji enough. He was the outstanding Indian bowler of the Test. The way he was making the ball move, it appeared as if he was bowling on seaming, green pitches of New Zealand or Australia and not on the flat tracks of Pakistan.

Irfan Pathan bowled very tight in this Test, allowing Balaji to attack from the other end. Nehra also came back and bowled a couple of good spells. Anil Kumble wrapped up the tail very quickly in the second innings, and just like the batting, it was a complete team effort in the bowling department.

Pakistan missed Umar Gul badly in this Test. Even though Shoaib and Mohammad Sami bowled fast, they were rarely able to swing the ball. The Indian batsmen played them with relative ease, and once Shoaib got injured and had to leave the field, the load on Sami and the other bowlers was too much. Wasim Akram once mentioned that the speed gun was killing swing bowling - seeing Sami and Shoaib bowl in this series, this rings so true. Both bowlers were looking for the 150 kmph ball, but compromised on swing, line and length.

No wonder then that Pakistan's most dangerous bowler in this series was Umar Gul, who purely concentrated on swinging the ball. Pakistan's profligacy with the ball meant that India was able to score 600 on a pitch that had something in it for the bowlers. So much for the pre-series hype that Pakistan's bowling attack was the best in the world - by the end of the series, India's bowling looked far superior.

It was shocking to see India dropping so many catches on the final day of the Test. Normally the Indians are safe catchers, and I have never seen so many catches go down in one session of play. Even though it did not prove to be costly, this is clearly one area of improvement for the team. A more professional and accomplished team like Australia would have made us pay dearly for these lapses.

This entire series has been played in a very friendly fashion, and has been a great success. The Pakistanis have been gracious hosts, and the crowds have been exemplary. I hope India can reciprocate this feeling of togetherness when Pakistan tour India. The Indian team has conducted itself very well, and the players have been terrific ambassadors for our country.

This is a very different Indian team, and a lot of credit is due to Sourav Ganguly and our coach John Wright for inculcating that spirit of togetherness in the team. It is a family and not just a team out there in the dressing room. On a personal note, I wish I could have been there to share these once-in-a-lifetime moments with my mates.

Well done guys, you have made a billion Indians proud!

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