SPORTS

  /  

May 4, 2004

India hits Pakistan for six

The much-anticipated resumption of cricketing relations between archrivals India and Pakistan resulted in humiliating defeat for the latter as the Indians swept on their way to two innings victories. While there was nothing too surprising about the regular appearance of that old Pakistani-English speciality—the batting collapse—this was the first series where the Pakistanis could not simply blame their traditional cocktail of tactical ineptitude and rampant indiscipline for their spineless performance. Pakistan simply isn't good enough to beat India anymore.

Over the last twelve months, India has really blossomed, particularly during its outstanding showing in Australia where the hosts' bowlers were demolished by the Indian batsmen. Their batting can realistically claim to be a match for its Australian counterpart. Meanwhile, India finally has a decent pace bowler in Irfan Pathan.

Surely, however, India still expected to bat more than four times in three tests, especially in their rivals' back yard. Make no mistake though, as far as the Pakistanis were concerned, their usual suspects were wreaking havoc: pathetic fielding (Verinder Sehwag's triple ton came in part because of five dropped catches, including successive slip catches), woeful fitness, and in-fighting, including accusations of faking injury due to laziness.

Thanks to their home advantage, Pakistan also found a new way to shoot itself in the foot: preparing wickets that suit its opponents. The surface in Multan was so lifeless that even a chucking Sri Lankan would have been happy with a mere one-degree deviation off this wicket. Boy did India make it count, as it cruised to a 675-for-5 declaration in its one and only inning.

For all of India's progress on the bowling front, they still gleefully accepted Pakistan's self-destructive batting in the first and third tests as Inzammam, et al staggered over the 250-mark on only one occasion. To its credit, Pakistan restricted itself to only two run-outs in the process.

The real problem for Pakistan, however, lay in its bowling. For years, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram terrorized opposition batsmen, and even on a bad day you could count on them to pick up enough wickets to keep the score below 600 runs.

However in a classically Pakistani manouver, they were both fired after the 2003 World Cup before any reasonable alternatives were found. While there is no doubting their respective deteriorations, the Pakistanis' uncanny knack of having half their squad out due to injury meant that the pair's experience was sorely missed. Their long-term replacement, Shoaib Akhtar, decided to share only his pie-throwing experience with his younger colleagues.

To focus only on Pakistan's negatives would, however, be a disservice to the Indians, who finally showed that they could string together a sequence of victories. That this was all achieved away from home was another mark of Indian progress. Aside from the obviously sublime batting, India's bowlers also caught the eye.

Veteran leg-spinner Anil Kumble bowled superbly. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra struggled to be fully fit throughout, but their young replacements proved there is strength-in-depth all over the squad. South Africa, currently the world's second best test team, will be looking over its shoulders at an Indian team charging up the ladder.

Before Pakistani fans brace themselves for a West Indian-style decline, the performance of their younger batsmen means that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Asim Kamal, Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat all showed flashes of potential that may represent an imminent shift from a strength in bowling towards batting.

But as ever, all of that will count for little if the collective components of Pakistani cricket fail to shake the lack of discipline that prevents them from consistently delivering that which their talent promises—the one true talent they can always rely on.