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January 10, 2000

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Two to tango

Harsha Bhogle

When the time came to be counted, two young men put their hand up for Pakistan. In doing so, they not only won the game for their side, they showed the world that its future is in pretty good hands.

And as they look back at a loss that is bound to shake their morale, India will realise that they actually did most things right. Therein lies the worry. They recovered to put up a decent score, for most of the time they bowled with a fair amount of discipline, they fielded well and Rahul Dravid produced one of the most remarkable catches I have seen. If they could at all be faulted, it is on a relatively minor issue which sadly, is the most neglected aspect of our cricket. Indiaís fielders donít hit the stumps and that is a very important part of modern one-day cricket.

But Pakistan kept their heads when it mattered and it was a masterly performance from Yousuf Youhana who anchored the innings beautifully and showed a remarkable grasp of this one-day game. Everytime it seemed Pakistan were slipping under, he produced a boundary and in doing so, ensured that the asking rate never went out of hand. He didnít slog and he didnít seem to mind either when Saqlain Mushtaq played eleven balls in a row without a run. That was a critical moment because the balls left slipped under the runs required. When that happens, players start to worry but these two wonderfully talented youngsters kept their cool and that was where the match was won for Pakistan.

The more I see of Saqlain, the more I marvel. He has won so many matches for Pakistan with the ball but now he has played a major role in winning two with his bat. Interestingly, at no time did he look threatened and he seemed to slip up a gear with great ease. He looks at home at number nine and that allows Pakistan to play two wicket taking bowlers in Shoaib Akhtar and Waqar Younis.

Waqar is enjoying a bit of a revival himself. In both games so far, he has bowled well and has kept his head with the bat; something he hadnít always seemed capable of. With him, you always knew that the next slog was no more than a few balls away. But he is determined to prove a point and maybe that is how it is in Pakistan cricket.

Earlier India had done well to get to 195 though Kapil Dev must have had a word with them about the need to play till the last ball. Small things can produce big changes and India would have been aware that Pakistan were behind the clock. Had they played the last over, Pakistan would have been docked another over and would have had only 48 to play. In all fairness, they might have approached things differently but six balls is a very long time in modern cricket.

So what do India take out of this match? The form of Rahul Dravid is now a serious concern. He is playing the shots that batsmen in form play, as he must, but he is unable to carry them off. He is getting out too often in one manner and that is unlike a thinking cricketer. Maybe today, he was drawn into playing one because the umpires were very liberal with their calling of wides; but maybe he needs to pick a lot more singles and take the pressure away from having to play bigger shots.

I think the Tendulkar dismissal is something to ponder over as well. Outside India, he has been out hitting across the line too often for comfort and he is too good a player to be getting bowled. The thinking behind having him at number four is sound, if a trifle defensive, and later events only confirmed that. India are struggling with a number five, there is no doubt they are missing the experience of Jadeja or Azharuddin there, and without the reassuring sight of Robin Singh it would start to look quite alarming.

He played a very mature innings today. He has always been a good judge of a run and he played some very good shots towards the end but more than his runs, it is the attitude he brings to the crease that is so uplifting. He is 36 now and when the time comes, I am afraid he is going to leave a fairly big hole.

He had a few problems in mid-innings with Sourav Ganguly who wasnít very happy at being denied the strike for fairly long spells and who isnít as sprightly between the wickets either. But he is the only other class act in the team at the moment and one of two players who can raise their game when confronted by Pakistan.

The other is Venkatesh Prasad who bowled his first six overs today for a mere eight runs and who, it will be revealed if you cast emotion aside, bowled an excellent last over. Really, there was only one loose ball today and even that came because Waqar picked the slower one very quickly.

I am not sure it will be very easy to get over this result. Close finishes can do that; if you win, they perk you up and suddenly everyone starts bonding; if you lose, the gloom just seems to linger a bit longer.

Harsha Bhogle

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