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January 28, 2000


India Down Under

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India crash to Pak at Perth

Prem Panicker

They say you should always look for the silver lining in any situation -- here's the best I could do as India crashed to yet another huge defeat, this time to Pakistan at the WACA, Perth: with this defeat, even the faintest glimmer of a chance the side had of making the CUB finals has gone west. good bouncy track typical of the WACA at Perth, an outfield like greased lightning, good weather -- ideal conditions, and Pakistan looking to shut India out of the CUB series made it even better by winning the toss and opting for first strike.

The changes in the Pakistan team were Saqlain Mushtaq out for Shoaib Malik, one offie for another in order, we are told, to give the senior bowler a rest; and Waqar Younis in for Abdur Razzaq. Injury was the reason given to explain this change, but the word doing the rounds is that Razzaq going off like a loose cannon and accusing Tendulkar -- an accusation dubbed 'frivolous' by the match referee -- of ball tampering embarassed the Pakistan side enough to force them to rest the star all-rounder.

India made two changes. Agarkar, who in the opinion of coach Kapil Dev was fully recovered now, came back for Mohanty, and Laxman for Kanitkar. The latter change was pretty much on par with the efforts of a team management to make the best of a bad job -- every single match thus far has seen the shuffling of Martin, Kanitkar, Laxman and Gandhi. At least three of those four deserve no place in the side, the fourth doesn't know what his place is, and the switching of one for the other is, has always been, merely cosmetic. And cheap cosmetics at that.

That brings up the Agarkar shuffle. He is like a Rolls Royce, Kapil Dev said in an overdose of hyperbole, he should be used only when fully fit. If today's display was an indication, someone sneaked in at night and substituted the Rolls Royce engine with that of an ancient Ambassador.

Just what makes Agarkar a must-pick? Surely, logic would have gone against picking him after an injury layoff, for a game as crucial as this one? It is a question only Kapil, who appears to have constituted himself into a one man cheering squad for the medium pacer, and Tendulkar can answer.

Almost as though he was hell bent on proving his backers -- both coach and captain -- wrong, Agarkar not only got it horribly wrong with the ball, he added insult to that injury by logging another zero with the bat, which gives him enough ducks, for the series, to start an alternate career running a duck farm.

The story of the first part of the innings is best told in one set of figures -- after 5 overs, Pakistan were away to a rollicking 39/0. Of these, two overs had been bowled by Agarkar, who went for 25. He in fact brought up his 50 in the first ball of his 6th over -- and as it turned out, he gave away more in his first six, than Srinath and Prasad gave away in double that number of overs.

Given the shoddy bowling, the Pakistani openers, Anwar in particular, got away like a German band, with trumpets blaring and cymbals clashing. Afridi kicked off with a slash that got the top edge to lob high over the keeper and in fact go down for a six to the sightscreen behind the batsman -- strange, but effective, choice of shot to get off the mark with. From then on, he seemed subdued, but at the other end, Anwar flowered, and powered Pakistan along to 57/0 at the end of 10 overs.

Srinath, back for a second spell after Tendulkar had tried bringing Agarkar on from his end, finally went round the wicket and took out Anwar, pushing one through quicker to have the left-handed opener edging onto his stumps.

Ijaz Ahmed has been in good form of late. Matched only by Venkatesh Prasad's bad form in the field and with his throws. Which probably explained why Ijaz decided to come back for a second to the throw in from third man. On the replays it looked to be a photo-finish -- the throw was certainly (make that, considering the identity of the thrower, surprisingly) good, but it did seem as though third umpire Terry Prue could have given Ijaz the benefit on that one.

However, India around this point seemed to be heading for all kinds of trouble. By the 18th over, Agarkar, Srinath and Prasad had all bowled six overs apiece, and Tendulkar was rapidly running out of options with the ball. Pakistan meanwhile had motored to 119/2 after 20, 145/3 at the halfway mark.

That was when Saurav Ganguly stood up to be counted. Swinging the ball around, seaming it well off the track, he looked good from the moment he got the ball in his hand and the extra bounce the WACA track gave him defeated an Afridi attempt to hit a short one out of the ground, the ball going in the air for Prasad on the point fence to hold a good catch. Afridi, after an uncharacteristically slow start (despite the six to get off the mark), was just beginning to motor again when the wicket fell.

Inzamam, for once, showed no signs of tentativeness and seemed to be stroking fluently right from the get-go. His was a wicket that fell against the run of play, as the burly middle order batsman went for a huge pull off Robin Singh -- the right shot to the length and line Robin bowled, but Inzy mishit it in his eagerness and Ganguly, on the line at midwicket, lost the plot for a while as the ball swerved around in the stiff breeze, before a desperate lunge saw him cling on for dear life. Pakistan in fact would have been in even more trouble if, off the first ball of the same Robin Singh over, Sunil Joshi substituting for Agarkar had managed to get his hands around a skier at long on -- as it happened, Joshi grassed it, one of many catches that were to go down this day.

The Pakistan innings around this period showed a bit of two-faced character -- on the one hand, the run rate was kept up, on the other hand, the wickets kept tumbling. Ganguly chipped in with a late leg cutter that had Youhanna driving to get the edge through to Dravid at slip -- Tendulkar, seeing the amount of movement Ganguly was getting, having got a close in fielder in there for just that kind of dismissal. And suddenly, Pakistan had suffered a mini-slump to be 180/5.

When wickets fall, most fielding teams get a spring in their stride. The Indians went the other way, looking as flat as a two-day-old bottle of beer. Ganguly in the 34th over made one seam and jump, Moin mistimed a cut, and Robin Singh at point put down a ball heading straight for his midriff -- as good an indication of the rot that had set in as any, for Robin is rated one of the safest fielders in the business. So pathetic in fact was the fielding standard around this point that at one point, Tendulkar just went down on his haunches, staring at the ground... then got back up, called his fielders in and gave them what seemed a tongue-lashing.

Fortunately for the peace of mind of Robin, Moin Khan, not in mid-season form in this series, drove at a Ganguly delivery that seamed in late, the ball went up and Tendulkar, at mid off, ran a good 20 meters to hold a well judged catch. That wicket came off the last ball of Ganguly's spell, and at the end of it he had the figures of 10-1-34-3 -- a superb performance in the midst of the mayhem (Kumble, brought on to support Ganguly with some tight overs, had added to the Indian problems by going for 31 in his first five overs).

Thanks mainly to Ganguly's stand-out spell, India had pegged the Pakistan run-rate back, Pak moving along from 168/4 at the end of 30 overs to 206/6 in 40. Azhar Mahmood and Wasim Akram, realising the very real danger of being bowled out within the distance, settled down to play with more circumspection, and guided Pakistan to 232/6 at the 45 over mark. However, Mahmood appeared to be still suffering a touch of hangover from the heady shot-making of the previous game between these two sides, and out of the blue, went for a very ambitious pull at a ball from Prasad not short enough for the shot, and Tendulkar, running with the ball behind his back, took a superb catch facing the wrong way. One possible reason for Mahmood's sudden rashness was that Kumble, brought back in, had shrugged off his earlier aberration and hit a tight length and line, checking the run rate further.

Wasim Akram almost followed immediately after, launching into a pull at Prasad. The ball went high in the air, Laxman at deep square leg looked to have it well covered and in fact got both hands to a sitter, only to let the ball bounce off his hands over the ropes for a six. On a day when the fielding, barring a couple of good catches, had lowered all previous records for amateurishness, this was perhaps the worst example.

Shoaib Malik, rather surprisingly promoted ahead of Waqar Younis who has shown good form with the bat, lofted a Kumble delivery down the throat of Srinath at mid on, but Waqar and Akram saw Pakistan through the rest of the distance, to take Pakistan through to 261 at the end of its 50 overs.

The score was a tribute to shoddy fielding and, barring a few purple patches (the Ganguly spell, a comeback by Kumble who took one for 5 in his second spell, and Srinath's general steadiness at the start and in the death) a pathetic performance by the bowlers.

The first ball of the Indian chase, from Wasim Akram, was an away-swinger, just outside off, and Tendulkar rocked back and crashed it through point for a four.

Was that an indication of things to come? Quite the reverse. Seven came in the first over, and off the first ball of the second over, Waqar Younis found Saurav Ganguly's edge fishing outside off for Moin to take the first of many.

And then Tendulkar produced the few -- very few -- moments of cheer for the Indian supporters at the ground. An overpitched ball from Waqar Younis was on-driven -- the trademark push sending the ball screaming to the fence. He then leant back to caress one on the up through cover. And by way of variety, leant forward to smash the next ball through the cover field for yet another four.

It seemed as though the captain had decided that if he was going down, he would do it guns blazing. And then Waqar pitched one just outside off, the ball kicked off the deck and jagged back in a long way, the batsman, bent double trying to let that go, took his bat out of the way, the ball clipped the top of the pad, the bowler, keeper and slips went up and so did Umpire Taufel's finger for the caught behind.

The only problem with that decision was, Tendulkar's bat was nowhere close to touching the ball.

Tendulkar seemed bemused. As he saw the finger lifting, he looked back at his stumps -- it seemed as though he thought for a moment that the ball might have clipped the bail. When he saw the furniture intact, he shook his head, and walked off -- pretty much ending his tour as he had begun it, walking back with 17 against his name off 14 balls, trying to hide his disappointment at what, in polite parlance, passes for an 'ordinary' decision.

Matters then took on the air of a circus as Jacob Martin wandered out with a runner in tow. Wasim Akram objected. And quite right, too -- Martin, having twisted his ankle trying to field a ball, had been off the field for more than half the Pakistan innings, and therefore could not bat that high in the order. It made you wonder if the team management -- in this case, to give the (dis)credit where due, coach Kapil Dev since he was the one in the pavilion at the time -- are even aware of the basic rules of the game.

Martin hobbled back into the pavilion, Laxman came out, and normal business resumed. Akram by then had hit his straps, and produced as brilliant a spell of swing and seam bowling as you want to see (perhaps Umpire Taufel wouldn't see it that way, but to me, watching, the regret for today would be about having been deprived of an opportunity to watch a master bowler at the top of his art bowl to a Tendulkar who was obviously in aggressive mode).

Akram made the game a no contest as he angled one across Dravid, moving it just enough to fnd the edge through to Moin -- a brilliant piece of bowling, considering that the previous one had cut back in to Dravid, but the batsman was equally culpable in the way he blindly pushed at the ball away from his body.

By way of variety, Akram then produced a lovely late inswinger. Laxman gone, LBW. Hit just outside the line of off, if you want to be technical about it, but there was no doubt that the ball would have taken out the middle stump.

That brought Dighe to the middle. Akram, however, didn't let him stay out there long enough to let him wet his whistle -- a ball lifting and holding its line just outside off had the keeper-batsman edging to his Pakistan counterpart, to give Moin his fourth catch of the day. India were 33/5 in 12.1, a full blown disaster.

Now Martin could come out, legitimately. And if nothing else, he -- along with Robin Singh -- displayed some fortitude in hanging out there. And once the spinners -- Afridi and Malik -- came on, both began playing a few shots as well. But there really was nothing in it -- the Pakistan bowlers had relaxed, the game was effectively over, and the rest of the proceedings were not even of academic interest.

The win puts Pakistan, with eight points, into the final. Australia, also on eight, have a day game, Sunday, against the hapless Indians to try and keep its winning momentum going. And as for the Indians, they have one more match, before they can finally turn their backs on what has been the most disastrous foreign tour in a long long time.


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