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June 9, 1999


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Unity in adversity

After India's victory over Pakistan yesterday, there was a classic understatement from skipper Mohammad Azharuddin about how ''our people should be happy now", while Wasim Akram took up the theme of how his side should learn from the defeat (their third in a row in this World Cup).

Azhar went as far as to say he felt ''exhilarated'', and it was that kind of day on which India and Indians were elevated to a higher plane.

The crowd itself splendidly behaved right up to the end. The arrest count was three and the eviction count nine, with one incident of (Indian) flag burning. There was one injury from fire crackers going off, and another, as Ajay Jadeja was tripped by two security men raising the boundary rope at the wrong time. Jadeja fell flat on his face, but he may not have minded it too much.

It was Pakistan's batting that had fallen flat on its face when once again it was unequal to the task of chasing a target. The slowing pitch was not at all in favour of the chase that was wisely thrust upon them. There was an outstanding performance of fast medium swing bowling by Venkatesh Prasad, who found all his wares of deceptive pace changes, a leg cutter and an in cutter once again.

An all-Karnataka day of bowling splendour is a phenomenon that has been seen often enough in the past. The 10 Pakistan wickets went to them, half to Prasad, whose line of attack was brilliant. Unable as he was to bring all his tricks into play in conditions more helpful to swing than seam in may, Prasad came into his own on a track on which the seam bowler could really shine as opposed to the fast bowler and the swing bowler.

India have not quite turned the cricket world upside down this time. On a day in May in 1983, they had beaten the West Indies for only the second time in history at the same venue where their World Cup campaign had been well and truly launched. They had returned there to beat the hosts, England, in the semi-final in a cruciating run to the summit. It was there that they completed a third win over Pakistan in the World Cups.

India would have been happy to give a medallion to Peter Marron for working the ground back to shape after Monday's thunderstorm, and for producing a slowing pitch that was right up India's alley. By exploiting the pitch as well as the Pakistani batting weakness in the chase, the Indians have given a new look to the World Cup of 1999. They have won five times out of five in World Cup appearances at Old Trafford, which must constitute an extraordinary record.

They are as far away from qualifying for the semi-finals as they were before they picked up their first points in the Super League. But the bookmakers have already slashed their Cup odds from 66 to one to a low of nine times investment (South Africa 1.5 times, Pakistan 2.25 times, Australia 3.3 times, Zimbabwe and New Zealand 16 to one and the best price on India 20 to one).

India's progress is predicated upon more fancied sides losing their balance as Pakistan did at Manchester, for nine years Akram's home ground in Lancashire CCC. What India have achieved is to walk with pride once again as a side capable of beating the best in the world on a given day, especially on a slow pitch on which the ball does not bounce to high.

Rahul Dravid continues to shine as the batsman with the finest technique and the most unflappable temperament. He made the transition to a great player in the course of this World Cup, and he remains the one batsman unaffected by all the excitement around him.

In his whole career he has never once been guilty of saying a harsh word to an opponent or of making a crude gesture. If there is a fairplay award in cricket, it should go to Dravid, the World Cup's highest scorer.

The bowling changes were run by a committee comprising the skipper Azharuddin, former captain Sachin Tendulkar and sometimes captain Jadeja. Such a unity, forged in the face of adversity in this World Cup campaign, is a good sign for Indian cricket even if the team gets knocked out if Pakistan beats Zimbabwe at The Oval on Friday.

It is a tribute to the crowd and the Manchester police that a potentially explosive encounter ended as an advertisement for peace and harmony. Cricket triumphed once again in restoring commonsense to relations between prickly neighbours.

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