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Pakistan shines, too, only five less

Karachi, March 13: Last evening, shadow-batting in his Sheraton room, Sourav Ganguly hoped that Team India would begin the competitive part of this tour with a “bang”.

The captain wasn’t disappointed, but even he missed heartbeats when Inzamam-ul Haq was going bang-bang this afternoon.

Inzamam, however, went bust in the 43rd over and with the Indians keeping nerve and fielding like probably never before, Pakistan’s extraordinary challenge in the first of five ODIs ended five short of India’s highest (349 for seven) in one-to-one shootouts.

With the match aggregate of 693 being a record, the Samsung Cup couldn’t have had a more spectacular launch. Besides, the effort of the cheerleaders — from the glamorous Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to the quiet Rahul Gandhi and the polished Arun Jaitley — didn’t go unrewarded.

Of course, lucky for India that Javed Miandad was on the support staff bench and not in the middle, or else he would have attempted a Sharjah repeat. Almost 18 years on, it was left to Moin Khan to get six off the last ball, from Ashish Nehra. He only managed to hole out to Zaheer Khan.

Requiring nine off the last over, Pakistan mustered three.

The day saw two winners, with the National Stadium crowd being the other. Sparkling and powerful hits were cheered, excellent catches (like by Mohammed Kaif to dismiss Shoaib Malik) were applauded. But the icing on the cake came in the form of “D-r-a-v-i-d, D-r-a-v-i-d” chants when the vice-captain was on 99.

It’s another matter that Rahul Dravid tripped there, taken aback, perhaps, at being made to feel as if he was at the Chinnaswamy in Bangalore.

There were cheers, too, when Sourav led his team off after what he described “a terrific victory” — significantly, back-to-back in Karachi. In turn, the Indians raised their hands, applauding the crowd’s gesture. It brought back five-year-old memories of the Chepauk, where the turnout cheered Wasim Akram’s team despite India’s defeat in that epic Test.

Once condemned for poor crowd behaviour, the National Stadium got gilt-edged certificates. While Indian board president Jagmohan Dalmiya announced he would propose Karachi host the first Test, if the next tour begins with the longer version, Pakistan board chairman Shaharyar Khan quipped: “Let the itinerary be redrawn and shift a Test here!”

Former captain Imran Khan, now a Member of the National Assembly, was as effusive.

Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “Never before did the crowd behave the way it did throughout.... In my time, our players would be scared of losing.... I didn’t notice that this time.... I’m delighted.”

Imran praised both teams as well: “Look, at one point, nobody gave Pakistan a chance. Yet, they almost made it. So, Inzamam shouldn’t feel despondent. As for India, their confidence will soar. In any case, I’ve gone on record that India are favoured to win the ODIs.”

Inzamam didn’t quite agree that he erred by inserting India, but Sourav remarked he was “surprised” by that decision. “I would have batted, for sure,” he maintained, adding that the thinktank needed to “look into” how Pakistan came so close to the 350 target.

“It did become very close for comfort and, towards the end, I was left with many things on my mind.... Thankfully, we bowled exceedingly well in the last three overs, with Nehra justifying his selection (ahead of Irfan Pathan). Indeed, he used his experience to good effect,” is how Sourav put it.

Though adjudged Man of the Match for a brilliant 122, Inzamam didn’t see that as a consolation. “Had we won, I would have ranked it as my finest knock.... Given the result, woh kuch maine nahin rakhta...”

While Inzamam promised a “better show”, Sourav spoke about building on the huge psychological advantage. Match No. 2, in Rawalpindi, is on Tuesday.

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