| Sachin Tendulkar being congratulated by Shoaib Akhtar after his century in the Rawalpindi match. This was the first ton by an Indian in Pakistan in a one-dayer. (AFP)
Rawalpindi, March 16: Karachi repeated itself today, with roles reversed.
At the end of the first two matches of a goodwill tour, the score reads India 1, Pakistan 1.
The similarities with Karachi were far too many — the margin of defeat as narrow as it can get. Pakistan lost by five runs in the last over, India today went down by 12 in the penultimate.
If Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq was the tragic hero at Karachi, today it was Sachin Tendulkar. They hit classy centuries for the losing team and won the man-of-the-match award that was but poor consolation.
Sachin showed little emotion when he reached his 37th one-day century, just about raising the bat in acknowledgement of the applause, followed by a head bent back in a thankful gesture towards the sky.
It would become clear shortly later why. There was a job to do and a tough job it was to chase Pakistan’s 329 for 6. Once he left in the 39th over for 141 (135 balls), holing out in the deep as Abdul Razzaq took a running catch without a flutter, a familiar Indian story unfolded. With 13 runs to get for a win, Sourav Ganguly’s XI was back in the pavilion.
“I’ve always said that a century is of some value only when the team wins. This innings would have been of some relevance if we had gone up 2-0 in the series,” Sachin said, as captains on either side heaped praise on him.
“There is no doubt about his talent. He is the best batsman in the world today,” Inzamam said after the match.
In the course of his imperious century, Sachin became the first batsman to top 13,000 runs in one-day internationals. He also became the first Indian to score a one-day century in Pakistan.
“Outstanding,” said Sourav Ganguly. Sachin “batted superbly”, though it was “not a good wicket to bat on… It is amazing that 600-odd runs were scored on this track,” he added.
Sachin agreed. “The ball was stopping and coming. I had to be selective in my shot-making. Batting was difficult as the timing wasn’t always perfect.”
In the afternoon, when Shahid Afridi ripped Zaheer Khan and Laxmipathy Balaji apart, timing had seemed to be a problem, too, for the Indians. The ball was zipping to the boundary far too briskly.
Coming back after the World Cup in South Africa, Afridi hit 80 off 58 balls with four sixes and 10 fours, much as Virender Sehwag had done in Karachi.
Sourav said it was a matter of stitching together partnerships once Sachin left. “It didn’t happen today. It was Sachin’s day and hopefully someone else will call the shots another time. But I also hope Sachin keeps performing.”
He himself had an agonising stay at the crease and seemed a bit worried about form. “I am batting at No. 4 and have scored most of the hundreds opening the innings. I don’t get those extra overs now, but am aware that as a frontline batsman I need to get centuries.”
The skipper was all praise for debutant Ramesh Powar, who, with Balaji, had briefly rekindled hopes for an unlikely victory. “We almost looked like making it, needing 12 from two overs. But Balaji’s run-out spoiled the chance.”
Cricket lived up to its reputation of being a great leveller when Ashish Nehra became the last man to get out.
Earlier, the left-armer had put to rest fitness concerns with an inspired spell, scalping Inzamam, Moin Khan and Younis Khan, that stood out amid the debris of a ravaged Indian attack.
But he injured his hand in the game, ruling himself out of at least the next two matches.
Sourav was diplomatic when asked about Shoaib Akhtar’s action. “What do you think seeing him on TV' We all know the answer, don’t we'”