Lahore, March 23: Exactly a year ago, Ricky Ponting’s onslaught crushed Team India in the World Cup final. Tomorrow is time for the biggest deciding game since and Sourav Ganguly is intent on making this generation and beyond talk of March 24, not the day before — enthusiastically, not with a sigh.
Having drawn level spectacularly from a hopeless position in the fourth one-dayer, it’s difficult not to think of India as favourites for the Samsung Cup. More so, as the pressure on Pakistan is increasing by the hour.
If anything, self-appointed whistle-blower Rashid Latif (captain till recently) has helped India by accusing Pakistan of throwing Sunday’s match. An outraged Pakistan Cricket Board is contemplating suing him, but the damage is done.
Latif, by the way, is “prepared” for what may follow.
Whatever the sentiments voiced during the series, losing to India never goes down well with the biggest constituency in these parts. After the Latif act, it’s going to be worse if Pakistan actually finish second best under the Gaddafi floodlights. Savage form notwithstanding, Inzamam-ul Haq could have a restless night.
Of course, the one-dayers have been riveting — in fact, Pakistan coach Javed Miandad even said he hasn’t seen anything more exciting. But, then, he couldn’t also have seen a series where the home bowlers conceded 98 sundries in four games.
“We will welcome more extras... We’ve been quite happy getting that many so far,” quipped India vice-captain Rahul Dravid. For Pakistan, though, it’s no laughing matter and the Imran Khans have been highly critical of the support staff.
Yet, it may be another story if Shoaib Akhtar, Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Sami appreciate the value of discipline and keep the sundries column insignificant. Quite simply, India can’t afford to bank heavily on the extras alone.
Given that the wickets have been of the extreme kind, India’s handsome run in the series has been driven by the Dravids. However, on and off, there have been telling performances from the bowlers. Ashish Nehra, back home with an injury, was brilliant in Karachi and Rawalpindi, while Irfan Pathan has shown passion and aggression.
Even Murali Kartik, written off not many days ago, attracted kudos on Sunday. Besides shackling Pakistan’s middle-order at a critical time, he ensured the selectors kept him back for the Tests.
On the eve of the one-dayers, the world believed Pakistan’s bowlers would make the biggest impact. With Inzamam leading from the front, though, the batsmen have eclipsed the Shoaibs
“I’ve been surprised by their effort,” confessed Miandad. It’s another matter he ought to have avoided that on the eve of what has become a final.
After all, not to be left behind in whatever the duel — mind or otherwise — Dravid pounced and scored a point: “Did he say that' We, at least, have had a higher opinion of the Pakistan team than their own coach.…”
More than opinions, it’s the on-field play which will count. The awaam in Lahore, widely regarded as the sub-continent’s most romantic city, understandably wants a Pakistan win. Had circumstances been different, that would have been a huge source of support. In the present context, as a Lahori told The Telegraph, that could be like the proverbial albatross around a familiar neck.