Guwahati: The question — “has the team’s performance been affected by what’s happening at home'” — was for Shoaib Malik, but media manager Ahsan Malik didn’t allow him to answer.
That was at the end of the captain’s post-match media conference, on Monday evening. Such questions, though, are bound to be raised till the visitors start to win. Or, normalcy returns in Pakistan.
While the media can be denied an answer, what if the man at the centre of it all — President Pervez Musharraf — himself chooses to question' The President is, after all, the Pakistan Board’s chief patron.
Clearly, as the crackdown gets more vicious at home, Malik and Co. may get affected in a big way. The ask on the tour, then, is going to get tougher.
Losing the first match of a series never helps, but Pakistan have only themselves to blame. They ought to have posted at least 20-25 runs more (than just 239 for seven) and attempted something different when the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-Yuvraj Singh partnership kept growing on a wicket which was pretty challenging.
The captain and vice-captain added 105 for the fourth wicket, taking the first ODI (for the IndianOil Cup) out of Pakistan’s reach. Eventually, Team India won by five wickets, with Dhoni’s 63 off 77 balls ensuring the MoM award. Yuvraj scored 58.
Neither stayed till the end, but both did enough to confirm their status as classy finishers. They’d earned that reputation on the last tour of Pakistan, 22 months ago.
Earlier, the 82-run partnership for the second wicket between Sourav Ganguly and Gautam Gambhir (preferred over the more experienced Virender Sehwag) helped the hosts recover from Sachin Tendulkar’s early loss.
Sachin was the first of Shoaib Akhtar’s two victims, with Dhoni being the other. The speedster quickly hit 150kmph, in fact as early as his third delivery, and made a point by evicting truly big guns.
“Such an asset when he’s fit,” is how Malik praised Shoaib.
While the victory was cause for rejoicing, Sachin’s departure for so few would’ve disappointed many, including Assam governor Lt Gen. (retd) Ajai Singh, an “admirer” of the 34-year-old icon.
The governor didn’t stay till the end, but did spend a couple of hours at the ground. “Having played cricket till a certain level, you could say I’m a keen observer,” he told The Telegraph.
The massive turnout, which gave a good account of itself, appeared as keen as the state’s First Citizen.
“We’re treating every match as a one-off, that’s our approach,” explained Dhoni. Reflecting on his match-winning partnership with Yuvraj, he said: “It’s a plus that both of us run well and can go after the bowling… Yuvraj is a very fine batsman…”
Dhoni also lauded specialist spinners Harbhajan Singh (one for 30) and Murali Kartik (none for 35, but had a catch dropped by Sourav). “The best thing is that they bowled to their fields… It was important to land in the right areas and they did so consistently…”
The captain, who promoted himself to No.4, maintained he would be “flexible” over his position in the batting order.
Interestingly, while Malik claimed “dropped catches” made the biggest difference, only one which went to hand was actually put down.
The defeat, perhaps, left Malik confused.