If a reminder was needed, the cricket fraternity got one tonight: That Pakistan are most dangerous when cornered, and, when India stand to benefit.
In fact, the reminder had that sledgehammer effect.
Nothing short of full points would have kept Pakistan afloat, in the Coca-Cola Cup 2000. As it turned out, Pakistan carved a crushing (98 runs) victory, with veterans Waqar Younis (five for 31) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (unbeaten 121 in 113 deliveries, 9x4, 5x6) doing the star-turn.
Appropriately, they were adjudged joint Men of the Match.
After reaching a smashing 272 for three, one of the biggest totals in the day-night era here, Pakistan effectively finished the match within five overs of session No. 2. By then, both Sourav Ganguly (deceived by a slower one) and Sachin Tendulkar (out playing across) were left to rue what could and should have been.
For those to follow, it was quite like having to climb Everest in the midst of the mother of all blizzards. Even Sir Edmund would have found it daunting.
Not unexpectedly, then, Sunil Joshi went early and Rahul Dravid undid the good work of over an hour by giving Moin Khan an absolute dolly... Mohammed Azharuddin, after a neat start, allowed frustration to get the better of him. Thereafter, well...
Having conceded 93 in the last ten overs — Inzamam alone helping himself to 56 of those runs, the Indians had to bat out of their skins to settle the finalists tonight itself. The ask, however, proved too stiff as nobody seemed familiar with application.
Now, India need to beat South Africa tomorrow and hope for a Pakistani defeat Tuesday, whey they face South Africa in the last league outing. A different bottomline, and the net run rate will take centrestage.
While Waqar proved a point or two late in the evening, Inzamam held everyone’s attention in the first session.
Inzamam, now vice-captain, began the Millennium with a mere 97 from nine innings in Australia. He was dropped for the next set of (ODI) engagements, versus Sri Lanka, but made a superb comeback in the Test series against the same opponents.
At the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, today, Inzamam showed just why all of Pakistan favours persisting with him even when runs dry up. He remains a class act by himself. Thanks to his seventh hundred, and excellent support from Younis Khan (44 in 66 balls, 3x4, 1x6) and Yousuf Youhana (56 not out in 64 deliveries, 5x4, 1x6), Pakistan could flaunt a total which wasn’t just competitive.
Inzamam and Youhana added a record unbeaten 151 for the fourth-wicket, bettering 111 between Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, at Gujranwala, back in December 1982.
Pleased as punch, by the way, was coach Javed Miandad who had been moving around as one possessed over the past two days. Focussing exclusively on the batsmen, after all, paid off handsomely.
Captains who choose to bat always look to utilising all 50 overs. Moin’s gameplan couldn’t have been any different. For a welcome change, his batsmen didn’t let him down.
That it would be Pakistan’s day became evident pretty early when Shahid Afridi offered an unusually straight bat to almost everything on offer. Eventually, his in-built impetuosity did surface but Afridi, at least, prevented an opening-over setback.
First to go though was the in-form Imran Nazir, to a slower one from Ajit Agarkar, who in the circumstances finished with a reasonable one for 50. Anil Kumble and Venkatesh Prasad, for instance, were tonked out of their senses.
All the damage, of course, being done between the 41st and 50th overs.
Afridi’s exit brought Younis and Inzamam together — the present and future of Pakistan cricket did well to collect 66 for the third-wicket. Younis was more of a pinch-hitter today than he was the other evening, against South Africa, and the six and pulled four (in succession) off Kumble were a treat.
Younis fell to a smart catch by Azhar who, at 37, retains the agility of a 17-year-old, but no more wickets came India’s way.
Robin Singh, as usual, did a fantastic job in the middle overs and Joshi, when he didn’t pitch short, looked a quality bowler, but the last ten overs negated the middle overs’ gains.
One spell of two Prasad overs cost 16 and, then, a third saw all of 17 being smashed. Similarly, one spell of two Kumble overs cost 21 and, then, a solitary single-over spell saw the Pakistan total jump by 11.
Clearly, in the mood he was in — and that rubbed off on Youhana — Inzamam would have smashed Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Still, the Indian effort was poor. Perhaps, for the only time in his short innings as captain, Sourav was helpless. He looked it, too.
Inzamam sprinted from 50 to 100 in only 28 balls, inviting deafening cheers from the tournament’s most handsome turnout. Of those 28 deliveries, three were hit for sixes and six for boundaries — 42, therefore, came in the most punishing fashion as Inzamam launched into lofted drives and pulls with panache.
Significantly, Inzamam’s unbeaten 121 has ended the drought of ODI hundreds which hit Pakistan after last summer’s World Cup semi-final. In the 24 matches between Saeed Anwar’s unbeaten 113 (versus New Zealand) and today, no one touched three-figures.
As was largely expected, both Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar took the field. They couldn’t have sat out a do-or-die match. And, yes, both played their part to perfection.
The champions crown will rest a little easier on Mohun Bagan now, as they signed off their Coca-Cola National League campaign on a winning note at Salt Lake Stadium today.
After Wednesday’s debacle against arch rivals East Bengal, today’s thumping 4-0 victory over Tollygunge Agragami has possibly returned some of the glitter of the national crown and the jubilant supporters seemed to have come to terms with the loss to the red-and-gold brigade.
And the icing on the cake was the fact that Uzbek star Igor Shkvirin became the top scorer in the League, with 11 goals.
Even before Jose Ramirez Barreto had struck to open the tally, the stadium was reverberating to the beat of drums, and once Igor consolidated the lead the green-and-maroon flags were fluttering everywhere, with the club insignia, the boat, bobbing up-and-down. Igor scored the third goal in the first half itself, and Rashmohan Mallick’s self goal in the 75th minute completed the tally.
Mohun Bagan went into the offensive from the beginning and never gave Tollygunge Agragami a chance to regroup. In fact, the first shot that Tollygunge took at the rival goal was in the second half.
It was a touch of Brazilian magic that saw Mohun Bagan take the lead in the 17th minute. Receiving a pass from the hardworking medio Basudeb Mondal, he ran down the left flank and cracked a powerful volley and goalkeeper Rajat Ghosh Dastidar could only helplessly watch the net bulge.
The foreign hand again came into play as Barreto, seeking the top scorer’s slot, slotted in the next two within eight minutes of each other.
In the 30th minute, a James Singh centre from the right saw the ever-opportunistic Igor head home. And eight minutes later, R.P. Singh’s cross was shot in by Igor, confirming his highest-scorer status.
Up by three goals, Mohun Bagan took it easy in the second half, letting Tollygunge breathe a little easy. But by then, Tollygunge was so demoralised that they could not avail of even the few opportunities that came their way. And to add to their woes, came the self goal by Rashmohan.
Stephen Abarowei had taken a powerful grounder from the right side of the box. Seeing both Barreto and James lurking nearby, Rashmohan, standing on the left, hurriedly tried to pass the ball to the goalkeeper, but to his horror watched it roll into the net, past the outstretched arms of Ghosh Dastidar.
Though Mohun Bagan fans will have to thank the two foreign stars for their success today — and maybe for the League title, too — their local strength was also in evidence. Basudeb played a stellar role in the midfield, along with R. P. Singh, and James too impressed the gathering today. And had it not been for missed chances, they could have gone home with a bigger victory margin today.
According to former captain Rameez Raja, a member of the PCB’s advisory board, the academies will be established in Lahore, Karachi and possibly Faisalabad.
The first two, if not all three, should become functional by September.
Speaking to The Telegraph this morning, Rameez indicated there will be one national director with three ‘regional’ heads. Mudassar Nazar, it is understood, could be one of the ‘regional’ heads if not the national director.
Simultaneously the PCB, which clearly is into overdrive, will put into place a Panel of Analysts — covering batting, bowling and fielding — to help strengthen the basics of those waiting to break into the big league.
“The Analysts will complement the academies... Quite a few names are being discussed, but it will be premature to identify them till their acceptance is known,” Rameez pointed out. Obviously, the Analysts will also be on call where the senior team is concerned.
The Panel could be packed with batting specialists, as batting is “an area of concern,” not so the bowling.
Pakistan’s ruler, General Parvez Musharraf, by the way, has promised the PCB will have control of all stadiums which currently are run by the district/local administration. At the moment, the PCB only controls the Gaddafi in Lahore and Karachi’s National Stadium.
Rameez clarified “at no time” had the PCB decided to approach either Jonty Rhodes or Trevor Chappell to help sharpen fielding. “Their names surfaced, during a discussion, but that means nothing. Jonty is still an active cricketer, while Trevor has been working with the Sri Lankans...”
He added: “Similarly, it was reported out of context that the PCB wished to recruit either Geoff Boycott or Barry Richards as coach (once it was decided Intikhab Alam would go). Again, what happened is only that their names cropped up during an internal discussion. However, Javed Miandad was our first choice as the players wanted him.”
Rameez, assigned to oversee international dealings, revealed he will call for more big-league cricket in Pakistan itself. “We seem to play a great deal more overseas than at home... And, yes, I will be pressing for India to tour our country next year, as was planned some time ago.”
Miandad, incidentally, has been handed the domestic cricket ‘portfolio’ and is working on a blueprint to recast the very structure of cricket in Pakistan.
Should it be implemented, institutions and multinationals will be invited to sponsor provincial teams instead of themselves fielding sides — as is the case specially with institutions.
Club cricket, too, could come under the PCB’s umbrella — an absolute first.
The PCB, it may be noted, has already undergone an internal restructuring. At the top is the chairman, Lt General Tauqir Zia, with Yawar Saeed looking after the day-to-day affairs as director of operations.
Then, former quick Zakir Khan — one of Imran Khan’s blue-eyed boys — is the manager, domestic cricket, while one Subhan Ahmed is Zakir’s international-counterpart.
Besides Rameez and Miandad, the other members of the advisory board are the director of operations (Saeed), Nasim-ul-Ghani and marketing guru Wasim Azhar.