There are days when a player achieves magical heights, when he is unstoppable and when every other player in the arena looks woefully inadequate. Shots come off the bat with amazing ease, gaps are bisected as though with a compass and runs just don’t stop.
Sachin Tendulkar achieved that against us yesterday, and it is our misfortune that we were in the opposition at that magic moment. I still maintain that 273 was defendable. On any other day we would have defended it against India, but on March 1, 2003, we had no answer to Tendulkar.
We came into this game as somewhat underdogs, since India had virtually qualified for the Super Sixes, and we had to win this game to keep our hopes alive.
It is therefore bitterly disappointing that we were not able to achieve that goal, and now have to depend on the result of the Australia-England game to see if we still have a chance.
Pakistan is a proud, attacking team and we did not want to wait for other results to get through to the Super Sixes, we wanted to go through on our own merit, but Tendulkar assured that was not to be.
What made bowling to Tendulkar so difficult was the fact that he was reading the line very early, and seemed to have an extra split second to get into a shot, even against the express pace of Shoaib. He has always had a great eye, but on this pitch, he seemed to have all the time in the world to select the right shot and play it to perfection.
In retrospect, we could have tried to attack other batsmen more once Sehwag and Ganguly were out, but in this one innings Tendulkar did not get impatient when he was at the other end. In the past, I have seen him fret when he is off the strike for too long, or when his part ner plays out a maiden. Yesterday he was relaxed right through, and our ploy to keep Kaif on strike for some time did not affect him.
Personally speaking, I have been very unhappy about the number of wides and no-balls I have been bowling, and yesterday, these cost us dear. Even when Waqar got two wickets, we were not able to get our line right, and I kept overstepping every now and then. Also, we were guilty of not varying our pace in the first 15 overs as that might have prevented Tendulkar from timing the ball so well. I thought we were in with a chance when we dismissed him with 100 more to defend, but Rahul Dravid once again proved his class. In Pakistan, we often feel that batsmen like Dravid have got dwarfed by the brilliance of Tendulkar.
The latter has been the most consistent batsman of his generation, and yesterday he showed that he is capable of unforgettable strokeplay, which makes him the larger-than-life figure that he is.
Equally, Dravid was crucial to India’s win, because if he had been dismissed with even 50 to get, we would have gone all out to attack and get the tail out. Both Dravid and Yuvraj calmly knocked off the runs, and on a flat pitch our bowlers had no answers.
We need to beat Zimbabwe handsomely if we are to harbour any hopes of proceeding in the tournament.
In this respect, the one positive to emerge from yesterday’s match is that our batting is looking good, and we now seem to have the confidence to put up a big total.
This will be absolutely necessary to improve our net run rate which is behind both England and Zimbabwe. The loss against India is disheartening, but we must look ahead and try our best till the end, that will be the challenge for Pakistan in the next couple of days.