| Irfan Pathan, who took three crucial wickets, celebrates. (Reuters)
Lahore, March 24: Sourav Ganguly doesn’t believe in history, yet is happy adding chapters to Indian cricket’s tome. The latest, probably the one most driven by emotions which can’t always be perfectly described, was scripted at the Gaddafi tonight.
Having always returned empty-handed, this time Team India will at least go home with the limited overs’ Samsung Cup.
Sadly, Sourav himself wasn’t marshalling his force for much of Pakistan’s innings. An unsuccessful dive to cut off counterpart Inzamam-ul Haq’s drive, in the 10th over, forced him to be stretchered off in excruciating pain.
He did walk out, overwhelmed and proud, when the last wicket fell. Aided by injections and a supportive belt, he hugged teammates but was careful not to do a repeat of the NatWest final.
The first Test, after all, is days away.
Though Sourav was forced off early, by then Pakistan was already headed for the ropes (40 for three) and the Cup India’s way. Yet, at the break, most felt that India’s 293 for seven — a total which couldn’t be defended by Pakistan on Sunday — was 20 short of claiming the decider.
But not everybody had accounted for Lakshmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan’s passion and direction. Just a few months ago, Sourav and coach John Wright were repeatedly asked whether a replacement for Jawagal Srinath was anywhere close to the horizon.
Now, nobody is going to bother.
Balaji struck first, firing out the in-form Yasir Hameed and, frankly, Pakistan never quite recovered when it ought to have. In any case, Rashid Latif’s absurd allegation that the last ODI was fixed caused its own problems. So, what may have been an achievable target became distant with every over.
It became impossible once an incredibly balanced Sachin Tendulkar brought off a lesson-imparting catch, millimetres off the boundary, to send back Inzamam.
Indeed, it was a statement. The huddle, celebrating that dismissal (87 for five), would have been the most warmth-generating for quite some time.
Eventually, Pakistan finished on 253 (48th over), going that far thanks to senior pro Moin Khan (last out on 72) and the somewhat underrated Shoaib Malik. If anything, the dew came on late to bale them out. Pathan, who thanked “God”, was No. 1 among the bowlers — three for 32 — and unlucky not to be adjudged Man of the Match.
While a distraught Inzamam, who had to be content with three individual awards (Man of the Series among them), felt the early wickets took the game away, Sourav said Sunday’s victory had given the confidence to win yet again.
He also made the point about Pathan and Balaji’s excellent opening burst. Sourav added: “A fantastic effort from a team which has been fantastic for the past two years or so.”
The turnout, of course, was befitting a decider. President Pervez Musharraf spent around an hour in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman’s office and three Union ministers had flown down from back home.
That Musharraf would do a Rawalpindi was made known to select officials only an hour before he arrived (in the Indian innings’ 13th over). The high state of security was raised one notch more and his convoy featured four identical (black) armour-plated Mercedes.
Apparently, calling on Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s India-based descendants, including Nusli Wadia, was top on his agenda. The Wadias and the rest flew in yesterday.
To return to the decider, in the afternoon, the Indian innings was built around Man of the Match V.V.S. Laxman’s fifth (ODI) hundred of the season — 107 off 104 deliveries — and his 92-run partnership with Sourav for the third wicket. He was dropped by Taufeeq Umar, on 52, but that shouldn’t be seen as a blemish.