Headless Ganguly, and the fair and lovely worm

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Sunday, July 25, 2004

India v Pakistan, Asia Cup, 10th match

10.09pm IST

It's been a bad day for India, and tomorrow the newspapers will be full of post-mortems. There are a couple in my mailbox, from Vijay Bharadwaj and R Somesh, which offer plenty of suggestions for the future. But let's give some credit to Pakistan; they batted beautifully to make 300, and bowled superbly to make sure that the Indians couldn't rotate the strike effectively enough. Sure, the Indians did not play at their best, and Harbhajan Singh's shot, with 17 required to avoid conceding the bonus point, was stupid and irresponsible. But on the whole, it is fair to say that Pakistan won this match more than India lost it.

I would not be too worried for India. Lance Armstrong does not bother too much about the Giro d'Italia or the Vuelta a Espana or the one-day classics - it's the Tour de France he aims for, and he peaks just in time for that. Similarly, the most important events for India this season are the Champions Trophy, and then the series against Australia and South Africa. India did terribly on their tour to New Zealand in 2002-03, but bounced back superbly in the World Cup just after that. This season is nicely paced. Match practice in Sri Lanka and Holland, the big events in England and India, and then an easing off against Bangladesh.

Having said that, I don't think the Indians treated this as a warm-up, or were complacent. They clearly wanted to win, but are a bit rusty coming off their long break. There are too many top-class players in the side for them to be down for too long, and Indian fans need not despair.

As for Pakistan supporters, what a fine win this was. Pakistan have always had loads of talented players, and the appointment of Bob Woolmer as coach promises to bring discipline to that side as well. If that happens, they will be a formidable force, and consistently so, not just on and off. This Asia Cup might well be remembered as the first step on that journey.

It's been nine hours since my first post of the day, and I'd like to thank all the people who wrote in; sadly, there are so many emails that it was simply not possible to quote everyone, or reply to each mail. I enjoyed myself, hope you did as well. Adios, for now.

9.19pm

India are 176 for 5 after 38 overs, and it's fairly clear that they are not going for the 301 they need to win, but for 241, which will deny Pakistan the bonus point. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out at what point exactly they shifted targets? Just when is it that you give up?

Rahul Walawalkar has sent me a mail with a fairly detailed argument of why Ajit Agarkar should have been part of this squad, and, indeed, this side. He has plenty of statistics on his side, and I'll quote him in full when I blog about Agarkar at a future that. Offhand, I'd just venture to suggest that, given Agarkar's economy rate of 5.33 this year, his omission from this squad wasn't so surprising. Of course, we now know that Zaheer Khan is still not fully fit and L Balaji is yet to find his rhythm, but that is hindsight. In any case, given our fast bowlers' fitness record, Agarkar won't have to wait long for yet another comeback.

A few people have written in to me slamming Sachin Tendulkar. Srinivas Kalakoti says that he is accumulating "garbage runs", and Anoop Gannerkote allages that he is playing for an individual hundred. Manish Vashistha and Srikanth Mangalam wonder why India are playing so slowly. Well, it looks to me that Tendulkar is being pragmatic, and making sure that India gets to 241, so that Pakistan don't get that bonus point. It is an important aim from the tournament's point of view, and if Tendulkar was to aim for 301, he'd have to take risks that could lead to his dismissal, and India conceding the bonus point. It's a crucial innings he's playing.

8.23pm

Yuvraj Singh is out caught and bowled by Shoaib Malik to a ball that came on slower than expected, and Mohammad Kaif is run out soon after that. But Sachin Tendulkar is still there ...

Anand Natrajan writes in about Sehwag's comments on aiming for 200 in a game. "If Sehwag has begun the season with one fault," he says, "it is hubris. If he indeed made statements about going for 200 in a game, he's falling into the same trap as Shoaib Akhtar repeatedly falls into when playing India - shooting off his mouth without necessarily backing it up."

That's a bit harsh on Sehwag, Anand. Let me explain how such statements often happen by drawing up an imaginary scenario, which may well be close to how it actually happened.

Say, Sehwag is at one of these numerous interminable press conferences and someone asks him, "so would you like to get 200 in a one-day innings, Virender?" He replies, honestly, that yes, of course he would. The next day, the newspapers all headline, "Sehwag aiming for 200". From then on he repeatedly gets asked about it, and every additional statement he makes (like a casual "yes, I think I can do it" when asked if he is capable of it) adds to the media hype. It seems like hubris to the reader, who is led to believe that Sehwag has set himself the pre-season aim of making 200 in an innings, but poor Sehwag may have no such goal in mind.

The above situation is imaginary, of course, but it is more or less how many controversial statements are generated - with a little prodding and poking of unsuspecting cricketers by journalists desperate for something to put in a headline. And the subsequent pressure can be quite telling on the cricketers concerned.

8.23pm

Nachiketa Mishra writes in to ask: "Is there any merit in Yuvraj as an opener along with Sehwag? I have to say, that on the face of it, it looks tantalizing. It would also mean that the middle order would be solid, albeit Dravid will probably go down a spot, but I think by now he is used to such treatment."

My two cents: I don't think that's necessary. In Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, India have three of the best opening batsman in one-day cricket; it's hard enough to choose two among those men to open. Also, Yuvraj is a fantastic finisher, and plays the middle and end overs beautifully. Let's not over-react to one bad game (and this one is still not over). My maxim for such matters:

If it ain't broken, don't break it.

Kedar Pandit, meanwhile, writes, "[I] would love to know what your thoughts are on the modern English Test match team. Tabloids and Torygraph's homilies apart, I still don't think they are as good as they are being made out to be as their batting remains suspect and Harmo is not a patch on the great Curtley. Can you imagine Harmo doing the Aussies in a spell of 7 for 1 like the great man?"

Hmmm. Controversial topic, and I shall leave it for a future blog. I'm sure my colleagues in London will have a point-of-view on that. But I don't see why we should have Ambrose-at-his-best as a benchmark for Harmison, or, for that matter, Wasim-at-his-best as a benchmark for Irfan Pathan, or Tendulkar-at-his-peak for Sehwag. These are young men of fantastic talent, and we should not burden them with such unfair comparisons. How good will they turn out to be? We'll only know in hindsight. Till then, let's enjoy them for what they are.

7.53pm

Rahul Dravid gets hit on the pads, Abdul Razzaq appeals, and Billy Doctrove, the umpire, raises his finger. Doctrove's shirt says, "Fly Emirates", and he looks grim. There's a message there somewhere.

7.45pm

India are 82 for 2 after 15 overs, with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid at the crease. Sourav Ganguly promised much by blazing away to 39 off 45 balls, and India have one specialist batsman less in this game than they normally do. Will the Indian selectors' decision to not have a back-up batsman in the squad cost them dearly? No side has ever chased down such a big total successfully in Sri Lanka, but India has chased down 300-plus totals before in the subcontinent.

I suspect Shoaib Akhtar's second spell will be decisive, one way or another.

7.12pm

Pal Singh from the UAE has an explanation for Virender Sehwag's failure. "Seems like Marriage is affecting the guy or he is in Love," says Pal, suitably capitalising. But why that 'or' in the middle of the sentence?

Let's go easy on Sehwag, ok? Kedar Pandit, he of the honeymoon from a few posts down, calls Sehwag a 'fake', and I don't think that's fair. A couple of failures, and we start digging into the guy. He's made fine Test hundreds all over the world, in South Africa, England, Australia and Pakistan, and he really doesn't need to prove his class. The season's just begun; let it run.

Sourav Ganguly just charged Shabbir Ahmed and smashed him over cover for six. A remarkable shot. After playing Shoaib Akhtar in the previous over, I guess Shabbir must have seemed like a slow bowler to Ganguly. He played a bouncer from Shoaib outside off rather well, guiding it to third man for four. Shoaib then beat him with a slower one, as if to say, with a wicked Irish accent, "I have guile too, not just raw pace. Mite!"

6.52pm

Virender Sehwag is out, and the most successful opening pair in Indian one-day history is at the crease, as Sourav Ganguly comes out and joins Sachin Tendulkar. Sehwag edged Shabbir to Moin Khan behind the wicket, and was out for a grand total of 1. He was talking about making 200 before the Asia Cup began; maybe he meant over the course of the tournament. Even that'll take some doing now.

Meanwhile Avijit Agarwal writes in to assert that I misunderstood what he meant when I quoted him a few posts down. "The reason why I was asking if Sehwag's three dropped chances had anything to do with him not bowling," he says, "was the drop in confidence such mistakes in the field could result in. Ganguly may have well decided that Sehwag in a poor frame of mind could be disastrous on such a track."

Fair point. And Sehwag didn't do much with the bat either.

Meanwhile, a number of mails came in raving about Tendulkar's bowling in the last few overs. Sunny from Adelaide felt he was the bowler of the tournament, and Shyam Mehta complained that Ganguly tends to underbowl Tendulkar. Meanwhile, Sairam Rajagopal implies that Tendulkar is almost as good a bowler as he is a batsman. He says, "my imagination is running amok, i'm thinking of Tendulkar v Tendulkar." Dude, at this moment in time, I'm thinking of Tendulkar v Shoaib, and it's fire and brimstone here.

Sameer Sarkar thinks Tendulkar can win India this game, though. "I hope he tears the total in shreds and we have more fireworks than we saw in the World Cup match," says Sameer. "And I hope someone is recording this all for the DVD hopefully to come." I'm sure that's happening, Sameer, and in the meantime, if you want a DVD of that amazing India-Pakistan clash at the 2003 World Cup, click here.

6.35pm

Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag walk out to bat, as Shoaib Akhtar, that delightful man, takes the new ball. Wasim Akram revealed the other day that one of the first questions he asked Shoaib, when Shoaib joined the Pakistan team, was where he got his accent from. "Yeh English accent nahin hai," said Wasim, "Australian bhi nahin hai, American bhi nahin hai." Shoaib informed him that it was Irish. He played cricket for three months in Ireland, apparently - and out there, they call him Jack. Anything to do with a certain ripper?

There was this story the other day that Bob Woolmer wanted his bowlers to come in with short run-ups. Not Shoaib, not against India, oh no. He's fairly steaming in, and this is all set up to be a wonderful contest. He's getting the ball to move away, and Tendulkar has played and missed a couple - the latest one 155kph.

And now, as I finish typing the last sentence, Tendulkar off-drives Shoaib for four. Excellent fun.

6.23pm

To add to the post below, consider India's record under Sourav Ganguly: among Indian captains who have led in at least 10 Tests, he has the best win-loss ratio, at 1.36 (15 wins to 11 losses), ahead of Sunil Gavaskar (1.12), Mohammad Azharuddin (1.00) and Sachin Tendulkar (0.44). In one-dayers, among captains who have led in at least 15 games, Ganguly, at 1.24, is just below Kapil Dev, who had 1.25. That isn't a bad record at all, is it?

6.05pm

Excellent bowling by Sachin Tendulkar and Irfan Pathan at the death restricts Pakistan to 300 for 9. At one point, a score of 330 looked likely. India are playing six specialist batsmen, remember, so it might nevertheless be a match-winning score. Let's see.

Mark Hancock writes in to me talking about how often the Indian team lets down the emotions of fans like him. "I am a close follower of the Indian team," he says, "being an Indian expat living in Perth for the past 15 years. How I wish our guys get a hold of themselves and perform in line with the millions of rupees and/or dollars that are heaped on them. They consistently let [down] over a billion followers, Indians living all over the world, especially those of us who have to hang our heads in shame whenever we get walloped."

Mark, I think you're being harsh here. Consider India's results since the summer of 2002, when they went to England. A win in the NatWest Trophy, followed by a drawn away-series against England, then a victory against West Indies at home, followed by an away-loss to New Zealand on dubious pitches, then reaching the final of the World Cup, a drawn series against New Zealand at home, a tremendous drawn series against Australia in Australia, and an away-series win against Pakistan. Sourav Ganguly's men have come on tremendously in the last three years, and while they've occasionally underperformed, it's been mainly in one-dayers, like the 2002-03 series against West Indies, and this year's VB Series. I can take that.

5.46pm

Kedar Pandit, who describes himself as a "long-suffering Indian fan", has an explanation for L Balaji's disappointing start to the season. "I think his action seems to have been tinkered with and his left shoulder seems to fall away," he says. He is also keen on watching Virender Sehwag bat. "I am waiting with bated breath for Sehwag to bat today. The guy is so daft as to talk about getting a 200 and then depart for a duck. Today he has looked every bit the honeymooner on the field, and has been falling around aimlessly on the field, dropping a few along the way. " Honeymooners fall around aimlessly, Kedar? Hmmm.

Avijit Agarwal writes in asking, "Why hasn't Sehwag been called on to bowl yet? Is it because of his three dropped chances?" I don't think that's quite the reason, it would be daft for someone's fielding to be a criteria in his being given the ball if the team needed him to bowl. But on a nice subcontinental batting track like this, I'm not sure he could have done any better than Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

Irfan Pathan just bowled Abdul Razzaq. Matches like this, with 300-plus scores, might appear to be batsmen v batsmen, but the bowlers do impact these games. Canny bowling in the end-overs can reduce a potential total by 15-20 runs, which can decide a match. And Sachin Tendulkar and Irfan are bowling rather well just now.

5.23pm

My colleague Rahul Bhatia, who is CMSing this match (don't even ask what that is), tells me about his trip to the animal hospital in Mumbai. "It's huge," he says, and then his arms stretch out. "It's fricking huge. It's so big. I haven't seen so much space given in Mumbai to anything ... even cricket.

"It's got a space for horses," he continues rhythmically, "and its got a space for cattle, and it's got a space for rabbits, and it's got a space for kites, and cats and dogs and snakes ... though I didn't see the snakes, to be honest."

Why are we discussing this? Because India is getting pumped, that's why. Pakistan, at the time of writing, are 253 for 4 in 43 overs, with Shoaib Malik on 136 off 118. Maybe Malik gets the 200 that Virender Sehwag was dreaming of? Don't think so. Cattle? Really? You mean cows fall ill?

4.58pm

Pakistan are 207 for 3 in 37.1. How much will they end up with? Unnikrishnan from Oman says 312, Robbie Donalds from Manchester says 285 (why aren't you watching the England game, Robbie?), Anand Balasubramanian says 315, my colleagues Rahul Bhatia and Siddhartha Vaidyanathan say 330 and 290 respectively. I'll go with 307.

Rahul Tyagi, are you there? See the time.

4.49pm

Ranjit Fernando just said on ESPN, "The captain, Sourav Ganguly, will have to keep things going, and not let his head fall down."

And as a graph with the run-rate went up, Dean Jones said, "Let's have a look at the Fair and Lovely worm."

I see the basic premise of a horror film here. A headless Ganguly, a fair and lovely worm, Mandira Bedi eating sphagetti straps, Dean Jones breathing down L Balaji's neck, and Shekhar Suman as a temple priest in front of an idol that resembles a certain Indian batsman. Are the Ramsay Brothers reading this?

Shoaib Malik reaches his century as I type these words, surviving a close run-out decision. A horror story for the Indians developing here?

4.31pm

A gentleman named Furqan has sent me a mail that suddenly makes me feel a lot better about the broadcast I'm getting. He writes, "My bone of contention is with the Pakistani commentators. What is wrong with them? Are Rameez [Raja] or Mohsin [Khan] the best we have to offer? I don't agree. A CEO who says, 'the catch has been dropped by a slipper', and `India should have two slippers in place'. What about a couple of joggers?"

Good point. Meanwhile, Rahul Tyagi writes, "I noticed that your last three posts were after intervals of approximately 10 minutes, 20 minutes and 30 minutes." The subject of his mail is, "Are you getting tired?" Such impertinence! Wait till you see the time of this post. And then wait ...

Meanwhile, Inzamam-ul-Haq sweeps Harbhajan Singh uppishly to Yuvraj Singh, who takes a good tumbling catch. Shoaib Malik is nearing 100 now, but Pakistan have been known to unravel from situations like this. These slog overs should be fun.

3.51pm

Anoop Gannerkote writes in from Japan, multi-tasking furiously. Exclaiming vigorously, he writes, "I am following both the matches today on the net! Watching the Cricinfo updates and listening to Henry Blofeld's commentary on BBC radio! Race on Formula One website! Copa America tomorrow on the BBC website!!"

Well yes. And the Tour de France final stage today, and the Karnataka State kabbadi trials are on as well. (Ok, I made the kabaddi bit up.) There's so much sport all around that following it actually seems like hard work. Maybe I'll go make a spreadsheet or something to relax after the day is done.

Meanwhile, Anil Kumble gets rid of Yasir Hameed, and India break into a Pepsi Huddle. Inzamam-ul-Haq strides in purposefully - well, at least slowly, which looks purposeful - needing just 137 runs to reach 10,000 runs in one-day international cricket. Is he going to get them today? Pakistan are coasting at just short of six an over, and a score of 300-plus looks likely, so who knows?

3.22pm

A short while back, Abdur Rahman wrote in saying, "Shoaib Malik should not bat at No. 3. Pakistan should send Yousuf Youhana or Inzamam-ul-Haq at that position. The best players should get the maximum overs to bat."

Well, the commentators on TV have also been ridiculing the idea of Malik batting at No. 3, and meanwhile, Malik's been busy pumping the Indian bowlers - at the moment, he's on 56 off 45 balls. And as this Shoaib mauls the Indian bowling, another Shoaib waits in the pavilion. A penny for your thoughts, Sourav. Oh, well, what about a pound then? Ok, forget it ...

3.02pm

Nithya Viswanathan is worried about L Balaji. Balaji's been taken off after bowling 3 overs for 26, and Viswanathan writes, "Why is Balaji suddenly bowling rubbish ( too many wides) now, in the Asia Cup? Case of too much cricket? Come on Bala, Zaheer is breathing down your neck . Don't become another Tamil Nadu statistic."

Personally, I think this is just early-season rustiness, and Balaji will find his rhythm as the season goes along. But I'm intrigued by the use of the term "Tamil Nadu statistic". What does it imply, and who else does it include, I wonder.

Graphic artists out there are encouraged to send in an illustration of Zaheer literally breathing down Balaji's neck. That would be fun. And Dean Jones too, going Pepsi, Huddle, Pepsi, Huddle with each breath.

2.50pm

Vivek Rajdev is not sure that India have done the right thing playing five bowlers. He writes in that Harbhajan Singh has just come back from injury, and L Balaji hasn't found his rhythm in this series. But doesn't that strengthen the case for playing five bowlers, so that if one of them has a bad day, there's adequate back-up?

But Vivek goes on to make the point that on this pitch, batting will get progressively tougher as the day goes on, and if Pakistan can put up 250 on the board, India will be hard-pressed to chase it with six specialist batsmen. Fair point - especially when we remember that they were a batsman short in the game they lost to Sri Lanka earlier in the tournament.

2.33pm

Pakistan are 16 for 1 after L Balaji's second over - the fourth of the innings - cost 11 runs. He been wayward today, spraying it wide on both sides of the wicket. But I guess the rhythm will come.

Meanwhile, did you know that the Indian huddle has found a sponsor? In the last India match, every time the team huddled, a Pepsi logo came on the screen and the commentators waxed lyrical about "The Pepsi Huddle". Dean Jones rather took to the phrase, and must have said "Pepsi Huddle" about 40 times during the day. (He must have been saying it in his sleep that night, I imagine. Breathe in - Pepsi. Breathe out - Huddle. And so on.)

I wonder what would happen if the Indians stopped huddling. Could key members within the team then be paid to make sure that they got the side to huddle? Now that the scandal of match-fixing is behind us, would we have a new scandal of huddle-fixing? The mind huddles ... I mean, boggles.

2.21pm

Saeed Lodhi from Kuwait writes in with a brief comment: "I think that both the teams are very cautious and it will be a low-scoring game." Well, Pakistan have already started badly, with Imran Nazir lbw to Irfan Pathan. And even though it was a Pakistani wicket that fell, I suspect that a smile would have burst out on Wasim Akram's face when he saw that ball - pitching on off, swinging in to the right-hand batsman, plumb in front. When Wasim retired, we thought we'll never see his like again - and I suspect we were wrong.

"Imran Khan has been moved to compare him to a young Wasim Akram - but wiser than Wasim was at a similar age," wrote Rahul Bhattacharya in a recent profile of Irfan. Hmmm.

2.04pm

Pakistan have won the toss and chosen to bat. India, interestingly, are playing five specialist bowlers - both spinners get a game, and VVS Laxman, who is still injured, stays out. As India's selectors have strangely opted not to select a reserve batsman in the squad, India had an option between playing Parthiv Patel and an extra bowler - they went for the bowler. Makes sense, you think? What will happen today? Write in.

1.59pm

A couple of days ago my colleague, Dileep Premachandran, wrote a scathing comment on the ridiculous coverage of this series by ESPN-Star Sports. Watching it now, I believe he was too soft on them.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of being in India and watching televised cricket here for the last couple of years, here's a brief history. ESPN-Star Sports, as Dileep put it, "shone like a beacon when it came to cricket telecasting". But there were other broadcasters pursuing a share of the cricket pie, and SET Max (SET stands for Sony Entertainment Television), promised to be a major player when they got telecast rights for the 2004 and 2007 World Cup, and the ICC tournaments in between. You'd imagine they'd spend their moolah on building a better mousetrap, and trying to provide a higher quality of coverage than ESPN-Star. But that's not the direction they took.

SET Max decided to broaden the appeal of the game (huh?) and try to lure in female viewers, as well as audiences who did not normally watch cricket (like who? I might ask). They got in a lady named Mandira Bedi to co-present the broadcasts of World Cup 2003. She wasn't too knowledgable about cricket, which coincided exactly with her brief. She had to represent the "common viewer", and take the focus away from expert insight, which was presumed to be of interest to only a few. During the World Cup, the Indian press gave almost as much coverage to Mandira's clothes - especially her sphagetti straps - as to the cricket itself.

You'd think ESPN-Star would have stayed above all this. But they have gone kitsch with a vengeance here: first, they had Dean Jones playing the role of a professor and Michael Slater, accompanied by a nubile nurse, the role of a `pitch doctor'. Now they've gone Hindi - ESPN shows an English broadcast of the game, Star Sports shows a Hindi broadcast of the same game, and neither shows the England-West Indies Test.

Now, there isn't anything wrong with going mainstream or going Hindi - but there is something wrong with doing it in a crass manner. Playing Harsha Bhogle on the Hindi broadcast is Shekhar Suman, the television talk-show host whose repertoire of humour depends mainly on cheap puns and cheaper imitations, and who has been blathing the most inane nonsense since he's come on air today.

For example, a short while back Suman said to (a bemused) Wasim Akram: "Sachin jo hai, insaan kam hai, khuda zyaada hai. (Sachin [Tendulkar], he is less a man and more a God.)" Akram and Arun Lal smiled at him weakly, and encouraged, he went on, "Insaan ke baare mein tho hum baat kar sakte hai, lekin khuda ke baare mein hum kya kahe? (We can talk about humans, but what can we say about God?)"

Meanwhile, there were two pitch doctors for the Hindi broadcast, Vinod Kambli and Mini Mathur, a former MTV VJ. Mini regaled us with a tale of how she was so glad to meet Arun Lal, and how "woh bhi, Geoff Boycott ki tarah, Shilpa Shetty ko pasand karte hai. (Like Geoff Boycott, even he likes Shilpa Shetty)."

And ah, yes, there's also a match today. India play Pakistan, it is rumoured.

1.21pm

The Indian team has been rusty of late, and Pakistan haven't quite found their rhythm in this tournament, but I'm still looking forward to today's game. Matches between India and Pakistan have always been played with a special edge to them, and the anticipation for watching them play has only been enhanced by the recent series the sides played.

Before that tour began, there was apprehension for what lay ahead. The tour contained the potential to both worsen India-Pakistan relations, and improve them. I was unsure which would happen, and wrote a piece outlining both points of view. But the series was successful beyond my most optimistic expectations. Not only was the cricket thrilling, the sentiments that accompanied the tour were deeply moving. I wasn't there, sadly, but all my colleagues who went to Pakistan came back with tales of how their hosts went out of their way to make them comfortable. Sambit Bal, in a summation of the tour, wrote:

if we spare a moment to look beyond cricket, the tour was a showcase to changing emotions and perceptions. It was a pity that spectators cooled off to Test cricket after thronging the grounds for the one-dayers, but the warmth for the Indians remained. Cricketers have always been received with grace and affection in both the countries, but if this tour hadn't happened, thousands of Indians would have never experienced first-hand the hospitality of a neighbouring nation which had been out of bounds for most of them. Goodwill and friendship are empty slogans unless the common man feels it in his heart, and while it will be simplistic to assume that cricket has brought about a seminal change, it will be fair to say that cricket provided the window for both Indian and Pakistanis to see and feel the change. That, in itself, is a humongous accomplishment.

Indian and Pakistani fans painted their faces with one another's colours, the national flags - the ultimate symbol of a nation's sovereignty and pride - were stitched together, the Indian flag fluttered proudly in stands and on the streets of Karachi and Lahore, Laxmipathy Balaji had his name chanted in the stadium after he had dismissed a Pakistani batsmen, and while Pakistan mourned the loss of their team, emotions never turned ugly, and Indians were applauded at every ground. In hotels and on the streets, taxi drivers, bell boys, gatekeepers ... have gone out of the way to extend the hand of friendship.

When I was growing up, in the 80s, I relished watching India beat Pakistan. Today, I relish watching India play Pakistan. The focus has shifted from the nationalism to the cricket, and that is as it should be.

Pakistan need to win this game to stay alive in this competition, and India need to keep their momentum going. If they lose, they will need to beat Sri Lanka in their final league, no easy task given how strong Sri Lanka always are at home. It promises to be a terrific game, and I'll be putting up regular posts through the game. Feel free to write in during the day, thoug I must request you not to be offended if I don't reply to you or quote you in the blog - hundreds of emails have been streaming in, and the vast majority of them are thought-provoking. It becomes difficult for me to do justice to them all.

Also, as I'll be busy with this game today, I'll update the replies to my previous posts tomorrow.

Write to 23 Yards

Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.

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