A hero's innings
Batting first in the opening one-dayer of the historic revival series of 2003-04, India made a colossal 349. After 16 overs, Pakistan were 77 for 2, with Inzamam on 15 and Youhana on 25. In this excerpt from his new book Pundits from Pakistan, Rahul Bhattacharya takes up the story:
Whether or not it was planned, first thing after drinks Inzamam launched Murali Kartik's left-arm spin straight back for six. Soon after, Youhana picked up the medium-pace of Ganguly with a sharp curl at the tip of his swing, a lizard pouching its prey, to send it one bounce into the long-off boundary. Four balls later he repeated the stroke: this time it carried all the way. Something in these three shots sent out a signal to India. Not merely, `we have heart and we will fight'. No, something more coldly frightening: `look, we are good, so very good that your mountain could mean nothing'.
I think it was about now that the noise in the crowd arranged itself into properly deafening rhythms that were then never to cease. The slow-fast bursts of hand on hand, of feet on floor, of rolled-up paper on railing, of 33,000 pairs of lungs ... Ganguly would remark that his players could not hear each other.
The boundaries began to flow. With another six, a huge one off Kartik, and a single thereafter, Youhana brought up his fifty, from fifty-three balls. Inzamam, more invisibly, followed with his own, from forty-eight. Their 100-run partnership had taken fifteen overs. But the required rate still hovered at 8. In the twenty-fifth over, Ganguly turned to Sachin's allsorts.
Youhana leant back and once more made his rapacious inside-out loft, for six. And in Sachin's next over, he did it again. It was simply astounding to see this most difficult of strokes being executed again and again with such nonchalance. The Indians were gobsmacked.
Pariah kites, dozens of them, swooped theatrically in the sticky warm afternoon breeze. Below them, Ganguly chewed on his nails and planned his next move. He gave Sehwag a go. Youhana went for the inside-out again, but against Sehwag this was harder: there was more loop on the ball, and it was turning into him.
He got under it, he got inside it, but he did not get a full hold of it. Irfan, substituting, held the catch at the boundary.
This was a stunning hand, 73 from 68 balls, and four sixes. Pakistan were 169 for 3 in the twenty-eighth over. Still 181 runs to go. At 8.2.
Inzamam absorbed the blow and moved on. He cut Tendulkar behind point for four, then he cut him in front of point for four, and then Younis Khan, the new man, drilled a low full-toss through the covers for a third four in the over, the twenty-ninth.
Ganguly removed Tendulkar and brought back Kartik to partner Sehwag. Inzamam and Younis milked. A single here, a single there... and the rate climbed, beyond 8.5 now.
This was a call to action. Younis put his full strength behind a low slog against Sehwag that carried over the ropes. From the other end, Inzamam waltzed outside the leg stump to fetch Kartik's over-the-wicket stuff for another six. Even so, at the end of the thirty-fifth over, the required rate climbed, for the first time on the day, past 9. What to do? This was a fight against quicksand.
In the rising run-rate, in the rising tension, in the rising sound, in the rising hopelessness, Inzamam unfurled such inspired, resonating strokeplay, that it bore comparison with that first burst of youth, at the 1992 World Cup semi-final, where as a virtual unknown in the eyes of the world he made possible an impossible victory. But this was not the diffident youngster who had requested he be dropped before the match. This was now the leader. Twelve years on, he was bigger, broader, curiously less hunched over the bat, he wore a beard, and even a helmet. The grimace was exactly the same.
Genius stroke blurred into genius stroke as Inzamam swung Kartik behind square leg for four, chipped Sehwag past midwicket like a man toying with a 7-iron, and, once it became clear that spin was not working against him, smacked Zaheer's full-toss to long-on to reach hundred, his ninth in one-day cricket. Because of a scoreboard malfunction and Inzamam's own measured reaction, not everybody realised it. Nehra came on for Sehwag and pitched on a length; Inzamam stood tall and pulled him away and did not take a step forward because he knew from the first where he would hit it. Zaheer tried the leg-stump yorker and Inzamam crouched into it and glanced it for four. Nehra put another one back of a length, and Inzamam, this the pièce de résistance, disdained it to behind square, waved it away really, as one might a fly.
A quite incredible aura soaked the ground. In the stretched-out, energy-filled minutes, breathless cricket in slow motion, as Inzamam stroked, as the sun poured, as the runs rained, as the kites circled, as the noise thundered, India and Pakistan in the heat of cricket and no malice in sight, there went a rush to the head that anything was possible. I have rarely felt a power like it at a cricket match; or, for that matter, anywhere.
Ganguly was under the cosh. Pakistan still needed to go at 9 an over, but now, suddenly, for only eight more overs. Spin had not worked and pace had not worked and part-timers had not worked. A shroud of blue collected at the wicket as the captain contemplated his options. He tossed the ball to Kartik.
With the first ball of his third spell, attacking from round the wicket, laden with accessories, shades on eyes, elbow guard on left arm, watch on left wrist, beads on right wrist, beads around neck, cool Kartik removed Inzamam, whose intended tickle was too literally one. Dravid held a superb catch under pressure. What is the sound of 33,000 hearts wilting?
Inzamam was given a hero's ovation into the pavilion, for his had been the innings of a hero; 122 from 102 balls, speaks for itself; and from that situation and on this occasion. Pakistan needed 72 from 47 balls, with six wickets in hand. It was difficult to see it being done. It had never, after all, been done before.
This is an excerpt from the new book Pundits From Pakistan, by Rahul Bhattacharya, which has just been published by Picador. It's now available at Cricshop.
Click here to buy a copy