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March 28, 2005
What cricket we have been privileged to and what a conclusion we came to! In a rivalry bloated with tales, this match will provide, for Pakistan, many more. Bangalore 2005 will etch itself in the mind neatly, alongside the likes of Bangalore and Headingley 1987, Karachi 1994 and many more. We might even come to cherish this one more.
It is difficult to downplay the magnitude of what Pakistan, and this Pakistan side in particular, has accomplished. They came to India with a team not as inexperienced as had been made out, but one that was still the weakest in recent memory. Without a spearhead, a legspinner supposedly ripe for pillaging and the memory of a 3-0 whitewash in Australia still fresh, this series was as near to a foregone conclusion as we can have between India and Pakistan.
Forget for a moment the claim that India was nearly the second-best team in the world. Whether or not the claim was plausible, this is still an extremely strong Indian team, the strongest perhaps in recent memory. Yet Pakistan have scrapped every day of this series, desperately trying to hold on to Indian coat-tails, overcoming the vast gap in talent and skill - and it is vast - through sheer will and nothing else.
Bangalore has encapsulated, in a glorious manner, the one certainty about Pakistan now: that somewhere, in among the chopping, the changing, the intrigue, the uncertainty, the lack of stars, there is a priceless fortitude. Not all of them possess the individual gifts endowed to past teams, but collectively they form a stronger spine. For all those who still harp with futility about the splendour of Pakistan teams past, those who still yearn for Imran Khan's leadership, Javed Miandad's genius, the reverse swing of the two W's and Abdul Qadir's uniqueness, and bemoan the loss of grossly talented mavericks, this Test - as well as Lahore last year against India, Karachi against Sri Lanka and even the Australian series - should be essential viewing.
That this win was constructed by so many embellishes it. So many tales Pakistan will take from this match. There will be that of Younis Khan, who has hinted that Pakistan's leadership and one-down dilemma may not be as hopeless as was once thought. There will be that of Mohammad Sami too, justifiably pilloried for his alarming ineffectiveness in the year just past, but who in India has grown match by match and day by day. He wasn't just quick today, he was effective. Above all (and perhaps another supremely skilled fast bowler from Rawalpindi might take note) he was tireless, bowling spell after spell after spell without letting the intensity drop.
Danish Kaneria too scripted a tale here, as much for his refusal to bow down against the most violent destroyers of legspinners as for his two wickets today, and 17 in the series. Incidentally, it is a return that few modern-day legspinners have managed in India, including Qadir and Shane Warne. And what of Shahid Afridi? He prised open a tight battle against time yesterday in spectacular fashion, and today he all but sealed it by dismissing first Sourav Ganguly and then Sachin Tendulkar. Yasir Hameed's languid composure yesterday and Arshad Khan's breaking of the Wall, Rahul Dravid, carry their own tales too.
Finally, the story of Inzamam-ul-Haq. He has many faults as a captain, maybe too many to ignore in the long-term, but in his 100th Test, he has pulled off his sweetest moment. He has been a little overshadowed here by Younis's ebullience in the field, he has contrasted badly against his vice-captain's energy, but he showed again why he is so pivotal to Pakistan. His century on the first day was his 21st, and 16 of those have helped Pakistan win matches. More importantly, it was his third as captain and all three have resulted in comeback wins.
Today, he was as proactive and involved as captain as he has ever been. He took advice, he gave it, he tinkered with his fields and his bowlers, he screamed and appealed excessively and expressed open displeasure - he even got a one-Test ban for it - and he was aggressive throughout (although, as he said, the Indians allowed him to). Unwittingly, he also discovered a Midas touch, when it was needed most: almost all his bowling changes brought him wickets.
It might mark a turning point in this team's evolution. Equally likely, given that it is Pakistan, it might not. But that should not take away from the now, from one of Pakistan's most significant triumphs in many years and mostly, from a performance where the will of the collective, rather than the genius of a few, sparkled brightest.
Osman Samiuddin is a freelance cricket writer based in Karachi. He is following the Pakistan team on their tour of India..
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