Pakistan finds sting in the tail again
It is true that one-day cricket frequently opens itself up to accusations of being too formulaic and predictable. But it is difficult to imagine that any one of the more than fifty thousand fans who came to the 'Gabba ground in Brisbane over the course of the last forty-eight hours would concur with that assessment; a stunning two wicket win to Pakistan in a tense, low scoring encounter with subcontinental rivals India today coming hard on the heels of their tumultuous triumph over Australia a day earlier.
Sadly, there was only a moderate-sized crowd here to see this particular match on what was a working day in Brisbane. But those who were able to attend witnessed a consistently entertaining game. Moreover, they watched a tense, fluctuating struggle in ideal conditions for a day-night match and in an atmosphere a long way removed from the one of sheer animosity that some commentators tend to try and anticipate when these two sides meet.
Once again, the team which won the toss today (namely, India) elected to bat and once more, it initially looked the incorrect decision. Around innings of great individual defiance from Sourav Ganguly (61) at the top of the order and Robin Singh (50) in the middle, the Indians were indeed made to struggle for long periods in their exhibition. Only eight runs came from the first six overs as they battled laboriously against a significantly moving ball, and wickets fell thereafter with some regularity. Moreover, while Ganguly performed a brilliant job in holding the innings together - powerful strokeplay through the off side the hallmark of his hand - it was a most unenviable task once Shoaib Akhtar (3/19 off eight overs) had sparked another middle order collapse. Similarly, even though Singh's serial working of the ball into the leg side added some much needed impetus at the end, wickets fell too consistently around him for any more than a mark of 195 to be reached. And while their opponents deprived themselves of an over in their chase by bowling too slowly, the Indians certainly looked in dreadful trouble at the break as a result.
Although the recalled Shahid Afridi (0) disappeared early, the notion was then reinforced when Saeed Anwar (24) and Ijaz Ahmed (13) took Pakistan to the comfortable heights of in the over of the response. But then came a dramatic repetition of the events of the previous night, as the scoring rate of the batting team was at first pegged back before wickets came crashing down. Against some remorseless pace bowling from Javagal Srinath (4/49 off ten overs) and Ajit Agarkar (2/39 off ten), the Pakistanis consistently surrendered batsmen at the most inopportune of moments. As their score crashed to 6/71 at one point, they indeed seemed to be wilting under the sheer weight of the task suddenly confronting them.
But there was still time - plenty of it, in fact - for gifted right hander Yousuf Youhana (63) to join with Pakistan's redoubtable tail and prove emphatically to anyone who should doubt it that nothing should ever be taken for granted in this form of the game. With his eye and his flashing blade working in perfect harmony, man of the match Youhana was able to transform what had hitherto appeared a minefield into a pitch upon which it was possible to play a beautiful variety of attacking and defensive shots. Before being cleverly dismissed by a Srinath slower ball, Youhana afforded the situation a perfect temperament; not only guiding his team most of the way to victory but also establishing a foundation from which heroic tail enders Saqlain Mushtaq (27*) and Waqar Younis (13*) were able to complete the triumph. Moreover, whilst many of the plaudits seemed ultimately to go to Saqlain and Waqar (for their breathtaking association of forty-three runs which ended in them claiming victory from the very last delivery of the match in scenes not dissimilar to those in a certain World Cup Semi Final last year), it was Youhana to whom the lion's share of the credit should be directed.
In short, this was an engrossing contest throughout. And, while both captains agreed at its end that the batting was probably not up to the mark (for the second day in a row), the sheer intensity of the struggle was a great credit to both teams. Similarly, the Pakistanis' sheer will to win made for a magnificent spectacle and their obvious delight at the end of the night told of how collectively satisfying this win must have been for them. It is an unfortunate reality, of course, that in contests like this, someone inevitably also has to walk away feeling cheated and deprived. But one senses that, if India continues to play with the pride and determination with which it also did today, spectacular successes of its own in this tournament can also not be too far away.