March 27, 2000

Indians must enhance their net run rate

The Pakistanis were in danger of exiting from the Coca-Cola Cup at Sharjah when they took on the Indians. If at all there was a combination of factors for Pakistan to raise their game, the venue (Sharjah) and the opponents (Indians) was it. The senior cricketers took it upon themselves to ensure their side kept its chances alive. The return of Akram and Akhtar meant real hard work for the Indian batsmen.

Moin Khan put his faith on his batsmen and opted to bat on a pitch loaded with runs. Agarkar got rid of Nazir early on and Afridi, hard up for runs, decided to attack his way out of poor form. He was beginning to get dangerous when a very poor stroke ended his innings. Inzamam ul Haq, the lovable character for his apparent casual demeanour strode out with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. His first scoring stroke was a soaring hit straight over the top against Kumble, which made his intentions clear. The Pakistani ploy of going after Kumble was as courageous as it was sensible because he is one bowler who can frustrate batsmen into submission.

Youhana, along with Haq, batted sensibly through the middle portion of the innings without taking too many chances. Robin Singh was mainly instrumental in tying down this pair with nagging accuracy. Inzamam showed a lot of maturity and common sense in his batting and his guidance made Youhana play a very valuable knock. The assault in the final overs was expected but the result it produced could not have been predicted by many watching the game. Inzamam majestically smashed the Indian without any preference, be it Kumble, Agarkar or Prasad. A knock of such quality is not played very often and Inzamam could not have chosen a better time than this.

It has been written in this column that Waqar is dangerous as he is fighting to prove that he still belongs in the international arena. He foxed Ganguly with a slower delivery and the Indians never recovered from the early setback. Akram once again bowled Tendulkar with just about enough movement into the batsman. Not for nothing have both Waqar and Akram been so successful over the years. Dravid and Azharuddin are the sort of players who take time to settle down before they venture to play big shots. The Pakistani bowlers ensured that they were not allowed to go into their top gear and the asking rate was slowly climbing beyond gettable proportions.

Jadeja tried his best but he could not play a big innings and with Arshad Khan getting into the wicket-taking act, it was curtains for India. Waqar Younis kept chiselling away at the Indian middle order and added another five-wicket haul to his already enviable record in the one-dayers. Pakistan has managed to stay in the competition with a comprehensive victory over the Indians and the ball is in the Indian camp to make their own fortune. The Indians, besides winning against South Africa, must enhance their net run rate in case the Pakistanis beat South Africa.

The Indians will be the ones to finish all their engagements first and will be keenly interested in the remaining league game. The chase against Pakistan suggests that the Indians have to be twice as positive in order to beat South Africa and that too by a very big margin.