June 21, 2001

A most fascinating final on the cards!

Salahudin Ahmed (Sallu)

Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu)
Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu)
Photo © CricInfo
Having overcome England in all three of their encounters and ending the losing streak of half a dozen games against Australia, going into the final at Lord's on Saturday the morale in the Pakistan camp would be high. And so it should, for they have made quite a phenomenal comeback in this month of June, to be just a win away from a prestigious title.

But can they beat the Aussies in two back-to-back encounters? I would say yes to that, because I feel that Pakistan is now getting back the right amount of aggression and positive attitude, winning those close encounters that till recently were being lost. That said, the Aussies are the professionals of professionals, and never like ending up on the losing side. Desirous of repeating their '99 World Cup triumph at the most hallowed of turfs, they would be a different proposition in the final. But as Pakistan in this tournament, and India before that in the recent Test and one-day series, have established that the Aussies are not quite invincible if the attack is taken to them. Something England, down and out in this NatWest Trophy, long before their final league game, would need to remember in the context of the Ashes.

Whether they chase or set up a target, depending on the team strategy, Pakistan would need to produce their best and then some to overcome the Aussies in the final. On flatter one-day wickets, with the reverse swing working for them in the latter part of the innings, the pacers would need to contain more in the initial overs than they did in the game they ended up winning. A few more overs of Adam Gilchrist's onslaught may have maintained the Aussies unbeaten record in this event. And Saqlain for his part is bowling as splendidly as ever, even outdid his best with the delivery that got rid of Damien Martyn - one of the most remarkable deliveries I have seen an off-spinner bowl.

It is good that Wasim Akram is back to full fitness, and I assume, Inzamam too would be back for the final. Pakistan would hope that both these stalwarts are in prime form. Inzamam after three or four glorious knocks got himself out in poor fashion twice in succession. Since he is the man for a big occasion, as he has proved many a time, I expect that he would deliver.

The good thing for Pakistan is that most of its players are in reasonably good nick, and have performed well on a couple of occasions or more. They have been through pressure situations and come good. This should give them the confidence to take on the Aussies in a positive frame of mind.

So far, they have been provided the lead by skipper Waqar Younis, who is known for his mental toughness. He has bowled with a lot of heart and led well. Any captain who could instil a never-say-die attitude in his charges and spur them to give off their best has done half the job. The rest is likely to fall in place, unless the luck factor deserts them. With Waqar providing the leadership and the wickets, and in bagful to boot, 13 in the two last games to be precise, the Pakistanis' luck too seems to have changed for the better.

In cricket, more so in the shorter version of the game, it is the side, which performs well on the day which normally carries the honours. Unless it is a day off for one of the two teams, with both very balanced outfits firing on all cylinders, this is most likely to be a final to remember.

Ed: Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu) is a former Test cricketer, and has served as a PCB selector nine times; his last stint (1999-2000) was as chief selector.