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In January 1999, Pakistan arrived for their first Test series with neighbours India for nine years, and the first on Indian soil since 1986-87. Though there were only two Tests (a third match at Calcutta, won by Pakistan, was regarded as part of the separate Asian Test Championship), it was probably the most exciting of the 11 series between the rivals. Pakistan won a narrow victory at Chennai, only for India to strike back with a massive win at Delhi. The star players were the spinners, Saqlain Mushtaq of Pakistan and Anil Kumble of India: Kumble provided the sensational conclusion to the series by taking all ten wickets in the final innings.
It was also probably the most important series between the teams from a political standpoint. Three previous attempts to organise a Pakistani tour of India in the 1990s had been aborted because of threats of disruption by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists. In 1998, both countries had tested nuclear weapons, adding a new dimension to their traditional tension. The Shiv Sena party, led by maverick politician Bal Thackeray, were the most prominent opponents of the visit. Early in January, activists dug up the Test pitch in Delhi, forcing the Indian Board to move the First Test to Chennai. Shortly afterwards, the Board's offices at Mumbai were ransacked and officials manhandled, though this time Shiv Sena denied responsibility. Supporters and opponents of the tour both held processions in the major Indian cities. But prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee urged the Pakistanis to come, promising maximum security for both teams, and sent a senior minister to negotiate with Thackeray. Shiv Sena sensed that the mood was against them, and they were in danger of being alienated from the coalition government; the day before the tourists arrived, they withdrew the threat of further disruption.
Nevertheless, commandos and plain-clothes officers shadowed the Pakistani team everywhere. The Board even engaged snake charmers, after rumours that extremists might release snakes in the crowds or on to the pitch. But the two Tests went off without any trouble: a victory for cricket and diplomacy (when crowd trouble came later, at Calcutta, it was of a less political nature). The tourists' team manager, former diplomat and foreign minister Shaharyar Khan (who subsequently became Ambassador to France), and captain Wasim Akram did much to contribute to the success of the series and the goodwill it created. The Chennai Test attracted an estimated 50,000 spectators a day, and the Delhi Test nearly 40,000 a day.
Spin dominated the series, accounting for 55 of the 80 wickets which fell. Both Tests ended in four days as off-spinner Saqlain and leg-spinner Kumble tweaked and turned the ball on slow pitches. Saqlain bowled superbly for 20 wickets at 20.15; he claimed five wickets every innings he bowled, and was named man of the series, ahead of Kumble, who collected 21 at 14.85, thanks to his ten in an innings at Delhi. He was only the second man in Test cricket to take a perfect ten; he devastated Pakistan's batting with his lift and bounce, taking his ten wickets for 47. His overall analysis was ten for 74, as against Jim Laker of England, who took ten for 53 against Australia in 1956 - Laker finished with 19 for 90 in the match, to Kumble's 14 for 149.
The pitch was substandard after the vandals' attack, and Kumble was lucky in a couple of decisions from home umpire Jayaprakash who, like Steve Dunne in the First Test, appeared inconsistent. That should not take the credit away from a magnificent performance. "It is a dream. I cannot get over the fact I have got ten wickets," said a delighted Kumble afterwards. "Whenever I am leaving for a match, my mum says 'Get a hat-trick.' Probably next time she will say 'Get ten wickets.'"
India's most successful fast bowler was Venkatesh Prasad, whose pace claimed eight in the series, while Pakistan captain Wasim Akram, ignoring the pressure of match-fixing allegations still hanging over him, bowled well for nine wickets. At Delhi, he became Pakistan's leading wicket-taker in Tests, passing Imran Khan's 362 - and Wasim needed only 85 Tests to Imran's 88.
In comparison, batsmen struggled - both teams were bowled out in every innings, with the average score per wicket around 25. There was just one total of 300, and only two players had an aggregate of 200 - 23-year-old left-hander Sadagoppan Ramesh, of Tamil Nadu, and teenager Shahid Afridi. For Pakistan Afridi scored 141 in his second Test, at Chennai. Ramesh, who made his debut in that match, almost emulated him, falling for 96 at Delhi. Sachin Tendulkar scored India's only century, a brilliant 136 at Chennai which almost won them the match.
In retrospect, the series was an immense success, and was about far more than winning and losing. As one Indian writer put it, The doubting Thomases and the detractors who threatened to disrupt the series were silenced; the Indian government flexed its security muscle to put diplomacy in front, and give cricket the opportunity to defeat hatred, and hatred was soundly defeated.
Wasim Akram (Lahore/PIA) (captain), Moin Khan (PIA) (vice-captain), Azhar Mahmood (Rawalpindi), Ijaz Ahmed, sen. (Habib Bank), Inzamam-ul-Haq (Faisalabad/Allied Bank), Mushtaq Ahmed (Peshawar), Nadeem Khan (Karachi/PIA), Naved Ashraf (Rawalpindi/KRL), Saeed Anwar (ADBP), Salim Malik (Lahore/Habib Bank), Saqlain Mushtaq (PIA), Shahid Afridi (Karachi/ Habib Bank), Shoaib Akhtar (Rawalpindi), Wajahatullah Wasti (Peshawar/Allied Bank), Waqar Younis (Multan), Yousuf Youhana (Lahore/WAPDA).
Manager: Shaharyar Khan. Coach: Javed Miandad.
Test matches - Played 2; Won 1, Lost 1.
First-class matches - Played 4; Won 1, Lost 1, Drawn 2.
Win - India.
Loss - India.
Draws - India A, Board President's XI.
Match reports for