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A banner at Mohali put it best: "It is not India versus Pakistan, it is bonds between brothers." Pakistan's first full tour of India for six years had a significance that obviously extended beyond on-field rivalry. The brothers have often been estranged, but this series was a reminder that mutual passions can be every bit as emotive as old divisions. On the subcontinent, cricket can create a need for diplomacy, but is now also a method of it.
This time, it was India's turn to reciprocate the welcome they had received in Pakistan the previous year. Pakistanis flooded across the border to Mohali, the venue for the First Test, to refresh old ties and build new ones. The UN joined in the enthusiasm. "I believe that both national cricket teams are pioneers in the quest for peace and stability in South Asia," said Adolf Ogi, a special adviser to the secretary-general. "They can serve as role models for other countries and regions around the world." They were salving the wounds of Partition, after nearly 60 years.
It helped that the closeness of the supporters was matched by the closeness of the play. The Test series was drawn, when few had expected a competitive contest. Pakistan had left home labelled "little better than a club side" by one former captain, Mushtaq Mohammad. Without Shoaib Akhtar, who withdrew with a hamstring injury, their attack was expected to lack the penetration necessary to dismiss India's powerful middle order. A one-sided Test series was forecast, which would have allowed Sourav Ganguly to add another feat - first Indian captain to win back-to-back Test series against Pakistan - to his list of achievements.
But matches between these two countries are notoriously difficult to predict, and this tour was no different. Pakistan started poorly, clinging on for a draw in the First Test and losing the Second by a landslide. But they were brilliant in the Third, ending the series in the ascendancy with a 168-run win. The contrasting fortunes of the captains can be summed up by the subsequent presentation ceremony. Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq was loudly cheered by the Indian crowd; for Ganguly, there were jeers and abuse.
The series may have ended as a draw, but the real victors were an inexperienced Pakistan side that matured over the course of the tour. For India's coach, John Wright, who had already decided against renewing his contract, it was a depressing end to his reign. But his four-year partnership with Ganguly had worked beyond expectations; despite failure to beat Pakistan this time, Wright left with a deserved reputation as one of the world's best coaches. He was pitted here against Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer, who had to win over a public not enamoured by the appointment of a foreigner and angered by their team's failure in Australia. A drawn series gained Woolmer some respite from criticism and maintained team spirit.
It was the team's unaccustomed unity that enabled Pakistan to recover from losing the Second Test. Danish Kaneria, the leg-spinner, was the fulcrum of their attack - he was the leading wicket-taker on either side, with 19 - while the improving Younis Khan was the surprise performer of the series, scoring 508 runs at 101.60. A double-hundred in the final Test followed a century at Kolkata, and underlined Woolmer's belief that Younis was a future Pakistan captain. The current incumbent, Inzamam, initially struggled against the leg-spin of Anil Kumble but emerged triumphant, with a century at Bangalore in his 100th Test.
Ganguly's plight was palpable. He scored just 48 runs in five Test innings and, surrounded by stars such as Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, looked an ordinary player drowning in a sea of talent. As he walked out to bat in the final Test, he suffered the ultimate insult. "We want Karthik," shouted the crowd - a young wicket-keeper was preferable to a desperate captain. Then came his embarrassing dismissal, bowled by a leg-break from Shahid Afridi. Ganguly stood at his crease waiting for the umpire's decision, astounded at his own failure, and only cottoned on as the boos rained down.
His problems continued in the one-day series. India were outplayed and beaten 4-2. Ganguly failed again with the bat and was eventually banned for four one-day matches after referee Chris Broad lost patience with India's desperately slow over-rate. His grip on the Indian captaincy was at its weakest; by contrast, Inzamam, who had also earned a ban, for one Test after aggressive appealing at Bangalore, returned to Pakistan with renewed optimism and an appointment for a further year.
Ganguly's fall was made more conspicuous by the rise of Dravid, his vice-captain and most important batsman. Dravid made two hundreds in the Second Test at Kolkata, both wonderfully structured innings that turned a pivotal match in India's favour. He was eclipsed only by Sehwag, whose devastating strokeplay elevated him to the status enjoyed by Dravid and Tendulkar. Aged 26, Sehwag was already immortalised in Indian cricket. A gate was named after him at his home ground, Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, and he attracted the commercial sponsors who once scrambled for Ganguly's endorsement. Sehwag's face was everywhere - on billboards, in newspaper adverts and selling aftershave on television. Pakistan must have been fed up of the sight of him. The Indian crowds, however, had a seemingly unending admiration for "little Viru". The only one not totally impressed was Woolmer. His comment on a television chat show that Sehwag was a "sophisticated slogger" was based on the fact that even his mistimed strokes flew to the boundary. Sehwag's strokeplay bordered on the violent, but slogging it was not. Pakistan simply failed to cut down his options, and his hitting was clean throughout. He was the series' leading scorer, with 544 runs at a strike-rate of 73.61 per 100 balls. It started at Mohali. Sehwag made a thrilling 173 in the First Test, but bettered that with his 201 at Bangalore, where the next-highest score from any of his team-mates was a plodding 79 by V. V. S. Laxman. And that was the crucial flaw in India's performance. While Dravid and Sehwag made weighty contributions, no other Indian scored a century - not even Tendulkar, whose quest for a 35th Test hundred to surpass Sunil Gavaskar's record consumed him and his public.
When Tendulkar closed on three figures in his first innings of the series, he became reticent, overwhelmed by the urge to score a hundred. The way he slowed down after passing fifty proved costly; the time he consumed in reaching 94 could have been invaluable to the Indian bowlers, but Pakistan escaped with a draw.
When India triumphed 2-1 in Pakistan the previous year, their seam bowlers had made the difference. This time, they were largely inconsistent; only Lakshmipathy Balaji, with nine wickets at Mohali, posed any significant problems. Their attack was further weakened after Broad reported Harbhajan Singh's doosra in the Second Test. It was the first time Harbhajan had played since India's tour of Bangladesh in December, when Broad had also fingered him. Whispers of a conspiracy emanated from the Indian camp.
Five thousand Pakistan supporters were granted visas to cross the border at Wagah and travel into the heart of the Indian Punjab for what was billed as the Reconciliation Test at Mohali. Many were enjoying their first glimpse of India: hotels in nearby Chandigarh were full, leading the local mayor to appeal to the public to house their visitors. Local restaurants made them feel at home by establishing halal butchers on their premises; shops offered special discounts; and rickshaw drivers were under municipal orders not to rip off their guests.
Even Harbhajan got in on the act: his hairdressing salon offered free haircuts to Pakistani fans. But not everyone was a winner. One café's marketing ploy, the "Shoaib tikka", was scuppered when Shoaib Akhtar pulled out of the tour, while a local potter who made a 125kg bat to present to the winners was denied access to the presentation ceremony. "Sourav Ganguly said he would sign it but didn't, and Anil Kumble simply refused," he grumbled.
The visas restricted the Pakistani spectators from travelling beyond Chandigarh, and the rest of the series was played in front of partisan Indian crowds. The political backdrop continued, though, as Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, attended the final one-day international at Delhi. The tour was not without its problems. There were half-hearted efforts by Hindu extremists to dig up the Mohali pitch in February, and a row between the Indian board and two satellite television channels held up the start. The failure to confirm the itinerary until a few days before Pakistan arrived briefly imperilled the whole trip. Pakistan refused to play the Second Test at Ahmedabad, which had seen riots by Hindu fundamentalists in recent years, in a tit-for-tat response to India's decision not to play a Test in Karachi the previous year, though they eventually agreed to go to Ahmedabad for an extra one-day game. While the spirit of friendship grew with every ball bowled, the old wounds were not yet totally healed.
It is a working project that can only be improved by association. And for Inzamam's men, the arguments and squabbles were forgotten by the time they returned home the most celebrated "club side" in Pakistan.
Match reports for
Only ODI: India v Pakistan at Kolkata, Nov 13, 2004
Tour Match: Indian Board President's XI v Pakistanis at Dharamsala, Mar 3-5, 2005
India A v Pakistanis at Hyderabad (Deccan), Mar 30, 2005