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Test matches (3): India 1, Pakistan 0 One-day internationals (5): India 3, Pakistan 2
With the gradual decline of English cricket - barring the year leading up to the Ashes triumph of 2005 - and Australia's firm grip on the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, India v Pakistan was supposed to have become the marquee rivalry in world cricket. For mass following and sheer passion, often underscored by the political tensions between the two countries, this is true; but when it comes to the quality of cricket played, and the entertainment value, this is wishful thinking. The latest edition of the subcontinental Ashes merely highlighted this. India rightfully won both the Test and one-day series, but the image of cricket as entertainment took a beating.
While it is fair to say that the players are not there solely to entertain - their first thought is winning, or not losing - the administrators must accept the criticism that comes their way for providing Test pitches that give no type of player a chance to showcase his wares. The quality of the wickets, lifeless at best, was one dominant theme of this series. The other was more edifying: the renaissance of Sourav Ganguly.
To get the bad news out of the way first, the pitches on which the three Tests were played varied from irregular to dead, the one consistent factor being a lack of bounce. At Delhi the odd delivery did keep low, but none spat or reared, and the game was decided by some suicidal second-innings batting from Pakistan, who lost wickets in a clump and left India 203 - a total they had never succeeded in chasing at the Feroz Shah Kotla before. The Second Test was played at Eden Gardens, where the pitch has almost always been low and slow, but has usually provided slow turn that progressively increased. However, this strip was smoother and harder than any of Kolkata's roads, and did not wear even slightly as one double-century, five single hundreds and four half-centuries left the statisticians busy and spectators cursing their luck.
With India leading 1-0, and virtually their whole pace attack injured, there seemed little doubt what the pitch for the Third Test would be like. But, with one eye on the forthcoming tour of Australia, the think tank asked for a strip with some bounce in it at Bangalore. Hampered by unseasonal rains and the last-minute change in instructions, the groundsman served up a surface that seemed less than ready, although it somehow held firm until the fifth day, when it finally fell to pieces. Ganguly capped his comeback with a maiden Test double-century, in his 99th Test, but even that was put in the shade by a blistering hundred from Yuvraj Singh. A delayed declaration meant India had only 47 overs to bowl out Pakistan on the final day, and it proved too few, even as Anil Kumble bowled seam-up to take five wickets on a pitch that suddenly turned unplayable.
The Test series was even less memorable than the five one-dayers that preceded it, but this mattered little to India, who beat Pakistan at home for the first time since 1979-80, or to Kumble, their new Test captain, who was victorious in his first assignment. It was these two thoughts that overrode any suggestions that India be adventurous and push for a margin bigger than the eventual 1-0.
The biggest gain for the Indians was the return of Ganguly. Mistakenly marked down as finished by the vast majority not a year before, he could not quite recreate the high-excitement off-side play of previous seasons but, freed of the cares of captaincy, re-emerged as India's best batsman of the year, mature and in control, scoring consistently, and calm at the crease. Ganguly's protégé, Yuvraj, finally produced a Test innings of such pristine glory and clean hitting that the calls for him to be handed the regular place he had long fought for could not be ignored.
For Pakistan the series was not just unmemorable, it was one they needed to wipe from the memory. They started it with a new captain, Shoaib Malik, who proved indecisive and uninspiring, and ended with a reluctant one in Younis Khan, after Malik twisted his ankle in a knockabout football match.
For a change, the captaincy squabble in Pakistan's ranks was caused by those capable of doing the job not wanting it, rather than the other way round. Pakistan's best bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, stubbornly played in all three Tests, despite illness and injury which frequently left his team a bowler short in the last two. Danish Kaneria, the main spinner and a man once thought talented and canny enough to inherit Abdul Qadir's mantle, was ineffective and unpenetrative. Kamran Akmal, the wicketkeeper, continued to shell too many catches to justify his occasional batting successes, and the opening combination was neither settled nor a combination. The fire and passion that has been the one constant in Pakistan cricket over the years was conspicuous by its absence, and all it took was a disciplined Indian team to complete an easy win.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Delhi v Pakistanis at Delhi, Nov 2, 2007