<
>

A familiar template

There could hardly be a more historic venue for a celebration of history. The Eden Gardens as an international venue is just five years younger than the BCCI, whose 75th anniversary was the occasion for this game, and a sepia tint would have been appropriate. Instead, there was blue and green, and like any other game between India and Pakistan, this one was scrappy and hard-fought.
The match was played in a subcontinental template: both sides made more than 275 on a flat track that held little in it for the bowlers. It was reminiscent of the one-day series between India and West Indies in 2002-03, when 10 scores of over 275 were made in 14 innings. Pitches like those, and like this one, turn one-day cricket into batsmen-v-batsmen contests, with the main task of a bowler being damage limitation. The pitch for the recent Mumbai Test went too far in the bowler-friendly direction, but groundsmen in India have been guilty of erring in the other extreme when it comes to one-day internationals.

Pakistan were worthy winners, and Bob Woolmer and Inzamam-ul-Haq deserve credit for the work they've done. This was their fourth consecutive one-day win against India, and the side that was once talented but mercurial is being transformed into one with discipline and character. Inzamam's win percentage as captain is now 67.5, and the sample size for that is a substantial 40 games. Many more will be added to that list.

Teams chasing totals as big as this one often panic, but Inzamam and Woolmer would have told their side that there was nothing bowlers could do on this track to get batsmen out, that they had to keep their heads and bat through the innings. Inzamam led by example, pacing the chase perfectly in the middle overs. His zen-like calm sometimes seems inappropriate when he is running between wickets, but it is just what his youthful team needs from a captain, and what this situation demanded of a batsman. Nothing the Indians did could shake him, and his presence was far more daunting than his physical frame is. He is one of the batting geniuses of our age, along with Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar and an Australian or two, and he might end up being one of Pakistan's finest captains as well.

There is no disputing the talent in the side he captains. Just how does Pakistan produce so many talented young batsmen, and just why do they leave the side so soon after coming into it? It is befuddling, how Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat and Imran Nazir and Taufeeq Umar and Hasan Raza and Faisal Iqbal have come and gone, and now Salman Butt is here. He is a talented strokeplayer, and, more importantly, if his batting in the second half of his innings is any indication, he keeps a calm head as well. Is he yet another shooting star, or will he make a place for himself in the fimanent?

A year ago, it would have seemed unlikely that Shoaib Malik and VVS Laxman would become their team's regular No. 3 batsmen in one-day cricket. Malik averages 48 this year in 14 games at No. 3, while Laxman averages 49 in 17 at that position in 2004. What had once seemed like a stop-gap move, for both sides, is developing into a long-term option. Both men play correctly, take few risks, play their strokes, score at a brisk strike-rate, and like the ball hard and relatively new. Laxman, in fact, is a misfit lower down the order, where he cannot hustle and bustle as is often required, and Sourav Ganguly got the Indian batting order just right by batting himself at No. 4. Ganguly can build big innings as well, and he surely thirsts to bat higher up, but this is the order that is best for the side. All seven batsmen contributed today, and it was more a case of Pakistan's batsmen carrying the day than India's falling short.

Yuvraj Singh played a lovely innings, displaying just what a potential matchwinner he is in the one-day game. He has a great eye, the gift of timing, but no ticket to Kanpur, where India begin a Test match a week from now. No matter - he is a natural in the one-day arena, and will be totting up the frequent-flier miles for years yet. There is a stage for every man, and this is his.

Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He writes the cricket blog, 23 Yards, for this site.