Walking the talk

The Indian team continued their growth into a formidable unit during the tour of Pakistan, and virtually every player had a part to play in their success. The bench strength asserted itself, demonstrating the growing riches of Indian cricket. Yuvraj Singh got his break when Sourav Ganguly was injured, and kept his place with a wonderful performance, forcing out Aakash Chopra, who did not do all that much wrong. Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar, India first-choice fast bowlers just three months ago, found themselves fighting for the spot of third fast bowler, as Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji seized the day with spirited, and disciplined, performances. The seniors walked the talk, and the juniors matched them step for step. It was stirring stuff. Below, we mark their performances out of ten.

Virender Sehwag 438 runs at 109.5; 2 catches
Sehwag's innings of 309 at Multan did not merely have statistical significance - it was the first Test triple-century by an Indian - but it also set up India's first Test win in Pakistan, asserting the team's dominance in a manner that dictated the course of the game. It also repudiated the stereotype of him as a one-day thumper and a makeshift opener, and indicated that he could be one of India's greatest opening batsmen. He also struck a freeflowing 90 in a losing cause at Lahore, but had already done enough, with his Multan masterpiece, to ensure that India had a platform from where to win the series.

Rahul Dravid 309 runs at 77.25; 4 catches
Dravid's captaincy during the Multan victory was competent and assured, but it was his monumental double-century at Rawalpindi that drove India through that last mile to victory. The innings embodied Dravid's finest qualities, and was a triumph of character over context, a defining feature of Dravid's career so far. In a match where no other batsman could make a hundred, he constructed 270, an innings that combined passages of graceful classical beauty, in both defence and attack, with periods of dogged resistance, on an uncertain pitch and against a resolute bowling attack. He has made crucial hundreds that have inspired India to overseas wins - as at Headingley and Adelaide - but this was his finest hour, and completely eclipsed his uncharacteristic lapses with the bat earlier in the series.

Sourav Ganguly 77 runs at 77
Ganguly played just the final Test, and was in prime form during it. His captaincy was inspirational, as always, and inspired - his decisions to bowl first and to ask Parthiv Patel to open the batting worked magnificently, and reflected a larger reality of his captaincy: he always shows faith in the young players he believes in, in this case Patel and the fast bowlers, and over a long-term, they have responded to him. His innings of 77 was fluent and positive, and it is only the manner of his run-out that takes anything away from his performance. He became India's winningest captain at Rawalpindi, with 15 Test wins, and he deserved to.

Anil Kumble 15 wickets at 25.93
Most of India's wins in the 1990s came at home, and most of them came because of Anil Kumble. But as India evolved in the new millenium, so did Kumble. India's greatest matchwinner of the 90s had once been the key strike bowler of the team, but now found fast bowlers in his side who could also cripple a batting line-up, and batsmen who regularly gave him big totals to bowl at. He bowled magnificently at Multan, with cunning variations in flight and turn, and ran through Pakistan with 6 for 72 in the second innings. He clinically accounted for the tail in Pakistan's second innings at Rawalpindi, to finish as the highest wicket-taker of the series, with 15 wickets. At 33, he was the oldest member of the India side, and an inspiration to his team-mates.

Irfan Pathan 12 wickets at 28.5; 64 runs at 21.3
Plenty of talented Indian fast bowlers have emerged in recent years, but succeeding at the highest level is not merely about ability, but about character. Pathan has both in ample measure. He has revived the dying art of swing bowling, and his natural shape away from the left-hander, and into the right-hander, is complemented by his ability to move it the other way as well. More importantly, he bowls with control and accuracy, and never needs a loosener at the start of a spell. As he showed with his polished 49 in the Lahore Test, in the course of adding 117 for the eighth wicket with Yuvraj Singh, he is a promising batsman as well, and may well develop into the allrounder India has been looking for.

Lakshmipathy Balaji 12 wickets at 30.75
It was remarkable how Balaji, an amiable, simple fellow, became such a cult figure in Pakistan during this tour. But it was more striking how he grew in stature as a cricketer, morphing from an honest trier with the potential to be a stock bowler into a matchwinner who could turn a game with the new ball. He had the odd wayward spell at Multan, and in the first innings at Rawalpindi, but his accuracy, otherwise, was impeccable. Two deliveries, in the second innings at Rawalpindi, summed it all up: one shaped out and jagged in to remove Kamran Akmal's off stump; the other shaped in and moved away to induce an edge from Inzamam-ul-Haq. Unplayable stuff, from an unassuming strike bowler.

Yuvraj Singh 230 runs at 57.5; 2 catches
Yuvraj got his chance in the team because of injury to his captain, and capitalised on it well enough to retain his place. He made 59 off 66 balls at Multan, when the need of the hour was quick runs, and a feisty 112 off 129 balls at Lahore, which contained both spirited counter-attack and a responsible shepherding of the tail. He may well have to open the innings in future Tests, which is fair enough - a batsman of his talent and temperament deserves a place in the final XI, and he will, as Sehwag did, adapt to his new position. He is India's best infielder, as well, curbing many a quick single with his mere presence.

Sachin Tendulkar 205 at 68.3; 4 wickets at 24.5
As in Australia, Tendulkar had just one big innings on this tour, but what a knock that was. His responsible 194 not out at Multan ensured that India did not waste the platform the openers had given them, and he guided Sehwag all the way to his triple-century, helping his partner accumulate the runs without overdoing the aggression. He batted, perhaps, a bit slower towards the end than one would have expected at that stage of the innings, and his public expression of surprise at the timing of the declaration was not in character with the grace and humility that he is known for. But that, or his subsequent failures in the series, do not detract from the fact that his Multan innings played a key role in setting up that win. He was useful with the ball as well, taking four wickets with his part-time repertoire of legspin, offspin and seam-ups.

Parthiv Patel 131 runs at 65.5; 10 catches
Patel did not have a very good series in Australia, and his glovework actually seemed to have deteriorated there. He was better in this series, with just the one dropped catch - Mohammad Sami at Rawalpindi - though he did fluff a few takes. His batting was a revelation, though. Coming off 62 in the final Test against Australia at Sydney, he made a scrappy 62 not out at Lahore, and then opened the batting at Rawalpindi, where he made 69 (more than Aakash Chopra's highest score, incidentally), adding 129 for the second wicket with Dravid, and seeing off the new ball at a time when the innings could still have unravelled. He has all the makings of a fine wicketkeeper-batsman, with the technique and temperament to excel in both disciplines.

VVS Laxman 124 runs at 31; 3 catches
Laxman hardly got a chance to shine at Multan, making a cameo of 29 with India looking to up the tempo, and failed in both innings at Lahore. But he redeemed himself with a wonderful 71, off just 99 balls, at Rawalpindi, adding an important 131 runs with Dravid in the process. His fielding at slip was reliable as well, and his solid presence at No. 5 underscores how good India's middle order is.

Ashish Nehra 3 wickets at 26.6
Nehra played just the one Test, at Rawalpindi, and played an important role there in Pakistan's first-innings collapse. After Balaji and Pathan bowled somewhat ineffective first spells, being unable to control the swing, Nehra came and moved the ball both ways, kept things tight, and picked up the wickets of the Lahore centurions, Imran Farhat and, critically, Inzamam-ul-Haq. His two wickets in the innings do not reflect how well he bowled, and he took 1 for 20 in the six over he was given in the second, where Balaji did the early damage and Kumble finished off the tail.

Aakash Chopra 51 runs at 17; 2 catches
Chopra's figures, as in Australia, do not tell the full story. His 42 at Multan was one of the key performances of the series, because he saw off the three-pronged Shoaib-Sami-Shabbir new-ball attack, and added 160 runs with Sehwag, which set the tone for what followed. A first-innings failure at Lahore was followed by a horrid umpiring decision in the second, and Chopra was dropped for the deciding Test, as Ganguly returned from injury. Tactically, the move worked for the team, and Yuvraj may well take up the position Chopra has vacated in the long term. But expect Chopra, whose close-in fielding is outstanding, to remain in the squad for a while, and to be the first man in when injury strikes.
Zaheer Khan 1 wicket at 76
Zaheer did not look completely match-fit during the one-day series, and was completely off-colour during the only Test he played, at Multan. It was a pity, because when fully-fit and at his best, he is a matchwinner.

Ajit Agarkar 1 wicket at 80; 38 runs at 19
Played the one Test at Lahore, and bowled his way out of the side. Agarkar has always been a blow-hot-blow-cold kind of player, and the way this Indian team has evolved, there is no space for someone like that. Pathan and Balaji have cemented their places in the side with sheer consistency, and unless Agarkar does something remarkable, and does it consistently, his days as a Test player are limited.

Click here for our Marks on Ten on Pakistan.

Click here for our Marks on Ten on India after their tour of Australia.

Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.