IN a conversation with a photographer after India won the first two matches, manager Madan Lal said the team was so starved of a victory that if it did lift the Sahara Cup he would ask the Board to allow the players to return home before the Pakistan trip. His logic: “Let them feel what it means to return home after a victor y. If they go to Pakistan from here and lose, everybody’s going to forget about the Toronto victory. I want them to be in India even if it’s just for a couple of days. Let their phones keep ringing. The players need a lift badly.”
Well, the unthinkable happened. India made it 3-0 and took the Sahara Cup. The last time they won three matches in a row against Pakistan was in 1985. Madan Lal gained sufficiently in confidence after the victory to announce at the post-match press conference that he would request the Board to allow the team to go home. As for captain Sachin Tendulkar, he called the victory the biggest in his career.
Well, the third victory did come in the face of a very determined Pakistani side. Says Pakistan captain Rameez Raja: “We were very determined to win. For the last couple of years we have never been so determined. But we threw the game away. Our batsmen have 500-plus one-day internationals between them and yet simple common sense seems to have deserted them. We will need 14 helmets once we return to Pakistan.” Pakistani strike bowler Aquib Javed was inconsolable: “Everything went wrong with us. We tried to bowl first in the opening match. That didn’t work. Then we took a bad decision to bat first in the second match. The wicket behaviour on the two days was entirely opposite.”
The Indians, however, were on a roll. Specially the bowlers. With a bowling attack of Abey Kuruvilla, Debashis Mohanty, Harvinder Singh, Saurav Ganguly and Nilesh Kul-karni, Tendulkar has more wickets in one-day cricket than all of them put together. But during the third match, after Ganguly picked up the wickets of Salim Malik and Hasan Raja, you could have almost forgiven him if he likened himself to a Courtney Walsh or a Dennis Lillee. The previous evening he sat for a full hour in a TWI truck staring at his own bowling action. Tendulkar has started calling him his ‘secret weapon’. Says Chidanand Rajghatta of
The Indian Express : “Earlier we used to call Mudassar Nazar the poor man’s Botham. And Ganguly the poor man’s Mudassar Nazar. Now no one can say that Ganguly takes wickets because of pure luck. There’s effort and intelligence.” Ganguly’s figures at the end of 10 overs: three maidens, 16 runs and five wickets.
As for Mohanty, Boycott’s raving about him. Former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram says he has a good line and length. Mohanty—who is modelling himself on Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath—is concentrating on his line and length and less on pace though he plans to do weights by the end of the year. Says Aquib Javed: “We call Mohanty the double swing bowler. The ball swings one way and then straightens out.” Adds Akram: “He bowls all his deliveries with the same outswinger action. I doubt whether even he knows which delivery is going to zip in. He leaves it to the pitch.” While Mohanty doesn’t quite agree—he calls his chief weapon the leg-cutter—ESPN commentator Harsha Bhogle says the delivery with which he got Shahid Afridi in the second match was a beauty, with the Pakistani pinch-hitter playing for an outswing that wasn’t there.
Madan Lal is mighty pleased with Mohanty too: “He has a beautiful action.” Mohanty himself is aware of the expectations he has raised. But says he: “Right now I just want to become a regular member of the side.” If Mohanty is good, there are at least two in the Pakistan camp who think Harvinder is better. Says Ejaz Ahmad: “I found him faster.” Akram, too, feels that Harvinder is faster and has the right attitude.
COMMENTING on the bowling attack in Toronto, former Pakistani captain Asif Iqbal said, “the Indian bowlers realised that they were there because the key bowlers Srinath, Kumble and Prasad were not there. Mohanty and Harvinder want to give the impression that they will crash through the gates. The Pakistani bowlers, on the other hand, gave the feeling that they never could crash through. That the main bowlers would come back once the series was over. That they were just stopgaps. The Indian bowlers looked hungrier and that’s what won them the series.”
Ofcourse, not everyone was happy with the pitch. Ganguly called it atrocious from a batsman’s point of view. Says Bhogle: “It kept an uneven bounce at the commentator’s end.” Even IMG pitch consultant Michael Corley admits: “I am not happy with it. I can’t explain it. Laying a pitch is like starting a new service. You can’t get things right early. When the pitch settles out it will be fast and bouncy.”
But Corley had time from last year to set the pitch right. Says Aquib Javed: “The pitch was too wet. It should have been drier. Call the Indian groundsmen.” Akram too railed against the pitch: “What’s this pitch where even Ganguly is proving to be dangerous?” Keeping the pitch in mind, Aquib Javed is not willing to judge Mohanty and Harvinder from their performances in Toronto. Says he: “On this type of a wicket you can’t judge anyone’s performances. Let’s see how they bowl on the flat Pakistani wickets. That will be the real test.” That sounds ominous. But for the Indians, Pakistan is far away. Victory is right now.