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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mohali—Epic Saga of Pressure Chances and Surprises!


A typical India-Pakistan encounter with the teams not performing to their true potential, but very true to the pressure and nerves. Eternal rivals meeting in a rare face-to-face apart, it was also a World Cup semi final which is normally tougher than the Final and watched by two Prime Ministers taking cricket to the noble goal of achieving lasting friendship between the two countries. There were pleasant surprises all around—Indian and Pakistani fans watching and cheering their teams sitting together, sweet friendly smiles and chats between the rival players on field, slogans around the stadium announcing ‘India and Pakistan are friends forever’ and so on.

India won the toss and there was the shocker nobody on earth expected. Ashwin was replaced by an out-of-sorts Nehra who was condemned for his last disastrous over against South Africa. But the real point of debate was ‘how you dare changing a winning combination against the Champions Australia’! It defied all logic! It had been evident that all pitches in this tournament behaved almost the same way—becoming slower and the ball not coming on to the bat as the ball gets older. Dhoni who learnt the hard way to include Ashwin and Raina committed a mistake again which could have haunted him all his life.

True to their batting strength India started in a whirlwind fashion with Sehwag going great guns, but Pakistan true to their strength bowled superbly. The greatest batsman of the world had to struggle making his shots. And, true to their unpredictability Pakistan fielded like school boys dropping catches and converting singles into fours all around apart from dropping the master four times making Afridi agonized both as the skipper and as a bowler. Surprises here again—most consistent Umar Gul throughout this world cup failed miserably in all his spells and the cricket experts and commentators shouting for a 300 plus total even after seeing how the pitch behaved. Thanks to the excellent spells by young Wahab Riaz and the spinners India were finally restricted to 260 for 9. Only Sunil Gavaskar said, in a WC semi final chasing a total of over or at least 250 was not going to be easy at all and that too involving India and Pakistan.

And for a change India bowled superbly and with tremendous discipline not allowing an extra till the 37th over supported by keen fielding. Nehra too bowled passionately rescuing Dhoni from possible embarrassment. It was such a complete effort that only five bowlers were used and they all shared two wickets each!

Pakistan seemed to be cruising at one stage in spite of the bowling effort and slowing pitch, but then their batting surprises started surfacing. Confident Hafeez committed harakiri trying a weird shot, main batsman Younus Khan who did not field well too earlier failed miserably. And Misbah was the greatest mystery of missed opportunities! He progressed at an inexplicable sluggish rate hardly trying to be aggressive. He allowed the run rate keep on mounting. As the last man standing Misbah finally played his huge hits in the last two overs and that was outrageously too late. The biggest surprise of all—why the batting powerplay  was not taken when Razzak joined Misbah and even when the skipper Afridi himself joined the mystery at a more crucial juncture where a few lusty hits could have made the match go either way.

Pakistani fans are hugely disappointed no doubt, but they are accepting it in the true spirit of the game and friendship. But Pakistani team cannot escape answering such basic questions. Another puzzle for me, why Afridi is trying to be only a bowler and coming at no. 8? Nobody could ever forget what he did as a devastating batsman in many  memorable matches. Pakistan need him desperately as a batsman too.

Meantime huge celebrations are going on all over India! It was a Diwali night last night here in Mumbai. Team India is coming to Mumbai to play the Final against Sri Lanka on Saturday, April 2, 2011. Sri Lanka defeated a fighting New Zealand in the first semi final in Colombo on Tuesday. Both teams are making their third appearances in world cup finals and whoever win it will be their second Cup.

Security is a bigger concern in Mumbai and unprecedented arrangements are being made. We are sure, cricket will defeat terror most convincingly. Cheers!


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