The New Line of Control
by Omar Noman
[April 2, 2004]
After several wars and incessant conflict, a new line of control has emerged. Its parameters have been defined by Pakistan's pace attack . A somewhat sneaky, militaristic maneuver but alas of greater benefit to its rivals. Anywhere in the world, the focus of a home teamÝs attention would be on containing one or other of IndiaÝs formidable batting line up.
Not in Pakistan. A newspaper headline for the final one-day match captured the challenge ˇ Pakistan vow to contain extras . Implicitly, by the morning of the fifth match Pakistan had lost psychologically. Extras had come center stage, as if a 12th man had stolen the show. Not only had PakistanÝs bowlers lost control by overstepping the line, they had repeatedly taken wickets on such illegal deliveries. The frustrating result was that Pakistan had the challenge of dismissing India ˇ the best batting side in the world ˇ nearly twice. Add to that, the fact you could always rely on two or three Pakistani fielders to drop a catch, the home side had their own demons to master.
Yet rather than grumble, one should look back on this series ˇ without danger of hyperbole ˇ as one of the greatest sporting events ever. Citizens of the beleaguered city of Karachi responded with exceptional grace in defeat. The first game at Karachi will always be amongst the most memorable cricket games. The standing ovation given to the Indian side was a referendum on peace with India. It was one of PakistanÝs proudest moments.
There are good reasons why this series was noticed as something special across the world . The series elevated cricket at two levels. Sport became a movement ˇ a movement for social change and peace amongst two nuclear states. It collectively elevated the spectators to a state where prejudices, enmities, hurt were replaced by compassion, friendship and solidarity. The series brought the daughter and grandson of Jinnah to Pakistan for the first time. Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi came, as did other politicians and film stars. A remarkable story has appeared in the newspapers recently ˇ the script of some Indian films is being revised to take out anti-Pakistan references, after the warmth of the cricket tour.
The second contribution was more subtle. The game of cricket had been sullied by years of betting and match fixing allegations. This series restored dignity and pride to a sport traditionally associated with a sense of fairplay.
I was repeatedly asked for an analytical explanation from Indian visitors about the scale and warmth of the reception that they had received. We saw grown men cry, Pakistani children wave Indian flags, and Indian visitors sing "Jevay, Jevay Pakistan". It was an uplifting carnival of peace and civilized behavior.
On my return flight to New York, the airhostess came and introduced herself. She was a remarkable woman ˇ a hockey player who played for India until last month. She spoke very warmly of Wasim Akram and the encouragement he gave to her and other female hockey players. Consistent with the spirit of this series, she mentioned how much her father wanted Pakistan to win the last match because of the warmth they had shown to the Indian side. Given that her father is a serving Brigadier in the Indian army, this wish seemed to be reciprocating a deep emotional desire for peace.
Another important social arena ˇ greater freedom for women ˇ was also being promoted through cricket. While India's men were visiting, the Pakistani womenÝs cricket team was hosting the West Indian side. Again what Pakistan lost in cricket it gained in freedom.
The Karachi match was followed by another batting dominated sizzler in Pindi, and a tightly fought, but more bowler balanced game at Peshawar. At the end of the third game, this series was arguably the most outstanding one-day series in cricket history. In terms of the standards established, and the expectations raised, both games at Lahore were far too one sided. It was not the end the series deserved. This was perhaps more than compensated for by the sight of elderly Sikhs from India meeting their relatives and a young generation of Indians and Pakistanis discovering that globalization, Bollywood, cricket, music and IT are a toxic common ground.
There were numerous poetic moments ˇ none more so than TendulkarÝs ballet on the ropes in the final game to dismiss the imperious Inzi. In the first game, KaifÝs obsess ional catch, as he hung on to the ball despite clashing colleagues, won the match. The series was almost worth watching just for these two moments of fielding genius. India's spectacular fielding will have a lasting effect on Pakistan cricket ˇ if, in similar circumstances, India can be so outstanding, there is little reason why Pakistan cannot follow suit.
IndiaÝs much belated first test win on Pakistani soil has followed, emphasizing the gulf between the two sides. Since the mid-1970s Pakistan had, by and large, a better cricket team; this was reflected in the results. Pakistan won a series in India, as well as winning whenever India visited. But this was the era of Imran, Miandad, Wasim , Waqar and Qadir. The present team is young, inexperienced and mediocre. It has players of considerable promise and has the potential to emerge as a gifted and mature side in a couple of years. It is also worth remembering that over the past five years, PakistanÝs cricket team has gone through its worst period. The team has repeatedly lost at home, let alone abroad. It has lost to countries such as Zimbabwe.
In comparison India has a phenomenal batting line up, one match winning spinner and a couple of delightfully exuberant medium pacers.
The difference in caliber and experience is borne out by the statistics. IndiaÝs top five batsmen have played in 330 tests, collectively scoring 26,900 runs. Pakistan's top five batsmen have scored less than half - 12,100 runs ˇ and played just 170 tests. The story is not very different in the one-day internationals (ODIs). IndiaÝs top 5 batsmen have played 970 matches and scored 56,700 runs. In comparison, PakistanÝs top five have played 560 matches and scored 20,000 runs.
Pakistan's bowling strength is also exaggerated, and partially based on memories of Wasim and Imran. Indeed even in this area, the Indian bowling side has a superior record. The five bowlers in the Indian side have played 130 tests and taken 520 wickets : this compares favorably to Pakistan, with 120 tests and 440 wickets. In the ODIs as well, Indian bowlers have taken 520 wickets in 410 matches, whereas Pakistan's bowlers have taken 510 in 400 matches.
Thus not only is this Indian side much stronger in the batting department, its bowling record is better than that of this Pakistan attack. These figures put the comparison into perspective. Added to this is the major difference in fielding. Pakistan have dropped 400 % as many catches as India in the six matches played so far.
In some ways , the one-day series was closer than many may have expected, given the big gap between the sides. Pakistan played some superb cricket. However with the last two one-day games and the first test , the difference between the two sides is becoming more apparent.
The home team supporters now fear the fate of their Caribbean counterparts. The erstwhile formidable West Indies are 0-2 down to England and face a whitewash ˇ a far cry from the rampant West Indian side of the 1980s which inflicted two whitewashes on England. Pakistan could face a similar fate.
Hopefully the fear of comprehensive defeat will not put the home side on the defensive They should prepare pitches which suit their comparative advantage. This is still in fast bowling. Noticeably , in the one pitch, which helped seamers, Peshawar, Pakistan had their most convincing win. To the surprise of everyone, including the visitors, Pakistan has prepared wickets most suitable to the strengths of IndiaÝs awesome batting line up. It is either diplomacy or lunacy.
The man of the series was appropriately awarded to Inzimam for his two centuries. Without him, the glaring difference between the two sides would have shown immediately. Alas he was on the losing side on both occasions that he scored a century ˇ a first for any cricketer in a one-day series.
Perhaps a more provocative, but imaginative, choice for man of the series would have been Mohammad Kaif. His two interventions did more to shape the final outcome than any other player. As noted earlier, his catch at Karachi kept India in the game at a critical juncture ˇ if that had been dropped Pakistan would have won. In the fourth game at Lahore, he came into bat with India seemingly enroute to a 1-3 loss. Chasing Pakistan's 293, India had lost 5 wickets cheaply. Kaif's 71, in partnership with Dravid, not only revived India from a dire position but changed the psychology of the whole series. Since that partnership India have won every session.
Similarly while Lakhsman's century was important in the final match, some imaginative adjudication may have preferred Pathan, who took 3 wickets for 26 runs ˇ a remarkable achievement on a flat batting track.
Although there was little doubt that the superior team won, IndiaÝs cause was aided by the generosity of the opposing captain. Inzimam is PakistanÝs only world-class batsman, and captaincy clearly does not affect his batting adversely. But a captain he is not ˇ he is defensive in his approach, his naturally lethargic demeanor is hardly inspirational, and his strategic thinking is noticeable in its absence ˇ putting India in at Lahore in the final game on a belter of a wicket and then withdrawing all slips within a few overs was one bizarre example. This was similar to putting India into bat in the first match. He easily loses composure with the media, and his running remains too much of a joke for a captain to bear.
Youhana, the vice-captain, is a lovely graceful batsman but has not so far been a big match player, repeatedly failing on the big occasion. It is time he was given additional responsibility and made the captain. He cannot be worse than Inzimam. An additional bonus would be to have the first Christian to captain Pakistan. In a series where Pakistan is winning hearts and minds, this would add another feather to the countryÝs cap .In a globalizing world, with Nasser Hussein having captained England, Youhana's captaincy has its symbolic appeal. It also makes cricketing sense.
One feature of the series was a reminder of the urgent need for policy change in international cricket. We all know that the one-day game has become deeply biased against bowling. It is time that the International Cricket Council changed three rules to even the balance. The first , and key, change should be to make it mandatory for 5 bowlers to bowl 5 overs each, rather than 10 . This will allow the best bowlers to bowl more, and give the captain much more flexibility in how he can use his bowling attack. This is a key change.
A subsidiary change would be to allow fast bowlers 2 bouncers an over, as long as they are in hitting range. Finally any ball on the leg side should not be called a wide. The current rule is too stringent and silly. Balls almost flicking the pad are called wides. Batsmen should be forced to improve their leg side play, rather than be lazy acceptors of runs on balls they could have hit had they tried. These three changes will help even the game a little and make it more, not less exciting.
Pakistan lost the series, but won the war of hearts and minds. Every Indian I met was overwhelmed by the hospitality . Rarely has sport transcended its symbolic role of peace amidst latent tension and become an active conduit of civilized behavior. Cricket has historically prided itself as being something beyond a game. The phrase "it is not cricket" has been evoked, however, in negative terms ˇ as a breach of an ethical code. This series brought a new , more positive, phrase into the lexicon ˇ posters of "It is Cricket" were used to equate the sport with peace. This became evident when a Turkish colleague sent an email suggesting that the UN has been wrong to invest so much money in the Cyprus peace process ˇ clearly all we needed to do was to train the Greeks and Turks in cricket. May the spirit of this Indo-Pak series carry over to the Athens Olympics later this year , and help resolve Cyprus.
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