India v Pakistan, 6th ODI, Delhi

A memorable series with memorable performances

Osman Samiuddin



A jubilant Pakistan © Getty Images

Ask yourself: who should the man of the series be? Officially, Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan's sharpened nous with both new and old ball - coupled with refreshingly wholehearted endeavor clinched it - and why not? Fifteen wickets on insipid pitches, in this heat, and against this line-up is notable enough. But when you factor in the identity and circumstance of his successes, it is doubly so.

Virender Sehwag, who had traumatized Pakistan unabashedly through the Tests and the first two ODIs, became near enough a bunny, falling four times to Rana (and he was dropped off him the very first ball of the series at Cochin). Sachin Tendulkar, still a victim to savour, was dismissed twice and in all games apart from Ahmedabad, he probed and scratched at India's top order.

There was no blinding pace although he bowls at a fair clip; nor was there the puffed chest run-up and the streaked, sweaty flailing locks - no clamour, no glamour.

There was only movement off the pitch as subtle as his changes of pace and length. And, above all, there was an understanding of how to succeed in this environment, an eagerness to explore beyond pace and bluster. There is little argument, surely?

But then what of Shahid Afridi, for his absurdly ballistic rediscovery of form in the second half of the series? Kanpur he demolished on his own terms, but his manic beginnings in Ahmedabad and Delhi were significant for the immediate intent they conveyed. With the ball he suffered, but he fairly bristled on the field: lippy, pesky, chasing, harrying. Rarely, even when not performing, was he out of any contest.

Or how about Shoaib Malik, if only for the serenity he imparted on an unsettled top order? There should be neither surprise nor revelation at his consistency for he has been doing it for a year. But there should be some recognition of his 75 at Jamshedpur which provided much of the thrust to Pakistan's 320; of his 65 at Ahmedabad which marshaled a momentous run-chase; of his surreptitious 41 at Kanpur which gave method to Afridi's madness; of his 72 at Delhi which ensured Pakistan squeezed as much out of a crucial toss as possible. That he bowled again allowed not only his own confidence to return but brought vital balance to Pakistan.

How pivotal too was Inzamam's cool at Ahmedabad to nudging the series momentum, conclusively, towards Pakistan? Thereafter, he was always there; reassuring, unruffled, his batting and influence fatherly. Salman Butt, not always equating to runs, but generally providing firmness; Abdul Razzaq, steady like a grandfather's clock, with bat and ball; Yousuf Youhana, always lurking with a chirpy cameo or two; even Arshad Khan ended up with wickets.

The most heartening crux then, as in Bangalore, was that Pakistan's revival was scripted by many. Here we saw, as sickening and tiresome as it sounds, Team Pakistan. Here we saw a team devoid of stars but puffy with communal ethos. Here we saw a team that, the odd Afridi salvo apart, finally began to comprehend the significance of rudimentary disciplines. Running between the wickets, such anathema to a nation of stroke players, peaked in the chase at Ahmedabad but sustained itself thereafter.

Even the fielding, led by the interminable buzz of Younis Khan, was atypically sharp. Youhana's direct hits in Delhi, if only for rarety, will linger as will the one which dismissed Tendulkar in Vishakapatnam. But etched brightest will be Younis's lightning one-motion pick-up and throw at short midwicket to catch Sehwag backing up too far in Ahmedabad, if only because, having tried the same a couple of overs before only to hit Sehwag's leg, he displayed a fielding sense abhorrently absent in Pakistan.

Most vividly, all fell into place at Delhi. Afridi, inevitably (imagine that!), blustered again. Malik, Youhana and Inzamam prolonged it to its natural 300-plus finale and with Rana removing the main obstacle, fielders and remaining bowlers, in unison, brought about a series win. Shoaib Malik was man of the match, but in truth, as with Rana's series prize, the collective should have been awarded. Any series win in India is memorable enough. But to do it from 2-0 down, with these resources and on the shoulders of so many will give it the sheen of legend.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance cricket writer based in Karachi. He is following the Pakistan team through their tour of India.

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