ICL: Indian Cricket League

Go on, give us a classic


Even now, 55 years and one month after their first encounter at the Feroz Shah Kotla, a great series still awaits one of the great rivalries of cricket.

Pakistan and India has had drama; they have played magnificent Tests; their batsmen have played grand hands against the other, their bowlers legendary spells, but a truly great series combining all this into one sustained battle eludes them.

There have been landmark encounters no doubt, times where life itself, not just cricket, has been worth celebrating: the very first in 1952-53 was one, as was 1978-79 which released 18 years of the tension the lack of cricket created. The jousts of 1998-99 and 2003-04 were similarly significant. Both contained outstanding cricket and at least two fine Tests, but were they really the great series this rivalry needs?

There is no equivalent here of, say, the Ashes of 1981 and 2005. Neither has there been the intensity, the epic feel, of recent series between India and Australia, or older ones where Pakistan and Australia took on West Indies, clashes where an entire established order often felt at stake.

Overwhelmingly, fear has crippled the rivalry, particularly in its early years when wounds were fresh. Twelve successive draws, in the 1950s and 60s, were borne of the terror of losing to the other. It was a well-founded fear: Fazal Mahmood captained an unbeaten side in 1960-61 (admittedly he didn’t win a Test either), yet was removed on return from the team altogether (he was promoted in the police force, though). Asif Iqbal also found leading in 1979-80 an extraordinary weight, one which after a series loss he could no longer bear. Bishan Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar have discovered the perils of losing to the auld enemy. And only three years ago Javed Miandad, as coach, was sacked after his side lost both Tests and One-day Internationals (ODIs).

That fear has receded as the century closed, but has it fully left? Bangalore glossed over four horrendous Tests in 1986-87, and the 1989-90 return in Pakistan didn’t even have that final, saving grace. Even as recently as India’s last visit to Pakistan, in 2005-06, there often seemed a greater chance of a final resolution in Kashmir than one on the field.

Perhaps fear just manifested itself not so much in the cricket itself but in pitches on which a month might not be enough to yield a result. Perhaps the umpiring too, until neutrality was enforced, played a part.

But even if there hasn’t been one great series, and far too many draws (36 out of 56), there has at least been cricket glasnost since 2003-04, with six results from nine (nine from 12 if you include 1998-99). It is the way of modern cricket and it is also, broadly, the way when attacking bowlers, as Pakistan have had, come up against attacking batsmen, as India have had.

Indeed, that theme has been a central, enduring one, the spin that has always been applied to the contest: Fazal against Hazare and Manjrekar, Imran against Gavaskar, Shoaib against Sachin. So it is again, though perhaps now with a twist.

For even without Mohammad Asif, it is to pace Pakistan will turn and hope. Or at least they should: Shoaib Malik’s words and tactics against South Africa last month suggested Pakistan have spun their way to cricketing eminence.

Shoaib Akhtar is not as consistently quick, definitely not as fit, but he is a much sharper tack. Umar Gul may not be as consistent as Pakistan want, but that he is the real deal is in no doubt. And if they’re really lucky, this tour might be the making of one from Mohammad Sami and Sohail Tanvir.

Their batting, reliant recently on three men, will now make do with only two. Fortunately, both Ys are currently to be found at their very zenith. But other heroes will have to emerge from somewhere in that uncertain order, and Malik should note, if an Indian series can be the breaking of a captain, it can also be his making.

India’s batting, as ever, is covered from every angle. They have the makings of an opening pair, the genius of Sachin, the technical virtuosity of Dravid, the silk of Laxman and the punch of Dhoni. So covered that Yuvraj Singh, a nawab among batsmen, might not play. But the twist, possibly the decider, is in India’s pace attack.

For a start, they have one. And it is the most potent they have ever had. It has led them to a rare Test win in South Africa and a slightly less rare series win in England. The maturing of Zaheer Khan, the sharp progress of RP Singh, and the outrageous outswing gifts of Sreesanth have coincided beautifully, and here lies a real opportunity. Singh and Sreesanth may be injured but Munaf Patel — fitness and attitude permitting — isn’t bad cover. A cute irony it is that such a fine pace attack will be captained by a spinner.

But ultimately there is no outright favourite, for there never is. And that is as it should be. If India appear more settled, a little more solid, it is a balance of power Pakistan don’t mind, especially in India. The 2004-05 side was said to be the weakest to cross the border, yet they drew the Test series.

The hype, the hope, the headlines, the dosti, the very essence of it, seems somehow reduced this time: the novelty has worn. This is the fourth series since 2003-04 and maybe, just maybe, it should be preserved with greater care and not overdone for the dollar. It is good, for it suggests that the two now treat each other as normal opponents. But it is also a little sad, for an India-Pakistan series should make you tingle. More reason then for the two to come together and produce, finally, a definitive series.

Source:Cricket News

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 23rd, 2007 and is filed under General, Cricket.

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