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The Electronic Telegraph 4th Super Six Match: India v Pakistan
Michael Henderson - 9 June 1999

Azharrudin plays lead in India's tale of unexpected

India (227-6) bt Pakistan (180) by 47 runs

India confounded everybody yesterday. They mastered Pakistan, who imagined they could not possibly lose a third successive match. They discomfited a noisy but well-behaved crowd, which was weighted against them by at least two to one. They surprised those who had spoken lightly of them after they went down to Australia at the Oval last Saturday. They may even have surprised themselves.

Just as they had done at Bangalore in the last World Cup, when they won by 39 runs, they beat their fiercest rivals with something to spare. The outstanding Venkatesh Prasad took five for 27 and there were three wickets for his comrade, Javagal Srinath, who was hardly less excellent, as they dismissed Pakistan for 180.

A game that began after heavy rain finished in pale sunlight, to the explosion of firecrackers, without a serious breach of the peace. If it was not quite all quiet on the North Western Front, it was a day when cricket struck a timely victory for goodwill, and the players and spectators can take satisfaction from their joint contribution.

The immediate consequence, from India's perspective, was the two points they took away from Old Trafford, and they will strive for two more when they play New Zealand at Trent Bridge on Saturday. If they win that match there is still a faint chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, depending on which way other results go.

Despite this defeat, Pakistan remain the more likely of the two to go through, because they carried forward four points from their group, and they ought to beat Zimbabwe at the Oval on Friday. But they cannot pretend that this latest defeat does not matter. It will hurt them a good deal more than either of the previous two games.

They could write off the Bangladesh defeat in the last of their group games as 'one of those things', and the South Africa match as a fine one they let slip. To lose a third time, against opponents they beat three times out of three in Sharjah two months ago, must shake them. Good teams do not make a habit of losing tight games. Suddenly a team of brilliant players looks vulnerable.

It was a marvellous day for India, and a glorious one for the Muslim who leads them. Mohammad Azharuddin has not enjoyed the best of tournaments but he chose the best possible moment to regain his form, making 59 and taking two good slip catches. Moreover, he handled his bowlers with a golden touch.

On two occasions his change of bowling was rewarded with a wicket straight away. When he switched Prasad to the City End, Moin Khan swung his second ball to fine leg, where Sachin Tendulkar held an important catch. Moin had made 33 from 37 balls, including a six lapped into his favoured position at midwicket, and he was looking forward to making a few more in that unorthodox, but highly productive, manner.

When Azharuddin reintroduced Srinath five overs later, he found a beauty with his first ball to defeat Abdur Razzaq. Although Razzaq was hobbling and using a runner, it was a wicket India needed to deprive Pakistan of a batsman who could accompany Inzamam. So long as he was there, with Wasim to follow, the game was alive.

Inzamam had damaged his hand earlier in the day, when he dived to take a good slip catch. It was a more subdued batsman who appeared later, so subdued that he spread his 41 runs over 30 overs, though that was a tribute to the Indian bowling. It took him 84 balls to find the boundary and when he sought another, heaving across the line of a straight ball, he was lbw to Prasad.

The bowler's best wicket was his second, the fourth of the innings. Saeed Anwar, batting with a mixture of supreme confidence and occasional diffidence, and never less than watchable, drove once too often and gave Azharuddin the second of his catches. Poor old Saeed. He is a wonderful player. Pakistan look to him to gee things up, and he has not found anything like his most bewitching form.

Tendulkar was beginning to find his, after Azharuddin chose to bat. He overcame a nervous start and was five runs short of his half century when he drove Azhar Mahmood to deep mid-off, and the sense of Pakistan celebration was palpable. They would have given Tendulkar 45 runs any day. When Azhar slipped out Ajay Jadeja two overs later Pakistan appeared to have, if not control, then a means of containment.

As the Indians have shown, there is more to this team than Tendulkar. Rahul Dravid, the batsman of the tournament, again batted splendidly for his 61. Azharuddin, beginning slowly, built on those early steps to secure the innings. By the time he was out, in the penultimate over, he had ensured that his bowlers could defend a reasonable score. Wasim bowled superbly, Azhar cleverly, Saqlain expensively.

It was due entirely to the outstanding efforts of Peter Marron, the groundsman, and his dedicated staff that the match took place at all. The previous day, when the outfield resembled a minor tributary of the Ganges, the prospect of play was improbable. Thanks to Marron's admirable work, spectators were not deprived of a single ball. Perhaps he, and not Prasad, should have been named man of this match.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk