From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.26 :: Jun. 27, 2009

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COVER STORY

Indomitable spirit

Pakistan’s victory in the ICC World Twenty20 Championship was all about passion, pride and guts, writes S. Dinakar.

Pakistan’s victory was a triumph of the spirit. Younis Khan’s men played with passion and pride to buck the odds on the big stage. Not having played much international cricket after the terror strikes at home, Pakistan could have been excused for being rusty and disjointed. Instead, adversity brought the team together with Younis emerging as a strong leader. Traditionally a slow starter, Pakistan peaked at the right time.

“We needed a victory like that,” said Younis after the final. “I think it’s a gift for the whole nation.”

Later, Younis, who announced his retirement from Twenty20 cricket, dedicated the victory to the late coach Bob Woolmer.

The similarities between Younis’ team and Imran Khan’s World Cup-winning side down under in 1992 are many. In both instances, Pakistan, undone by injuries and setbacks in the early matches, was on the brink of elimination. The two world beating sides of different eras are also connected by a common thread — self-belief.

While Younis’ team was a fearless one, it also played with tact and picked its moments to strike. Pakistan executed its plans with finesse.

Shahid Afridi re-surfaced as a match-winning all-rounder. He was outstanding with his leg-spinners, bowling with the precision of a surgeon. There was revolution on the ball as it spun and bounced. Afridi set the batsmen up with his sharp leg-spin and consumed them with his skidders and wrong ’uns. He flighted the ball and it gripped the surface. The batsmen were strangulated in the middle-overs.

The Pathan was also re-born as a batsman and the team-management succeeded in igniting his mind. Batting, much like the other aspects of cricket, is a lot about confidence.

The ploy to send the dasher at No. 3 — Afridi was short of runs at that point of time — had a huge bearing on Pakistan’s eventual title triumph. It motivated the all-rounder.

The all-conquering South Africans were undone by Afridi’s weighty hits at No. 3. Graeme Smith’s men were surprised tactically; the bowlers were forced to switch line and the management of overs was disrupted.

Afridi was brave of heart. When the South African pacemen pitched short, he responded with pulls and hooks. In the final, he marshalled the chase, batting with a mix of sunshine and steel. He milked the bowling and was judicious while launching into the attack. Among the bowlers to suffer was Muttiah Muralitharan.

There is a sense of calmness about Afridi these days that is compelling. He is no more the angry young man from the mountains up north. His cricket now is underlined by composure.

For someone who can work up serious pace and bowl with great intensity, Umar Gul appears relaxed. His bowling at the ‘death’, for most part, was among the highlights.

Gul consistently swung the ball into the block-hole, forced the batsmen to dig out yorkers of extreme accuracy when they were looking for the big hits. He is a skilful bowler — the Kiwis’ queries about tampering with the ball were without reason — who can get the ball to move the conventional way or reverse. The paceman lived at the ‘death’ by changing his pace and length and the point of release — he used the crease capably. The short ball and the leg-cutters were employed as variations. Gul’s ability to absorb pressure was stunning.

As the competition unfolded, heroes emerged. Tactically, the Pakistanis were smart and flexible. The ploy to pepper the in-form Tillekeratne Dilshan with short-pitched deliveries was spot on. It was even better that the left-arm paceman, Mohammed Amir — a bowler with immense possibilities — was given instructions to hustle Dilshan.

It was always going to be difficult — given the left-armer’s angle — for Dilshan to get around the short ball and direct it over fine-leg by harnessing the pace. He succumbed.

Abdul Razzaq, experienced and wily, struck deadly blows with the new ball in the summit clash. He does not quite possess the speed of the old but mixes his length and pace to flummox the batsmen.

From the ICL to the world stage, it has been one heck of a journey for Razzaq. Again, the Pakistani selectors and the think-tank got it right by opting for this wily all-rounder after Yasir Arafat was injured.

There were other vital contributions for Pakistan. Kamran Akmal fired the side to speedy starts; he took on the pacemen and did not allow the influential Ajantha Mendis to settle down in the final.

Akmal went after the Lankan spinner and Pakistan won a crucial psychological battle.

As the competition wore on, Pakistan lifted its fielding. Younis’ men, scenting a win, were closing in on the trophy.

The Lankans deserve credit for progressing to the final, only months after the traumatic experience in Lahore where their team bus was the target of a terror attack.

Dilshan — adjudged the Player of the Tournament — innovated and created. He is light of feet and heavy with strokes. He imparted power on the ball or utilised the speed and invariably found the gaps. His scoop stroke over the wicketkeeper’s head had the crowd in raptures.

Slinger Lasith Malinga operated with skill and heart and his scorching yorkers appeared to be laser guided. Bowlers win matches.

Mendis and Muralitharan formed the most potent spin combination in the competition. The young Mendis — among those injured during the terror strike — displayed exemplary courage to get back on the road so soon. The lad has a future for more than just his unique ability with the ball.

Kumar Sangakkara oozed character and led his side with great dignity. The erudite Sangakkara is a captain and a gentleman.

Eventually, Pakistan triumphed, banishing the demons of the 2007 final. Pakistan rejoiced on a sunny evening at Lord’s amidst a sea of its supporters.



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