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Normal is extremely boring

cricket Updated: Nov 23, 2007 00:47 IST
Rahul Bhattacharya
Rahul Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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This has been the series in which to discuss why India-Pakistan cricket has become such a properly normal affair. The usual stock of reasons are trotted out.

First is the frequency with which the sides play one another now, in itself a sturdy indicator of the political equation between the countries. For spectators, this regularity has diminished anticipation, whereas for players familiarity bred not contempt so much as apathy.

Then, since the memorable welcome accorded to Indians on the 2004 tour of Pakistan, there has been a perceptible shift in the attitudes of cricket citizens. And yesterday in these op-ed pages, Vir Sanghvi made the politically delicate submission that the new calm was down to the relative Hindu-Muslim amity in India at present.

I have another, humbler theory to add to the list. It is that the edge of India-Pakistan cricket has been missing in this because Pakistan is playing some rather crap cricket. It is difficult for even the most desperate media outlet to package something as war when the energy on display is more comparable to tiddlywinks.

As in the series against South Africa before this, there has been a disturbing blandness to Pakistan. The lameness has been a particularly sorry sight because it goes so against the grain of their cricket. Leave aside big names and class of players. The thing about Pakistan was that they always retained an X-factor.

Nobody could tell from where the threat would come from, least of Pakistan themselves. Anybody could raise their game, raise some hell.

Now barely a day passes when someone or the other doesn’t proclaim that this is the worst-ever Pakistani Test team. Sometimes merely saying is not enough. So the veteran Pakistani cricket journalist Qamar Ahmed has gone one step further. In possibly the first-ever sporting boycott on the basis of IQ, he has refused to do interviews with anybody from the current team: "There is nothing to ask them and nothing they can answer."

The talent in the squad remains largely unfulfilled. Yasir Hameed's innings on Thursday amply showed his potential, but it was his dismissal to a loose shot for yet another middling score that more accurately summed up his career.

Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif are perhaps the most exciting pace pair in the world; the pity is that they don't seem to take the field much, and almost never in tandem.

Shoaib Akhtar remains a true wonder, a caricature of a caricature, a WWF personality on a cricket field.

To watch him come in to bowl now, arms like torpedoes, legs like tree trunks, a chest cavity that can house the entire grandstand, unrecognisable from the bounding athlete who made his mark in India eight years ago, is to marvel that he is moving forwards at all.

Marvel also because he still sends it down at 95 mph.

More than ever, Pakistan could use a vintage Shoaib burst on Friday, and no better way to spark the Test series either. Much more entertaining than the cricket on view today was the story of the journalist who has been beaten up by security at just about every Indian cricket centre he's been to. No bruising at the Kotla, however. There wasn't much of a crowd to control.