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Brilliant end to a blazing fortnight

The moon hung over the night sky in a perfect crescent. The stands, not full during the day, filled up with home supporters, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Mar 25, 2004 11:04 IST

The moon hung over the night sky in a perfect crescent. The stands, not quite full during the day, had filled up with vociferous home supporters by the time darkness fell. Even as the Pakistan openers, Taufeeq Umar and Yasir Hameed, strode out to bat, there was an expectant buzz around the ground.

Pakistan had restricted India to a challenging but gettable total, following Indians achieving exactly the same target with five overs to spare in the fourth one-dayer on Sunday. The omens were good and the series decider seemed to be heading towards a thrilling finale.

But the home team and their thousands of hopeful fans, many with faces painted in the colours of the flag, had reckoned without India's man of the season. Irfan Pathan.

Pathan, who made the Gaddafi Stadium his own with the 9-16 haul against Bangladesh at the under-19 Asia Cup some months ago, had obviously decided that he liked bowling here. The thrashing he got in the warm-up game against a Pakistan A side on March 11 notwithstanding.

After Hameed, Pakistan's Mr Solid in the previous few games, was castled by Balaji, there was some tension in the air. But like India, Pakistan bats long and deep. The buzz hadn't been subdued. That was when Pathan struck with his trio of scalps.

Most of the crowd faithfully hung around, watching this game with much the same spirit that crowds here have been watching the series but no one really held out any hope. There was some entertainment and vociferous cheers when first Moin Khan and Shoaib Malik and then, Moin and Sami, battled the pressure and the haze of insects that flitted around their faces. But most people had resigned looks on their faces.

The Pakistani flags were no longer running excitedly around the stadium. Green-painted faces weren't screaming and people weren't placing bets all over the place on the outcome. Here and there, an Indian flag could be spotted dancing in the stands.

We couldn't spot him in the crowd but people like Faisal Murtaza would probably be feeling disappointed by now. The 16-year-old with the 'Afro' haircut, jeans torn at the knees and a ring in his left ear is pint-sized but has an aggressive attitude and a confidence that belies his size.

On Wednesday afternoon, waiting in a queue to enter the Abdul Qadir enclosure of the Gaddafi stadium, his face (and those of his less voluble friends too) was painted a vibrant green. "Go Pakistan" they chanted in unison.

Faisal had had enough of "this hospitality business". "Let me assure you that Pakistan gave the last match away to make this series interesting. It wasn't fixed or anything but the team was being hospitable," he said with utter conviction. "Watch Shoaib and Sami now," he added.

Well, Shoaib was quite spectacular and Sami did very well but ultimately, there wasn't anything Pakistan could do after the Indian pace attack came up with an inspired effort. But there was every possibility that Faisal and his form-fitting jeans wearing and short-top sporting girlfriend Ayesha, who say they represent the "New Pakistan" — (no "stuffiness, or following outdated conventions") — were out there. They had said they would stay to watch the end, in the "unlikely event of an Indian win".

Despite Moin's histrionics — ensuring that it was a brilliant blazing end to a brilliant, blazing fortnight — it wasn't to be. Watched by another sporting Pakistani crowd — the hallmark of this goodwill series and greeted by a spectacular fireworks display at the end, India took this historic one-day series and Pakistan's place in the ICC rankings.