How sweet it is!

Updated on Apr 17, 2004 01:38 AM IST

As the Indians wiped the champagne off their faces in their dressing room, Inzamam-ul-Haq wiped the sweat off his brow next door, writes Avirook Sen.

HT Image
HT Image
PTI | ByAvirook Sen, Rawalpindi

As the Indians wiped the champagne off their faces in their dressing room, Inzamam-ul-Haq wiped the sweat off his brow next door. Then, gravity, and the heavy burden of defeat took over: he didn't sit, he collapsed in a chair next to coach Javed Miandad. The biggest Test series ever was over. The teams separated by India's massive win in Pindi and now by a thin wall from across which Inzy would have heard the Indians celebrate, their voices amplified by the silence in his own dressing room.

Minutes before, as Pakistan's last man Danish Kaneria fell, Sourav Ganguly and the boys had gone into a historic huddle. A Test series win on Pakistani soil had come after half a century of trying. The margin of victory in the Pindi game was the biggest ever achieved by an Indian team. The win probably proved that India is the best Test side in the world after Australia.

But what's perhaps more significant is what went on outside the ground. The series, remember, may never have taken place. A section of the BJP thought that a loss would prove too costly — it might cost a general election. Security concerns were dreamt up. Player safety stories were planted in the more pliable newspapers.

But the matches went ahead anyway. And guess what, nothing happened. But then, another hallucination gained currency: that the games were fixed, that Pakistan had given up the one-dayers (but would take the Tests) in the interest of peace in the subcontinent. In Pakistan, a few people stayed at home drawing maps of the new Kashmir, missing cricket of top quality in the process.

To both the sets of people just described, Dravid, Sehwag, Pathan and the rest have just said: Take That.

Fact is, that under the strain of current geopolitics, the more radical elements in Pakistan have been forced to feign a kind of indifference to CBMs like the cricket series — its disruption wasn't on their agenda. The more radical elements in India have been subjugated by a significantly more intelligent leadership. And the Indian cricket team, not necessarily oblivious to all this, has played out of its skin.

In his office in Islamabad's diplomatic enclave, High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon was wondering whether he'd be late getting to the presentation ceremony where he has to give away prizes on Friday morning.

At 11 a.m. Pakistan is already five down. "I didn't expect them to fold so soon," says Menon, the TV across his desk far more important this day than the topographical map of Kargil behind him. A couple of more wickets fall and it's time for the High Commissioner to leave for the ground. Pakistan is crumbling and out walks Shoaib Akhtar.

If this series mirrored any greater realities, then Shoaib was the one to watch. In everything he does, Shoaib tells you what everyone else you meet in Pakistan tells you: that this country prefers authoritarianism (the articulate among those who think otherwise, like Association for Restoration for Democracy president Javed Hashmi, are behind bars.)

On Thursday, with Laxman just out and Pakistan in with a sniff of a chance, the world's quickest bowler left the ground (inaugurated, incidentally, by Nawaz Sharif) with an injured thumb — on his non-bowling hand. It's something that would never have happened during Imran Khan's rule, said commentators.

On Friday, Shoaib first tried to make up with his captain the way schoolboys do after a fight. And once he'd failed, walked out to bat petulantly and punished his team with a public slogging. He made 30-odd, which is probably more than the number of friends he has left in Pakistan after this game.

As Shoaib swung away, Irfan Pathan stood near the stands at fine leg. From the women's enclosure behind him, they screamed "Irfan Pathan, Yaa Qurbaan" (Irfan Pathan, I'm yours), their heads covered at all times. Shoaib's monopoly as sole pin-up boy is under threat. Even Laxmipathy Balaji, praised by Musharraf for his guts, was nearly mobbed by girls in Lahore's University of Management Studies (LUMS) for more than just courage a few days ago.

"Nainsaafi hai", said Chacha Cricket, the namaazi who's been waving the Pakistani flag in stadiums around the world for three decades, shaking his head. "Series bhi jeeta aur dil bhi."

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