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Now all to play for at Rawalpindi

April 09, 2004

A victory margin of nine wickets is emphatic enough and to do this inside three and a half days makes it a thumping one. All debts have been paid off, all grievances soothed. It went according to plan, almost.

The stumbling block was Virender Sehwag and within 25 minutes of play, Shoaib Akhtar, in one scorching over removed him and Irfan Pathan as a bonus. It was unquestionably the fastest over bowled in the series so far. More than being fast, it was deadly in accuracy like a heat-seeking side-winder.

The Test match was all but sewed up but there still remained the anxiety of an Indian lead, what the size of it would be for Parthiv Patel and Ajit Agarkar were putting up some dogged resistance and were making runs and not just defending.

The answer lay in changing the tempo and Danish Kaneria took the last three wickets, an inspiring bit of captaincy by Yousuf Youhana, who was deputising as Inzamamul Haq was off the field.

Pakistan was required to make 40 runs and needlessly lost Imran Farhat but cantered home. What we imagined might be a pulsating day ended in the quiet of the afternoon but there must have been a lot of excitement in the dressing-room but the decorum was maintained as Pakistani and Indian players shook hands.

The Friendship Series is back on track. Rahul Dravid said at the presentation that India had been outplayed by Pakistan. Poor fellow, he will get the backlash of hindsight as he got the kudos for his foresight for winning the toss and batting first and by the same people.

Thus this game of cricket continues to make fools of those pundits who go out on a limb. The credit for Pakistan's win goes to its team and has nothing to do with the errors that might have been made by its opponents.

Between now and the Rawalpindi Test match there will be opportunities to write in more detail about this win. But there should be no relaxation and the team must remain focused for the Indians will re-group and their skipper is back and he will be eager to lift his team.

I see absolutely no reason for Pakistan to make any changes in the team. Injuries may have forced changes but the replacements were more than adequate, they were outstanding and one of them, Umar Gul was the Man-of-the-Match!

A lot has been made of the harsh criticism the team came under after the Multan Test. One commentator even accused the Pakistan media of being "unfair". The word "unfair" is a moral admonition, it is akin to calling a player "unsporting".

Far from being harsh it was healthy and constructive and it played a positive role. It provided the kick in the rear that the team needed. The Pakistan cricket public has matured. It won't accept shoddy goods.

The Pakistan team was pathetic at Multan and it was roasted. It was magnificent at Lahore and has been showered with praise. The cricket public remains consistent. It is the team that doesn't. No one has the knives out for this team. No one demands that it wins all the time. It represents Pakistan. It means a lot to us.

It should mean a lot to the players as well. The team had dug a deep hole for itself at Multan. It has dug its way out. It has shown grit and it has shown character.

At the end of the match, Inzamam was smiling. No one more than he had earned the right to smile. Though it would have been an ungainly sight, no one would have minded if he had done a cartwheel. All to play for at Rawalpindi. It's a mouth-watering prospect.