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Shoaib has been a revelationSanjay Manjrekar
Against all expectations the New Zealanders reached the semis of the World Cup. Just for a while this morning they must have felt from within that destiny had something wonderful in store for them. Having reached this far, they also realised more things were in their favour at the start of this knock-out game, as Pakistan, their opponents, had painful memories from their last game here. What's more, they were playing on the very track on which they had lost to the Indians.
Winning the toss and batting first confirmed the New Zealand belief, that 'yes, everything is going just fine'. But a fine ending is what they needed to justify the belief. Unfortunately, that was not the case. New Zealand's dream run in a World Cup yet again failed to have a dream end. Pakistan, emphatic winners in the first semis of World Cup '99.
Pakistan have always been the big bullies in a Pakistan/New Zealand encounter. They have always dominated the Kiwis. At home, as well as away. It was not the ideal start for the favourites of the contest. Losing the toss meant that the Pakistanis started off with a handicap. Wasim Akram tried his best to underplay the disadvantage after the toss, but it is universal knowledge now, that the 1992 World champions are a much better team bowling second.
To their credit, the Pakistani bowlers bowled as well as they could in the morning. Shoaib Akhtar was impressive yet again. This man has been a revelation for his team as well as for this World Cup audience. Everyone has been raving about his pace, in the process somewhat sidelining his other important attributes. His remarkable accuracy at that speed, to start with. He has also shown that he has a sound temperament. For a young man in his early twenties, knowing he is the quickest in the business, it was easy to get carried away. He has done nothing of the sort and has never looked excitable as one would expect with that combination. Plus, on those big strong shoulders of his, he also has a good cricketing brain. He has shown just that, by bowling the right length with the right variations to give him rewards for the pace. Something our own Srinath has not yet come to terms with. Akhtar has modeled himself on Waqar Younis, the great Pakistani fast bowler who's in the reserves now. But am sure, he's one who has helped Akhtar to realise his strengths at the right time. Who says Younis has not contributed much in this World Cup.
A good competent show with the ball saw to it that the New Zealanders didn't achieve something incredible, which was exactly what the Kiwis wanted to push the strongmen into in this tussle.
Pakistan's eventual, strong, batting reply clearly showed their opponent's sheer lack of ability, something that has seen them never win a major tournament. They return home again without a trophy or a cup, but with some good matches won. Enough incentive for New Zealand cricket to look ahead in times to come.
There are few better sights in world cricket than Saeed Anwar in full flow. Wasti, also realising his potential on the same day, meant all that was going to be too much for the Kiwis to handle. Now you see the three best teams in the world left in the competition. Just the purpose for which the World Cup is played… to find out who is the best.
It has been pretty much on course till now. Isn't it?
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