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Irfan is truly India's spearhead now

March 26, 2004

The Men in Blue have made the country proud. This victory will go a long way in helping Indian cricket grow at all levels.

Every win, be it in Test matches or one-dayers, throws up a few individuals who perform like champions. They could be established players or new entrants. And once the senior players start respecting a youngster for his achievements, the confidence level of that youngster rises to new heights.

Wednesday's victory has put Irfan Pathan on a different pedestal altogether. The Baroda boy displayed tremendous character and temperament under extreme pressure. This pressure-filled tournament was an invaluable experience not only for Pathan, but also for the big guns in the team.

Although he was not selected for the first two games, Irfan sat out and watched the nailbiting finishes. I know a lot of people who prefer to feel the heat sitting in the reserves. But this lad is definitely not one of them. He grabbed the opportunity to establish himself as one of the team's strike bowlers. And on Wednesday night, Irfan Pathan truly looked India's number one bowler. Hats off to the new Indian spearhead.

That leaves me thinking about our main bowler, Zaheer Khan. He is the most experienced bowler in the side, yet still not at his best. I agree that subcontinental wickets are not the ideal platform for any fast bowler to make a comeback from injury. But as a strike bowler, Zaheer should make quick changes and learn to get back into the groove as soon as possible. In my opinion, he should have played a few four-day Duleep Trophy matches before the tour. He should have taken the three-day or four-days game before the tour very seriously, like Ashish Nehra did, to get back to form.

The victory in the one-day tourney will have a huge bearing on the Test series. The Indian bowlers were far better than their Pakistani counterparts. The Pakistani think-tank was deluded by the raw pace of their bowlers. I am sure they have now realised there is more to fast bowling than sheer pace. On the contrary, the Indians bowlers' impeccable line and length was far more effective and penetrative.

Shoaib Akhtar appears to be too obsessed with his pace. His immediate seniors, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, displayed magnificently the art of fast bowling. They imparted movement to the ball and were quick too. The two W's were not only the sultans of reverse swing, but also great exponents of new-ball bowling.

A few of Shoaib's spells might cause some problems to the Indians during the Test matches, but his showing in the one-dayers will only help them counter him more confidently in the longer version of the game.

To me, Imran Khan is right to ask for a bowling coach for Pakistan. Pakistan still has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fast bowling. All it requires is for someone like Imran to polish the available talent.

Sachin's catch that dismissed Inzamam-ul-Haq was the turning point of the match. The dew on the ground by the end of the match fully justified Inzamam's decision not to field under lights. If the main Pakistani batsmen had managed to stay till the end, they, I am sure, would have snatched the game from the Indians. Laxman coming back to form was also a huge sigh of relief for the Indian camp.

India's mission is now half accomplished. It is time for the team to fight for supremacy in the traditional form of the game.

Previous column: Dravid played one of his best knocks
Ramiz Raja's column: Laxman, Pathan foiled Pakistan

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