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Imran to Sachin: Outstanding, but not good enough

Wisden India logo Wisden India 19-03-2016

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The real thrill of cricket comes alive in an India-Pakistan game – not necessarily because of the quality of cricket, which is excellent a lot of the time, but also because of the atmosphere, the stakes, the off-field political games – all of it. Television numbers create fresh records each time – the World Cup game in Adelaide reportedly crossed the billion mark. It’s no wonder that when it comes to Pakistan v India matches, fans demand nothing less than the absolute best from players, as they will on Saturday (March 19) when the two teams face-off at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in the World Twenty20 2016. The players usually don’t disappoint either – some of the great performances in limited-overs cricket have come in these games. But, while we remember Javed Miandad’s last-ball six or Ajay Jadeja’s assault on Waqar Younis, what about the wonderful performances that end up on the losing side? With the next clash between the two sides just around the corner, some of these shows, with bat and ball, came to my mind.

One-Day Internationals

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Imran Khan: 6-14, Sharjah (March 22, 1985)

That decade – that eighties – was possibly the best era for cricket between the two countries, and Sharjah was usually the chosen venue. Imran Khan was at his very best, and he brought out his killer self that day. Ravi Shastri was sent back lbw first ball, and from then on, Imran was unstoppable. It was serious pace, with vicious indippers on display. Krishnamachari Srikkanth went next, then Dilip Vengsarkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath, and Imran had reduced India to 34 for 5. He later accounted for Madan Lal as well, and India were finished for 125. But a pitch that usually suited batsmen had changed colour completely, as was evident when the Indians bowled. If Pakistan did it with Imran’s pace, India did it with a combination of pace and spin, shooting Pakistan out for 87.

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Maninder Singh: 4-22, Sharjah (December 5, 1986)

If Imran’s was the best Pakistani bowling performance that failed to win the game, for the best Indian show with a similar result, we turn again to Sharjah and the Champions Trophy of 1986. The Pakistani bowling finished off the Indians for a paltry 144. Rameez Raja and Shoaib Mohammad then gave Pakistan a good start, but from 53 for 1 they slipped to 65 for 6, with the young Maninder Singh dislodging the cream of Pakistan’s batting. His four wickets included Javed Miandad and Imran, as well as Shoaib and Mudassar Nazar. It needed Manzoor Elahi to play out of his skin for an unbeaten 50 to bail Pakistan out.

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Inzamam-ul-Haq: 122 in 102 balls, Karachi (March 13, 2004)

India were touring Pakistan after a gap of 14 long years, a series that fans from both countries had waited long for. The wait was worth it, and they were treated to an incredible thriller in the first match itself. Inzi, Pakistan’s big man, got his calculations horribly wrong when he put India in to bat on a flat pitch, and the Indians responded by piling up 349, Rahul Dravid top-scoring with 99. Pakistan’s reply started badly as they lost both openers for just 34. In stepped Inzamam to script an astounding run chase. Along with Yousuf Youhana and then Younis Khan, the gentle giant gave a powerful display of his supreme ability and class, and galvanised his side. The 33,000-strong crowd witnessed a commanding ODI innings under pressure. It finally took Murali Kartik to produce a beauty and Dravid, behind the stumps, to take a sharp catch and save the day for India – a five-run win.

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Sachin Tendulkar: 141 in 135 balls, Rawalpindi (March 16, 2004)

The game after that one in Karachi, it was time for Sachin Tendulkar to put up a grand show, but in vain. Inzamam had learnt his lesson and batted first, and Pakistan ended with 329 for 6. Tendulkar, as on countless times before, rose to the occasion and produced some high-octane stuff. He scored a dazzling 141 in 135 balls, his highest score against Pakistan, with 17 fours and a six, but, like in Inzamam’s case earlier, it wasn’t enough. Mainly because the second best effort from the Indian batsmen was Dravid’s 36 in 45 balls.

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Wahab Riaz: 5-46, Mohali (World Cup semifinal, March 30, 2011)

It could have been the most memorable day of Wahab Riaz’s life; instead, it’s one he looks back on with mixed feelings. Preferred over the misfiring Shoaib Akhtar, the exuberant Riaz was the perfect man to make things happen on the lively Mohali pitch. Having spent three sleepless nights hatching his plans, Wahab was itching to have a go and make a name for himself. While the more experienced Umar Gul came under the hammer, Riaz dried up the runs and kept sending back the big stars – the highlight was the first-ball dismissal of India’s darling Yuvraj Singh with the perfect inswinging yorker. It came the ball after Riaz had sent back Virat Kohli, and even Akhtar jumped around in excitement. Riaz’s five-for haul restricted India to 260 for 9, but yet another Pakistani batting collapse meant the total was more than enough.

Twenty20 Internationals

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Misbah-ul-Haq: 43 in 38 balls, Johannesburg (World T20 final, September 24, 2007)

The first edition of the World T20 couldn’t have asked for a better final matchup than India v Pakistan, teams that had played out a tie first up. Inspired by a sparkling 75 from Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma’s quick 30 not out, India put Pakistan’s chasing skills to test with 157 on the board. Mohammad Hafeez fell early, and the others followed him, but a rock solid Misbah, coming in at No. 6, held fort from one end. Eventually, it all came down to the last over with Pakistan requiring 13 for victory. Misbah had already hit three sixes in his 35-ball 37, and launched Joginder Sharma’s second legal delivery down the ground for six more. All the hard work was done, six more needed off four balls, and Misbah was in line to become a hero. But he had no partners left. And then everything turned turtle as Misbah did the unthinkable – attempting an unnecessarily scoop that landed in the hands of Sreesanth at short fine-leg.

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Bhuvneshwar Kumar: 3-9, Bangalore (December 25, 2012)

The rivalry had resumed, just about, after a gap of five years. The two cricket boards had squeezed in a short limited-overs series around Christmas time, and excitement had, but of course, hit fever pitch. It started with the T20Is, and the Pakistan attack of Mohammad Irfan, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi stopped the Indians at 133 for 9. Starting out for India was a debutant – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and he shone bright by striking thrice early on, removing Nasir Jamshed, Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal. Pakistan were bleeding at 12 for 3 at that stage, but the experienced duo of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez steered the ship out of troubled waters, both scoring half-centuries, before Pakistan won by five wickets.

On Saturday, the two countries will step out on the Eden Gardens turf for what fans expect would be another sensational thriller. One is destined to lose while the other will walk out victorious. Like always, a few players will become heroes, while the daggers will be out for some others. But, whether in a winning cause or a losing one, it’s one fixture where giving your best is bound to raise your stocks, and 22 men will give it their all to do exactly that.

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