A pot-pourri of emotions and colours


 Indian and Pakistan cricket fans turned the Super Sport Park in Centurion to a festival ground on Sunday. AFP

A Champions Trophy that had failed to fire the imagination of the South African public, except fleetingly when the home team has been in action, sprang dramatically to life when the traditional Asian rivals went to battle, throwing up an atmosphere more football than cricket.

Of course, the ugly scenes that accompanied Pakistan’s 54-run win could, and should, have been avoided had the security personnel at the ground been more alert, aware and efficient. Close to 100 fans, most of them carrying the Pakistani flag, stormed into the ground immediately after Harbhajan Singh had been bowled to complete India’s surrender.

Totally outnumbered, ground security had every reason to be thankful there was no serious player injury. That the security staff hadn’t anticipated the possibility of an invasion, given that there already had been two previous instances of spectators sprinting on and off the field unchallenged during the course of the match, showed them in exceptionally poor light and exposed the preparedness, or lack of it, of a country that is to host a more high-profile and charged sporting extravaganza next year, the football World Cup.

Be that as it may, Saturday did throw up a wonderful spectacle, marred only slightly by the ground invasion and by stray instances of fan trouble in the stands. The match itself wasn’t of the highest quality except for isolated pockets, but the emotions that went into its making catapulted it to a more elevated status. Always behind the eight-ball after Mahendra Singh Dhoni lost the toss, India were undone not just by the significant absence of Yuvraj Singh but also the inability of their faster bowlers, notably Rudra Pratap Singh and Ishant Sharma, to adapt to the conditions. India’s practise sessions in the lead-up to their opening game had been confined to Johannesburg, on tracks with greater pace and bounce. SuperSport Park demanded a different approach from the bowlers, an approach that wasn’t forthcoming as the two youngsters erred in length, and were battered by Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf.

“We should have changed and adapted,” Dhoni conceded. “We could have done a lot better, I’ve never seen so many runs being scored backward point of and over point. Frankly speaking, I thought I was short of three bowlers. The way things were going, I didn’t know who to turn to.”

Dhoni’s helplessness was compounded by the finger injury that has rendered his deputy hors de combat for six weeks. “We missed him, that’s for sure,” the skipper said of Yuvraj. “As a batsman, we missed him but any batsman can get out. But especially in the bowling department, we felt his absence because the pitch was also turning a bit.”

Gautam Gambhir’s tirade, both verbal and with the bat, and Shahid Afridi’s constant needling of the opposition were in direct contrast to the poise of Mohammad Yousuf and the class of Rahul Dravid. It isn’t always only the young and the tempestuous that provide the flair and drama that spices up Indo-Pak cricket. Quiet veterans play their parts, too!

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