India revel in a fevered atmosphere

The final of the Under-15 World Cup brought the flavour of Asian cricket to Lord's yesterday. Graeme Wright enjoyed it all
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The Independent Online
Ironic, isn't it, that while the great and the good of county cricket gathered at Lord's to peddle their solipsisms and sophistries in shuttered chambers, the future of the game was right out here for all to see. And it wasn't English. It was Asian, with India and Pakistan contesting the final of the Lombard World Challenge - the under-15 World Cup. Both had come to Lord's unbeaten in the two-week tournament.

Ironic? Certainly. But not surprising. I've played Taps for English cricket too many times to be blowing my own trumpet, but I wrote back in 1991 that cricket was going this way. Commenting on a projected tour of Sri Lanka by Australia and New Zealand in July and August that year, I wrote: "Such a programme means that the mid-year months are no longer an English preserve and opens the way for a power base incorporating the Asian and Australasian countries, with South Africa close enough to support it. Such an alliance would threaten England's traditional hegemony."

What we witnessed yesterday, however, concerned more than the balance of power within the game. It concerned the whole approach to what cricket is. It can be the manifestation of a nation's spirit, and from the way India and Pakistan, and to some extent Sri Lanka, have played in this tournament, the teenage Asian spirit is an unfettered bird compared with the sons of non-conformist Anglo-Saxon stock.

So with their supporters yesterday - you don't hear noise like this at a county game. With their flags and chants this could have been Calcutta or Lahore, rather than Lord's. They were raising the roof of the Mound Stand with their impassioned "zindabad (long live) Pakistan" choruses and their shrilling and whistling for every run scored and every ball fielded. Before the match was half-way through the atmosphere was at fever pitch. The three pitch invasions which came late in the game may well be seen as conduct unbecoming in many English eyes, and certainly come of the struggles between the young invaders and the stewards had an ugly aspect. Yet somehow, while not approving of it, these incidents were as much part of the occasion as detrimental to it.

My first sighting of India, two weeks ago beside the Thames in Teddington, was of slim-line swing bowlers bending the ball away from the English batsmen with all the skill of a Srinath or Prasad. There was also a slow left-armer in a maroon turban to rekindle memories of the days when spin was the kernel of the Indian attack. Their batsmen, as they showed against South Africa in the semi-finals, could be unstoppable.

In England's two games that mattered, first against India and in their semi-final against Pakistan, they displayed grit and determination in the field to claw their way back after poor starts. From 156 for 3 they pegged India back so well that the Indians won by only one wicket in the last over. Against Pakistan they took the last six wickets for 17 runs, only when batting to fall 90 runs short of Pakistan's total of 208. In each case the effort came too late. England's young cricketers need to learn to be on the attack from the start, both physically and psychologically.

Pakistan's 222 for 7, after they were put in to bat, revolved around 80 in 109 balls by the opener, Hassan Raza. Initially he played second fiddle to his fellow opener, Taufeeq Umar, a left-hander gifted with delicious timing on both sides of the wicket. India's captain, Rettinder Sodhi, broke that stand, and came back at the end with two more wickets. But it was their off-spinner, Ishan Ganda, who prevented Pakistan building a formidable total on a lunchtime base of 120 for 2 from 36 overs.

Hit for 11 off his first four balls after the interval, Ganda bowled Faisal Iqbal as he tried to sweep the fifth. Eight overs later, Raza hit him straight to cover. When he drew the threatening Jannisar Khan down the pitch beaten in the air and had him stumped, Pakistan at 178 for 5 were left with a lot to do in the remaining seven overs.

India's problems began much earlier, as they did against South Africa. This time they were 19 for 2, and again Sodhi and the wicketkeeper, Pardeep Chawla, were integral to the recovery. Extras, too, were a great help, providing a quarter of the tea-time total of 101 for 2 after 25 overs.

Once again, though, the break broke the batsmen's concentration. Two overs into the final session Chawla, who had been dropped second ball at first slip, drove Imran Qadir's googly to short extra cover. When Mohammad Kiaf was stumped in the 30th over, the ball spinning back off his bat after he had danced down the pitch to Shoaib Malik's off spin, there was no containing Pakistan's vociferous supporters.

Now, though India required more than four an over, the pressure was on. Suddenly the heroes looked like 15-year-old boys. Sodhi was the exception. Batting or bowling he is a class player, and with an unbeaten 82 to add to his three wickets for 24 runs, the captain carried his side to World Cup glory. Three times Pakistan's supporters came flooding over the boundary, but it was to no avail. In the end the "Zindabads" were silent.

SCORES: Pakistan 222 for 7 (55 overs; Hassan Raza 80); India 223 for 6 (52.4 overs; R Sodhi 82no). India won by four wickets.