In Bangalore on Saturday, there was only one match that counted. There were vague rumours, as India and Pakistan traded blows made resonant by 50 years of bitter national and religious strife, that there was another game going on up north somewhere, involving one of those plucky smaller nations (England) but no one was much interested. Fifty-five thousand fans piled into the Chinnaswamy stadium, tearing down the crowd-control barriers and braving what the papers called a "mild police charge" to secure their seats.
After their win, they drummed, whistled and yelled far into the morning. The Sunday morning headline called it "a celestial atmosphere", and it was only a slight exaggeration. India's next match will be at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, but that is just a bonus: they have already had their day in Arcadia. Poor Pakistan: every time they took a wicket, the silence was deafening.
It was a great occasion, but it was also a fine game. India discovered that they do not, after all, depend entirely on Sachin Tendulkar. On Saturday he batted, for the first time, like someone aware of the millions of desperate prayers that accompany every swing of his unsponsored bat. It was up to the others to seize the day, and they did. Navjot Singh Sidhu played and missed at the first three balls of the innings from Waqar Younis - who steamed in as if he had his heart set on a Cup winner's villa in Lahore - but he survived to give India a solid foundation.
Mohammed Azharuddin and Sanjay Manjrekar came, saw and went; and it seemed as if India might have been too timid. One-day batting has advanced several notches these days,and on these pitches 250 is rarely enough. Pakistan, without their captain, Wasim Akram, never let the home side accelerate. And when Waqar returned, having bowled eight fierce overs for 27 runs, you would have bet on him to swing the game Islam's way. But as so often with Waqar, the swing reversed. Ajay Jadeja collared him for two sixes and a clutch of fours as he thumped 45 off 26 balls.
It was the decisive innings. Combined with his neat bowling (five overs for 19) and a brilliant run-out, he was without doubt the man of the match. But this award rarely goes to the clinching performance - it is merely a ceremonial prize for the highest-scoring batsman on the winning team so, of course, it went to Sidhu.
Pakistan will return to Lahore - no doubt to face a barrage of furious criticism - with lots to gnash their teeth about. Their opening pair - Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar - batted with such supreme confidence that the target, after the first 10 overs, looked childish. Old-timers who scoff at the biff-baff craziness of one-day cricket miss the point: They stayed still, swung crisply, and played shots all round the wicket that the greats of the past could hardly have thought of attempting.
For a while, there was something like a panicky silence in Bangalore. The ball raced over the ropes with not even the semblance of polite applause. If the batsmen could have adjusted down a notch, they might have prodded their way to an international incident. But both of them slogged once too often, and the Indian bowlers, hugely to their credit, somehow kept their nerve.
Venkatesh Prasad, a bank manager from Bangalore, bewildered the home fans by bowling his first three overs for 28. But he hung on: his next seven were worth 3 for 18. It was the same story with Anil Kumble, another Bangalorean. When he came on (in the sixth over) Saeed lashed him for six over square leg, then stroked him to extra cover for four. His first five overs went for 30. Like Prasad, he did not wilt - in his next five he took 3 for 18. Bowlers are not getting much credit here, and are not having much fun. But these two saved the nation.
India's victory means, if nothing else, that it ought to be easy to get tickets for the final in Lahore. The "crowds" in Pakistan have shown an interest only when their own team is playing. One of the few (only) consolations for England on Saturday was that few people watched them being caned by Sri Lanka. It was a stroke of sheer organisational foolishness to schedule two quarter- finals on the same day: no one in Pakistan was ever going to watch England when Inzamam-ul-Haq was on the telly playing India.
What an awful day they ended up having. There were hardly any Pakistanis in Bangalore. When Azharuddin flipped the coin in the middle of the wicket in Bangalore on Saturday afternoon, the crowd cheered as if the whistle had just blown on Cup final day. When he turned to the television camera, the crowd loosed off another huge roar - it meant that India had won the toss. When he made little flapping motions with his hand towards the pavilion, off it went again: India were batting.
It was no ordinary toss. But it was no ordinary game. It would be nice to be able to say that the noise of the crowd nearly lifted the roof off, but there was no roof to lift. Bangalore's construction workers, shrewdly cutting out the middle man, never quite got round to putting it on in the first place. Steel wires poked into the sky. In a celestial atmosphere, who needs roofs?
(India won toss)
N S Sidhu b Mushtaq 93
S R Tendulkar b Ata-ur-Rehman 31
S V Manjrekar c Javed b Aamir 20
*M Azharuddin c Rashid b Waqar 27
V G Kambli b Mushtaq 24
A D Jadeja c Aamir b Waqar 45
N R Mongia run out 3
A R Kumble c Javed b Aaqib 10
J Srinath not out 12
B K V Prasad not out 0
Extras (lb3, w15, nb4) 22
Total (for 8, 50 overs) 287
Fall: 1-90, 2-138, 3-168, 4-200, 5-226, 6-236, 7-260, 8-279.
Did not bat: S L V Raju.
Bowling: Waqar Younis 10-1-67-1; Aaqib Javed 10-0-67-1; Ata-ur-Rehman 10-0-40-1; Mushtaq Ahmed 10-0-56-2; Aamir Sohail 5-0-29-1; Salim Malik 5-0-25-0.
*Aamir Sohail b Prasad 55
Saeed Anwar c Kumble b Srinath 48
Ijaz Ahmed c Srinath b Prasa 12
Inzamam-ul-Haq c Mongia b Prasad 12
Salim Malik lbw b Kumble 38
Javed Miandad run out 38
Rashid Latif st Mongia b Raju 26
Mushtaq Ahmed c and b Kumble 0
Waqar Younis not out 4
Ata-ur-Rehman lbw b Kumble 0
Aaqib Javed not out 6
Extras (b1, lb3, w5) 9
Total (for 9, 49 overs) 248
Fall: 1-84, 2-113, 3-122, 4-132, 5-184, 6-231, 7-232, 8-239, 9-239.
Bowling: Srinath 9-0-61-1; Prasad 10-0-45-3; Kumble 10-0-48-3; Raju 10- 0-46-1; Tendulkar 5-0-25-0; Jadeja 5-0-19-0.
Umpires: D R Shepherd (Eng) and S A Bucknor (WI).Reuse content