On April 16, 2004, India beat Pakistan by an innings and 131 runs in Rawalpindi to win its first-ever Test series in Pakistan. Sarang Bhalerao recalls the victorious Test and the watershed series.
The Indian team won the One-Day International series by 3-2 to raise the expectation levels in Test series that followed. India’s perpetual struggle on Pakistan soil was part of cricketing folklore. But under Sourav Ganguly the Indian team was on a mission to surmount the seemingly insurmountable.
The Indian middle-order was formidable. The top order had an organised Aakash Chopra and a resourceful Virender Sehwag. The bowling was led by young and promising Irfan Pathan. In Lakshmipathy Balaji, the team had a fine swing bowler. Anil Kumble’s unremitting line around the stumps, his subtle variations and his recent exploits Down Under made him a terrifying prospect.
Multan marauding (Mar 28-Apr 1)
The Indian side hammered the decrepit Pakistan, thanks to a triple hundred (309) from Sehwag and an unbeaten 194 from Sachin Tendulkar. Pakistan had a daunting task of putting up a challenge against India’s total of 675 in the first innings.
They were bundled out 407 and 216. A win by an innings and 52 runs was the most comprehensive annihilation from India.
Off they went to Lahore.
Lahore letdown (April 5-8, 2004)
Just when the wholesome praises about team India were being sung, the team played poorly on a greentop. Indian captain Rahul Dravid opted to bat on a green top — a move that had played rich dividends two years back at Headingley when India survived the initial burst from England seamers on a seaming track and made merry thereafter. At Lahore, the batting collapsed. But for Yuvraj Singh’s century Indian batting did not click. For Pakistan Umar Gul had picked up a five-for.
India had to do all the catching up after Pakistan took the lead of 202 runs. India could score 241 in their second essay.
India lost the Test by nine wickets.
Rawalpindi coup (April 13-16, 2004)
India displayed an unblemished recital at Rawalpindi and bettered their margin of victory from Multan. India bowled out Pakistan for 224 then Dravid’s colossal act followed. His innings of 270 was a faultless paradigm of concentration and a stellar show that exemplified his determination. The 12 hour 20 minutes innings was thwarted only when Dravid attempted an impetuous reverse-sweep off Imran Farhat, a part time leg-spinner.
The morning of April 16
Obduracy was only going to save Pakistan. But the overcast conditions made the ball swing appreciably. The Indian bowlers found edges, but the fielders were butter-fingered. As many as six chances went down. Balaji was the unfortunate bowler on most occasions. But there was credence that Balaji was just another delivery away from picking up the wicket.
In his book Pundits from Pakistan Rahul Bhattacharya described Balaji’s spell as Barnesque (similar to English pace bowler Sydney Barnes who was an accomplished swing bowler in the early part of the 20th century).
Kamran Akmal was beaten by Balaji’s outswinger and his off-stump went for a walk. Inzamam-ul-Haq could not decipher Balaji’s swinging delivery and presented a catch to ‘keeper Parthiv Patel. Balaji’s two wicket burst in the morning session had started Pakistan’s convoy.
Kumble snapped up four-wickets in the middle session and Pakistan were slowly imploding. When Danish Kaneria skied Tendulkar, the Indian hearts stopped for a moment. The realisation of the moment of triumph embarked upon them. When Ganguly caught Kaneria, Indian team was cock-a-hoop. The entire nation was proud of the cricketers. Beating Pakistan in Pakistan had been India’s Holy Grail but a sense of satisfaction coupled with thrill had gripped the nation.
The team savoured the fruits of organised labour and deserved every possible accolade coming their way. For Ganguly his mission to conquer the world had just begun. But this was a sweet victory; a feather to the cap of the captain whose had imbued a sense of self belief.
Mission accomplished – Over and out.
Brief scores: Pakistan 224 in 72.5 overs (Mohammad Sami 49; Lakshmipathy Balaji 4 for 63) and 245 in 54 overs (Asim Kamal 60*; Anil Kumble 4 for 47, Lakshmipathy Balaji 3 for 108) lost to India 600 in 177.2 overs (Rahul Dravid 270; Shoaib Akhtar 3 for 47) by innings and 131 runs.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)