Category Archives: Pakistan

One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

World cricket is in a parlous state, not in terms of the money it makes, but in terms of the contests it provides. The games are one-sided to the extent that patrons at the grounds are few and far-between.

There is no better illustration of this than in the ongoing Australian games, where the home team is playing New Zealand and the West Indies in three Tests apiece. The first Test against New Zealand was won convincingly, and the second looks like going the same route. As to the West Indies, they are not expected to last beyond four days in each of the three Tests.

The man who is responsible for this farcical outcome, where Tests are mostly one-sided, died recently. Jagmohan Dalmiya was the one who set in motion these unending Test matches, where cricket goes on round the year, and the same bunch of players have to play, and play and play. Dalmiya’s so-called Test championship was set in motion after he became head of the ICC with the help of Australia and England. His first attempt to become the chief of the ICC in 1996 failed, thwarted by England and Australia with support from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. England and Australia insisted that candidates needed the support of at least two thirds of the ICC’s full members, the nine Test-playing countries. Dalmiya was backed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and also 19 of the 22 associate members. Test-playing countries have two votes against one for associate members.

In the 1996 poll, Dalmiya obtained 25 votes against 13 for Australia’s Malcolm Grey in the first ballot. A third candidate Krish Mackerdhuj from South Africa withdrew. But at the second ballot, five of the Test-playing nations supported Grey and with South Africa abstaining, Dalmiya was shut out. The ICC then decided that incumbent chairman Sir Clyde Walcott would continue for another year until July 1997.

But in 1997, Dalmiya cut a deal with Grey that he would be the next ICC head if Dalmiya was given the reins, and he ascended to the throne. Dalmiya is from the Marwari community which is known for its business acumen. He is also a Bengali.

Thus it was not surprising that he managed to give Bangladesh full Test status soon after he became ICC chief. At that time, Kenya had a much better team. Bangladesh is the eastern part of the Indian state of West Bengal, which became a part of Pakistan at partition in 1947 due to its majority Muslim population, and finally a separate nation in 1971 after a war.

Dalmiya’s other interest was to make money for the ICC. Hence the future Test tours programme where every nation had to play every other nation at least once in a certain cycle. Points were awarded and rankings created.

But the standard of the game, apart from contests between a few countries, dropped like a stone. Players are human beings and get tired, in body, mind and spirit by playing too often. Apart from the Tests there have been countless one-day series and also Twenty20 games. Each country has been interested in organising games that result in more income; India and Pakistan, for example, still capitalise on the age-old enmity between their countries and try to play whenever possible. Due to political tensions, that has not been possible in recent times.

Dalmiya was later embroiled in a TV rights controversy and had to leave his ICC post in 2000. But he has hovered around, being in the Indian cricket board or the Calcutta cricket board and was head of the Indian board when he died.

Nobody has done a thing to try and rectify the abnormal amount of cricket being played. Money is the sole criterion and while countries have to adhere to the ICC-mandated timetable, they organise other games which will bring in money as and when they like. The players could complain, but the money keeps them from doing so. But then they cannot perform like trained monkeys and the quality of the games is very low.

Australians normally turn out in large numbers for cricket in summer. This year, the crowds are poor, very poor. New Zealand played before 1373 spectators on the final day of the first Test and 6608 on day four, when the contest was still open, though the target set favoured Australia. It does not look very good at the second Test either with 13,593 attending on day one and 10,047 on day two.

Let’s be clear about one thing: national cricket bodies do not need crowds to make money. That is already done through TV deals. Not a single spectator needs to come through the gates for the books to be in the black.

But is that all the game is about? It is on life support now, with few, if any, Tests going to the fifth day, and big wins for one team all the time. People are losing interest and that is a dangerous sign.

Afghanistan: lies and damn lies. No statistics

THIRTY-TWO Australians have died needlessly in Afghanistan. All of them were young, in their 20s and 30s, and have left young families behind. If there was some point to their dying, if they had sacrificed their lives for a worthy cause, then at least their loved ones would have some means of consoling themselves.

But that isn’t the case. They have died for nothing. They have died because one man’s vanity led to him thinking that he could do better than the old Soviet Union, the British Empire and even the much reviled Genghis Khan.

That one man is George Dubya Bush.

When the US sent troops into Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 in order to wreak havoc on Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a justified reaction. Had the US smashed the al-Qaeda network and exited the country in six months, all would have been well.

But that wasn’t the case. The US and its allies decided that they would stay and try to indulge in nation-building. The long-term motive was to obtain mining concessions in Afghanistan and to try and build a pipeline through Central Asia for an alternative supply of gas. (That, incidentally, hasn’t worked. All the concessions, bar one, went to China and India; Canda was granted one.)

There has been some curious muddle-headed thinking by many in the Western camp; people like David Kilcullen have concluded that if the Afghans were given all the Western accoutrements of development, they would suddenly fall in love with their Western invaders. Kilcullen has a ridiculous hypothesis that the Taliban, who were ruling Afghanistan when the West invaded, has to draw on ordinary citizens for support and that these citizens can be weaned away by improvements in local conditions. Exactly how he came to this conclusion is unknown.

Things haven’t worked out that way. Had Bush asked someone to read the history books and find out what had happened to nations that tried to subjugate the Afghans, he might have found out that it was a mission that would end in failure. (Bush himself cannot read.)

But nobody among all the Western nations, Australia included, bothered to read up on the history of Afgnanistan and note that no invader has ever managed to get the better of the Afghans.

Now Australia has moved up its date of departure. Late next year, the Australian Labor Party will have to face an election which it will find very difficult to win; the Afghan involvement should not be present as an election issue.

For the US, something similar exists; Barack Obama goes to an election later in 2012 and if Afghanistan is an issue, it will not be helpful to him. So the American pullout will continue apace.

In the end, the Taliban will come back to power within six months of the West pulling out. The same Taliban which was ruling when the US invaded.

In the interim, the US, other NATO countries and Australia will tell their citizens any number of lies to quell the queries from the media. But in the end, it all amounts to nothing.

Once the troops have left Afghanistan it will all be back to square one.

Pakistan feels the blowback from the US

WHEN Britain engineered the split of the Indian subcontinent back in 1947, there was little indication that the colonial masters would face a big blowback. The old policy of divide and rule was used to give the Muslims a separate state, resulting in one of the bigger bloodbaths in history as people fought during the partition.

India has gone on to become a force in its own right and somehow has survived any number of problems; it has been under democratic rule for all but 26 months since the partition. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been under various forms of dictatorship during its history and become something of a vassal state for the US.

Every state that has gained nuclear weapons has done so in order to be taken seriously by the countries that make global policy; only in Pakistan’s case has this not worked. The US continues to do what it wants within Pakistan’s borders and the killing of 24 innocent civilians recently is but the latest indication that it has scant regard for Pakistan’s internal problems.

But no matter what abuse it receives at the hands of the US, Pakistan cannot move away. Without American aid, the country will wither and die. It has no option but to cater to American demands, outrageous as they often are. It has to subjugate itself to American foreign policy and only hope that Washington can muster the cash to send across every year.

During the years of the cold war, India was firmly in the Soviet camp. But economic dependence did not develop; India has always been able to meet its own internal and external commitments from its own funds. And as the 1990s came along and India became a place where foreign companies came and did business, Delhi has become something of a rising power, able to tell the Americans what they should do and not the other way around.

American companies are now often dependent on the success of their branches in India to report a profit; were any of them to be asked to leave, it would impact adversely on the company’s bottomline. The US needs India, not merely for its economic well-being but also as a bulwark against the rising might of China.

Pakistan, sadly, has not been able to develop its own industry sector even a tenth as much as India. The people are essentially the same but the lack of political stability and the level of corruption have got in the way of the country developing as a whole. And Pakistan has always had to please its masters in the West, something that India has not had to do.

There is a myth in foreign policy circles that India would like to destabilise Pakistan. In truth, the last thing that India wants is an unstable Pakistan; it views with horror even the thought that there could be another 150 million who could become refugees and seek refuge within its borders. Memories of the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh have not gone away altogether.

For Pakistan, the only option is to wean itself away from the US and try to attach itself more firmly onto the Chinese teat. China already provides assistance to Pakistan; the latter will have to solicit a much more closer relationship if it does not want to have its own people dying in numbers due to US drone attacks every now and then.

The people of Pakistan have suffered a great deal due to the machinations of their rulers. At least in the case of many other countries, it could be said that the mess they are in is of their own making. But in Pakistan’s case. its people live in a mess of other countries’ making.

Afghanistan withdrawal timed for US elections

NEXT year, Barack Obama will face the task of trying to get re-elected. In normal times, the elimination of Osama bin Laden would have sufficed to see him through. But these are not normal times; try what he does, the US economy does not seem to be responding.

Hence, he has decided to pull out some troops from Afghanistan. The timing is very good – 10,000 leave this year and another 23,000 by September 2012, a couple of months before the Americans go to the polls. The Afghanistan war is not popular with the American public and for good reason. Obama’s move makes political sense.

The whole Afghanistan adventure has been marked by a lack of purpose. The initial rush of troops to the country was purportedly to exact revenge for the attacks on the US in 2001; the stated aim at the time was to hunt out and either capture or kill Bin Laden. The US took until May this year to kill the man. But long before that the nature of the mission had changed.

One of the main reasons for the American presence in Afghanistan is to build a pipeline to carry natural gas from Central Asia to Pakistan and on to India; work began on this pipeline in 2002. It remains to be seen exactly how the pipeline will be guarded after the US ends its presence in Afghanistan.

All American adventures overseas in recent years have been tied to the country’s energy future; Iraq was invaded because Saudi Arabia is becoming an increasingly unreliable ally. Religious fundamentalism is growing by leaps and bounds and the al-Saud regime often has to cater to domestic political concerns which run directly against American interests.

The US departure from Afghanistan is not as dramatic a move as its hurried exit from Vietnam; nevertheless, there are some things which are similar. The Taliban will come back to power in Afghanistan once the US leaves and there will be internecine warfare between the various ethnic warlords as there was after the Soviets left in 1989.

The tragedy of Sri Lanka

AS THE Sri Lankan government twists and turns and manouevres in order to try and prevent a war crimes investigation being ordered by the United Nations into its conduct during the war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009, the first definitive account of the conflict has emerged.

Former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, has written a book titled The Cage which gives a detailed and powerful account of the tragedy as it unfolded.

Weiss had to tread a difficult path as he wrote the book; given the oath that he took as an UN employee, he was unable to divulge any material that came to him in that capacity. Despite this very difficult obstacle in his path, he has done an extremely credible job in tracing the history of Sri Lanka that has a bearing on the country’s current position.

The Tamil Tigers, formed in the early 1970s, became the most powerful of the groups fighting for a separate state for their people and were known for the reign of terror that they imposed. They killed anyone standing in their way and massacred both Sinhalese and Muslims to enforce their writ. They were also not loath to kill their own people, if those people happened to be standing in the way of their supreme leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan and his ruthless ambitions.

The Tigers made a number of miscalculations. They reasoned that no state would resort to the type of bloodthirsty and ruthless tactics they employed, no government would indulge in the kind of indiscriminate killing that they carried out. The Tigers forgot that the state had twice put down rebellions, by Sinhalese youth in the shape of the Janata Vimukti Peramuna, in 1971 and again in 1989, in a singularly, bloody-minded manner, killing all and sundry and in a pretty gory manner too.

The Tigers also thought that India would act as a bulwark if things became really bad – after all, the main powerbroker in the Indian Ocean had broken a siege of the Tamils in the 1980s, at a stage when the Sri Lankan army had them cornered. India, of course, has a Tamil population to which it has to cater, given that the main Tamil party in India is in coalition with the ruling party at the federal level. And finally, the Tigers failed to realise that in the post-2001 world, countries are less inclined to regard breakaway groups as romantically as they did in the past.

Sri Lanka ensured that India would not act as an obstacle this time by bringing China into the picture very cleverly. The Sri Lankans first asked India if it would be interested in constructing a port in the southern Hambantota area; when India declined, realising that it might be obligated to Sri Lanka if it accepted, the Sri Lankans asked the Chinese who gratefully accepted. The contract was then expanded to include a naval base; when Sri Lanka went to China to seek weapons and influence at the UN level for its pursuit of the Tigers, Beijing was only too happy to oblige.

When India realised that China was cutting in on its normal sphere of influence, it agreed to provide Sri Lanka with intelligence that led to the destruction of many of the Tiger arms re-supply craft, thus depriving the Tigers of fresh stocks of arms. By doing this, the Indians once again hoped to get back into Sri Lanka’s good books.

In 2002, the Sri Lankan government had signed a ceasefire with the Tigers; at that point, the Tamil group controlled something less than the one-third of the island which was its maximalist demand for its own state. At this point, Pirapaharan could well have bargained and got at least two-thirds of what he had set down as his ambit claim. But he refused to budge and in 2003 announced that the Tigers were withdrawing from the ceasefire.

In 2005, the current president, Mahinda Rajapakse, came to power. A year later, having put his brother, Gotabaya, in charge of defence, the war began to eliminate the Tigers. Gotabaya was promised that political considerations would not interfere with this goal; in the 1980s, when India made food drops to the besieged Tamils, Gotabaya was a member of the armed forces and that memory remained with him.

The Rajapakses kept to their word. They massacred the Tigers and shot a number of leaders of the movement in cold blood as they were trying to surrender. They did not mind if there was collateral damage in the form of about 40,000 civilians killed by both sides. They had a goal and they were as bloodthirsty as Pirapaharan in their determination to achieve it, come hell or high water. They had a regular well-paid army which was not asked to fight with one arm tied behind; the Tigers did not have the number of troops to match as several of their hardened fighters had left the movement in 2002, confident that the struggle was over.

While the low-level war began in 2006, the government only formally abrogated the ceasefire in 2008. By May 19 the following year, it was able to declare victory and show Pirapaharan’s body on television. His twisted dream had come to an end, a lesson to all those fighting for separate states that one needs to compromise in order to achieve at least a part of one’s objectives.

Bin Laden’s death: things grow curiouser and curiouser

AS the days go by, the number of questions and lies around the killing of Osama bin Laden by American secret service troops seems to only grow longer. And the doubts emanate right from statements made by the head of the country and all the way down.

(Reuters has posted graphic images taken after the raid.)

Here’s a sample of the questions that I would like to see answered:

President Barack Obama said the operation had commenced in August year when evidence was obtained by the CIA that bin Laden may be hiding in Pakistan. That means it was eight months before the actual hit took place. Was this not enough time to plan things properly, including a version of events that needed to be made public, a designated spokesman, and a co-ordinated release of information?

If the Americans, as stated, were unsure, until they entered the building , that bin Laden was really inside, how come they had already arranged for an imam (a Muslim religious leader) to be on a warship ready to bury the man?

Why was this imam waiting in readiness if, as is being touted, the mission was a kill or capture mission?

Why did the Americans pretend that their own officials (Obama and his senior aides) had followed the raid minute by minute when the CIA director Leon Panetta himself said that there was a period of about 20 to 25 minutes when nobody in Washington had any idea about what was going on?

Why did the Americans shoot an unarmed man and then give out – even Obama mentioned it – that he had resisted arrest?

Why did the Americans say bin Laden had used one of wives as a human shield when the woman had actually run towards them and they had shot her in the foot?

Why did the Americans claim the house in which bin Laden was hiding was worth a million US dollars when in reality it was worth only a quarter of that?

Why was this house described as a mansion when it was really tatty inside?

Why did American officials say a son of bin Laden named Hamza was killed and later change the name to Khalid?

Why did Americans claim that there was a fierce 40-minute firefight with people in the Abbottabad house where bin Laden was and later change it to just one person in the house having a gun? And that one person was killed moments after the raid commenced.

With so many unanswered questions and lies hanging over this event, can one really blame the conspiracy theorists for going into overdrive?

Bin Laden’s death: the old American habit of lying is back

THE US of A sure knows how to screw up things. For them, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American forces was an act that would have guaranteed a lot of good karma right across the world.

The problem is, they tried to embellish the tale of his death with unnecessary lies. There’s a simple rule about lies – much in the same way that cadavers float to the surface, lies generally get exposed. The only variable is their shelf life.

It hasn’t taken long for the Americans’ lies to be exposed. For one, bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed. The Americans said he had fired back at them when they entered the room in which he was; now it turns out that both bin Laden and one of his wives were in that room, both were unarmed and the woman rushed towards the Americans and they shot her in the foot. This is straight from the White House, courtesy its spokesman Jay Carney.

Bin Laden was then killed in cold blood. The Americans lied when they said they could not have taken him alive. Of course, anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan knows that the Americans did not want to capture him alive and put him on trial – a lot of what he would have said in a courtroom would have been pretty damaging to the CIA.

Another lie the Americans told was about bin Laden using the woman in the room as a human shield – turns out he did no such thing. The Americans shot the woman in the foot when she ran towards them as they entered the room. Bin Laden did not grab her and hold her in front of him as a shield. An attempt to paint him as a coward failed. Why did they try to do so?

There are other lies that are being exposed: CIA veteran Bob Baer, speaking to the BBC, pointed out that it would have been impossible for the type of helicopters used in the raid to kill bin Laden to operate in the area without being noticed as they make an awful racket (he exaggerated to get his point across, saying that they could have been heard in Karachi, more than 1500 kms away).

Baer also pointed out that it would have been impossible for the helicopters to enter Pakistani airspace without being spotted on radar; given that Pakistan shares a border with two countries it distrusts – India and Afghanistan – it is on the alert round the clock. The Pakistanis were in on the whole thing – nothing else explains this.

Baer was also adamant that the raid could not have happened without Pakistani troops being present – though, he said, they would have stayed outside the premises as they did not want to be involved in the killing.

It is inconceivable that the Pakistan armed forces were not aware that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad which is about 122 kilometres from the Pakistan capital, Islamabad. Abbottabad is also home to the Pakistan Military Academy and Baer made the point that it was impossible for a foreigner to be in the area without gossip spreading about his or her reason for being there.

It is well known that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence has a soft spot for extremists. The agency was provided with billions of dollars by the Americans during the war against the Soviets and it channelled the funds to the various militias in Afghanistan, with the lion’s share going to the Pashtun groups; Pashtuns are present in Pakistan in large numbers, hence the bias.

The ISI is close to the Afghan Taliban and also the local version, the Pakistan Taliban. There are plenty of sympathisers within ISI ranks, men who want to see Pakistan become a fundamentalist Islamic state.

To believe that a unit like this was unaware of the presence of bin Laden in Abbottabad is like asking one to believe that the moon is made of cheese.

This constant changing of the story has led to one thing – the proliferation of conspiracy theories on the internet.

There have been conspiracy theories aplenty about the September 11 attacks despite the fact that the two masterminds, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin Al-Shibh, spoke to journalist Yosri Fouda of Al-Jazeera and detailed the plot.

Fouda, along with Nick Fielding of the Times, wrote a book titled Masterminds of Terror in 2003 detailing the modus operandi of the attacks but this has not quelled the conspiracy theorists. You can’t get closer to the plot than by reading this book.

There are already plenty of conspiracy theories on the internet about bin Laden’s death. I hope it doesn’t turn out that the Americans got the wrong man!

Bin Laden’s death: the fallout

THE death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan today means that the US President Barack Obama will have absolutely no problem getting re-elected.

Bin Laden was killed by American secret service troops in Abbotabad, an affluent suburb close to the Pakistan capital, Islamabad.

Not that Obama has looked like having a worthwhile challenger from the Republican side in his bid for another four years in the White House; however, given the fractured state of the American nation, there was always a possibility that someone from the right would be able to capitalise on the dissatisfaction caused by the financial problems dogging the country.

That possibility is now precisely zero.

A second fallout of the killing is that Pakistan will face increased attacks within its borders. When Obama announced the news, he had to walk a tightrope – he could not let on that Pakistani troops had also been involved but at the same time he could not make it look as though the Americans had violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

But given that such a killing could not take place in a suburb like Abbotabad, home to the wealthy and educated for the most part, without Pakistani cooperation at a very high level, it is impossible to believe any report that says Pakistani special forces were not involved as well. This will not win Pakistan’s rulers any brownie points with their own population.

Pakistan has had few settled periods in its own history. It has been under martial rule for most of its existence after a painful partition from India in 1947. It has festering internal problems all over the place and is beholden to the US for aid. To the West and many other countries bin Laden was a terrorist; to Pakistan and many other countries who have suffered due to the wishes of American imperialism, he was seen as someone who had managed to gain some revenge.

And to people like the Palestinians, who have suffered under the yoke of Israeli occupation for decades, bin Laden was a hero who kept to the straight and narrow, demanding justice for them while taking the fight to the one country which has ensured that Israel is not held to account.

In Britain, there must be at least a few people who are old enough to recall the manner in which the colonial empire used its policy of divide and rule to ensure that India did not stay united and wonder if, with the benefit of hindsight, that was a wise policy. The child born of that policy, Pakistan, (which ironically means the land of the pure), has been implicated as playing some role or the other in practically every single notable act of terrorism in the last 30 years.

Does the US now draw the curtain on Dubya’s war on terror? Can it pull back troops from Afghanistan now that the reason for them going there no longer exists? What does it do with the body? Muslims bury the dead as soon as possible; the Americans have removed bin Laden’s body to the Bagram air base in Pakistan and will have to decide whether they show it to the world or else quietly bury it. Either option will create its own problems.

The US has painted this as a major victory; yet is it really so? Is the fact that the most powerful nation in the world took nearly 10 years to capture a man like bin Laden a demonstration of superior military and tactical ability? The killing has left as many questions as existed before.

In the battle of captains, Dhoni comes out ahead

ON SATURDAY, India won the World Cup cricket tournament, defeating Sri Lanka and becoming the first team to win the competition at home. But the more remarkable aspect of the win was the way it showed how a captain can lead and accept responsibility, even in this day and age when people are loath to do just that.

India was set a target that wasn’t overly intimidating but not easy to get either; batting second and scoring 275 at Bombay’s Wankhede Stadium isn’t a walk in the park. One needs someone to play a long innings, or two or three people to play knocks of about 60 or 70 to get to this kind of target.

India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had batted at number 6 right through this tournament. He hadn’t made any decent scores, his best effort being in the low 30s. But he had led the team with his usual calm approach and the final saw him display his leadership qualities.

When India faced Pakistan in the semi-finals, Yuvraj Singh, a batsman who had been a model of consistency, fell for a first-ball duck. Perhaps the intensity of the occasion overcame him – there is no bigger game for either country, and this was a World Cup semi-final to boot.

Had Yuvraj been sent in during the final – India was 114 for three at the stage when he would normally have come in – and not performed, India would have been under immense pressure. The load on Dhoni would have been that much greater. There was also the matter of retaining a left-right hand combination to make it difficult for the Sri Lankan spinners to control the flow of runs.

But Dhoni was in woeful form. He had made some team changes – pulling in the non-performing Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, and leaving out the capable off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin – and if he had failed, then it is unlikely that anyone would have allowed him to forget his decisions in a hurry.

Dhoni could have sent in Suresh Raina, a capable if young player, to retain the right hand-left hand combination. Raina showed immense maturity in partnering Yuvraj during the quarter-final against Australia, taking the team from 187 for five, a position when things could have come unstuck if a wicket had fallen, to the 261 needed for victory.

But no, Dhoni came out himself. He looked in terrible nick, but kept making ungainly strokes and taking singles and twos here and there. Gradually, he grew in confidence and his form returned. He is never a pretty batsman to watch, but can hit the ball with great power.

One must bear in mind that the two men who were expected to do great things in the final, veterans Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendular, had both fallen by the time the total reached 31. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli added 83 before the latter fell.

Then Dhoni took over. He and Gambhir took the total to 221 and then Dhoni and Yuvraj took India to victory, with Dhoni hitting a majestic six to seal the win.

One can contrast his actions with those of the Sri Lankan skipper, Kumar Sangakkara, who failed to implement the team’s strategy which has been uniform throughout the tournament – throttle the opposition, and then take wickets when they are trying to increase the scoring rate. Sangakkara left out one of the premier spinners, Ajanta Mendis, based on the logic that India plays spin well. Yet another spinner, Suraj Randiv, was included.

Sangakkara normally bowls his best speedster, Lasith Malinga, in spells of three, three and then four overs. This time, when Malinga was brought back midway through, to obviously try and take a wicket, he was given just the one over. Sangakkara’s other trump card, veteran Muthiah Muralitharan, did not even complete his quota of overs.

And long before the end appeared to be nigh, Sangakkara’s body language told the wrong tale – he looked beaten, his shoulders were hunched, he looked really agitated and in a panic.

I have commented some years ago on the way Dhoni goes about his captaincy; leadership comes naturally to this man who hails from one of the most under-developed regions of the country.

He hasn’t completed a college degree. He doesn’t know the latest buzzwords. He is verbose during TV interviews. He isn’t terribly good-looking. But he shows, time and again, that leadership is a natural trait. You can’t create leaders – they are born, not made.

Hosts to fight for honours

INDIA went into the World Cup semi-final against Pakistan depending on its batting. Pakistan, on the other hand, was banking on its bowling. On the day, things came out in reverse.

For the first time since 1983, the final of the World Cup cricket tournament will be contested by non-white teams. In 1983, India met the West Indies and registered a famous victory; on April 2, India will take on Sri Lanka, both teams bidding for a second win in the tournament, Sri Lanka having won in 1996.

After getting off to a flying start – Indian opener Virender Sehwag took 21 off the third over of the match, bowled by Umar Gul, a medium-pacer who has been one of the Pakistan’s star performers in the tournament – India did not exactly sparkle. Despite reaching 114 for one off the first 18 overs, India finished with 260.

Gul fared poorly on the day, giving away 69 runs off eight overs, the occasion probably getting to him.

The only Pakistani bowler to give away less than four runs per over was off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez who went for 34 in his 10 overs. Wahab Riaz took the wickets, five of them, but gave away 46 runs in his quota of overs. But India made life difficult for themselves; scoring ws not unduly difficult but no batsman could dominate apart from Sehwag.

India had an anchorman in veteran Sachin Tendulkar who made 85 after being dropped four times. Many of the other batsmen got starts but did not go on. Young Suresh Raina made an unbeaten 36 as the innings fell away, ending with 260.

After a start when the run-rate was around 9 during the first five overs, with Sehwag in a ferocious mood, it was a middling effort at best. Had Pakistan held their catches, India would probably have struggled to reach 200.

When Pakistan began the chase, things seemed to be on track until Asad Shafiq fell for 30 at 103. He was the third man to go and the scoring rate was, at that stage, on par. But after that there was nobody to keep Misbah-ul-Haq company.

Pakistan had no decent anchorman – Misbah made a painful 56 but did not hang around long enough and, more importantly, could not lift his scoring rate. Pakistan’s best batsman, Younis Khan, made only 13. And the two who could have scored faster when the asking rate increased – captain Shahid Afridi and youngest Umar Akmal – fell for 19 and 29 respectively. On the day, a quick 50 or 60 was called for from either of them.

Surprisingly, India’s bowling and fielding was disciplined. Ashish Nehra, coming back into the team to replace young offie Ravichandran Ashwin, was the pick with two for 33 off his quota of 10 overs.
And though Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh went for nearly six an over, each took two wickets.

If India wins the tournament, it will be the first time that a host has won at home. If Sri Lanka triumphs, it will be the country’s second win as host, but neither would have come at home. Sri Lanka defeated Australia in the 1996 final which was held in Lahore; India’s win in 1983 over the West Indies was at Lord’s.