South Africa's strident march to a place in the Super Six notwithstanding, the second week of the World Cup definitely belonged to Pakistan. They have provided the most exciting cricket in the tournament, and also set the standard for other teams to emulate. The match between Pakistan and Australia was easily the best of the event as yet, and gave the other teams plenty of reasons to worry about Wasim Akram and his supremely talented bunch.
In three matches out of three, Pakistan have fought back admirably from tight situations. It could have been seen as good fortune the first time, but I think it was Akram's vast experience of English conditions that finally made all the difference. He was the only captain to realise that the only way to win in these conditions is by including five specialist bowlers. It's a logic which soon rubbed off on other teams, the West Indies being the obvious beneficiaries.
Like South Africa, Pakistan is also blessed with three or four quality all-rounders which has made Akram's task that much easier. Azhar Mahmood had proved his credentials before coming here, but the surprise has been Abdul Razzak, who is a class act. Yet, how many captains would have picked a 18-year-old and thrust him into the heat of World Cup battle - batting at number 3 and bowling first change? To me, Akram has been the captain of the tournament, leading with imagination, taking calculated risks and inspiring his players with example. I almost forgot to add that he is a superb all-rounder cricketer himself!
Pakistan also have Moin Khan in their midst, who, in my estimation, is the gutsiest player in the business. His 31 in a dozen balls broke Australia's resolve, but how many know that Moin is playing with a chipped finger bone? Such are the deeds that make heroes, and Moin, with his flashy wicket-keeping and guts and glory batting is emerging as one of the major players of this tournament.
After a cautious first week, batsmen also came into their own in the second. A string of high scores was instigated by Sachin Tendulkar, who made a superb century against Kenya, followed by the 318-run twin-assault of Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid which left Sri Lanka shell-shocked. Inzamam-ul-Haq finally found his rhythm to bolster the Pakistan middle order, and the West Indian Ridley Jacobs revealed why he is already rated amongst the world's more dangerous openers. I think by the second week, most batsmen had come to appreciate that while the tracks were helpful to bowlers, they were not deadly or dangerous, and, with some application and skill, runs would be available in plenty. The challenge of batting in England lies in coping with different pitches and conditions every day, and by the end of the tournament, the wheat should be separated from the chaff.
The big story of the week has been India's resurgence. Two thumping victories, propelled by some spectacular batting, has suddenly awakened everybody to the fact that this Indian team is packed with some of the best players in the world. Sachin is hungry for runs, runs and more runs, Dravid is batting like a dream and Ganguly played one of the most amazing innings one could see in a limited overs match.My concern, however, is that India seems to be driven by strong individual performances rather than by teamwork. But as far as I can remember, it has always been like that!
The two captains I played a lot under were Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. One was the best batsman in the world, the other the best all-rounder, and it seemed to me that both were weighed down by the sheer onus of their labels. From what I have heard and read, India's best captain was Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who was able to shrug off the weight of his personal reputation and inspire his players to do well. Unfortunately, I haven't rubbed shoulders with him, but Bedi, Chandra and others have told me how communicative and receptive Pataudi was as captain, apart from being clever and foresighted. He was able to spot talent and nurture players to do well. That is the hallmark of a good captain. Perhaps if Azhar regains his form, we will see more consolidation of team effort, and not merely individual brilliance. Only then can we win consistently. The remaining weeks will see tactics and strategy take centrestage, and I would like to see a more convincing gameplan from India too.
Frankly, pushing Sachin Tendulkar down to number 4 is not such a hot idea, even if he did get a hundred against Kenya. To me it suggests defensiveness. If India are to make a real attempt at winning the World Cup, they will have to show both boldness and craftiness.