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India looking good to make final

By Bob Woolmer
March 02, 2003 18:38 IST
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It was billed as the clash of the Titans, the match of the tournament, and how it lived up to that billing. Saeed Anwar, who was very close to not being selected, scored a marvellous hundred for Pakistan yet you always felt that they were 40 runs short.

This because of the impressive bowling of India's young tigers. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra have really improved and, in fact, have started to make an impression as front line seamers in world cricket. I remember thinking that I liked what I saw when India toured England last summer. Along with Javagal Srinath, they have certainly made their point in this World Cup.

It is always nice for fast bowlers to have bouncy and quick pitches to bowl on and it gives them confidence. If there was a weakness in the Indian team over the years it has been the lack of penetrative bowlers with the new ball. This is now changing, and with the batsmen regaining confidence after a debilitating tour of New Zealand they now look favourites to join Australia in the final! Early days, yet but India certainly look the part. I also believe that they are one of the few sides that could test and indeed beat Australia.

Why do I say this? Well, we saw yesterday why Sachin Tendulkar is rated as the world's best batsman. His innings was sublime yesterday; he was unfortunate not to score his hundred. But it was a match-winning innings, without doubt!

I have to say that the passion and energy exhibited in yesterday's match is a good barometer where these two sides can get to, while in other games this is not reproduced. After yesterdays' performance I now fancy India to go all the way! Pakistan, I believe, will now have to rebuild for the future. They can still mathematically qualify, but I do not believe they deserve to do so. Yet they still have matchwinning cricketers and we may not have seen the end of them yet. We must remember Australia 1992.

India have maintained their winning ways against Pakistan. The 19,000-plus crowd saw one of the best matches of the tournament and, maybe, just maybe, we might be treated to another one if Pakistan squeak through!

This World Cup is one of many surprises and I don't think they have been exhausted yet!

Wasim Akram achieved a wonderful and truly amazing milestone when he took his 500th One-Day International wicket against Holland. Bowling is the hard act in cricket; a lot of time and effort is spent trying to take a wicket. In fact there is no guarantee when a bowler runs into bowl that he will take wickets! There are countless cases of bowlers having a negative analysis in all forms of the game. There is a saying that if you haven't taken 0 for 100 then you are not yet a bowler!

In the multi-day game format there is more time to take wickets but that is not always a helpful factor. In the shorter version of the game, wickets are usually taken amid the more frenzied parts of the game, such as the beginning as the new ball is attacked and at the death when the slog is on. It is also the parts of the game when the bowler can get some serious air miles too!

Wasim has been at the forefront of these areas for more years than both he and I would wish to remember. Without doubt he has to be the world's greatest left arm fast bowler of all time. Much has been pontificated about the abilities of Warne and Muralitharan and indeed we have been fortunate to see two of the greatest spin bowlers of any era, but the achievement of Wasim Akram deserves as much if not more mention. What a wonderful bowler! He has pace, can swing the ball at will either way. He has a superb slower ball and devilish yorker, which he combines with the more modern craft of reverse swing to devastating effect. Indeed, if you ask his peers who have batted against him, they will all tell you that he is the master craftsman of his trade in this generation of fast bowlers.

It is a feat of enormous proportions to go along with the 400-plus Test wickets he has got. I sincerely hope he gets the recognition he deserves.

Bowler's of today have more opportunity to take wickets because of the congested fixture lists. Fred Trueman, the first bowler to take 300 Test wickets, when asked of his achievement said: "Well if anyone else beats this I know one thing for certain, he will be bloody tired!"

In fact the icon of all commentators Richie Benaud said on television then it is a feat that nobody else will achieve. Like all of us, then, Richie could not even guesstimate the tremendous growth of the international game.

Poignantly, and sadly, one such bowler striving for the 500 mark has just been banned for one year for "Drug abuse". Shane Warne has been banned for one year for a banned substance in his blood stream. Professor Tim Noakes from the SSI in Cape Town is on record as saying that only "fools" get caught when it comes to drug abuse in the athletic world and before I get caught up in a flurry of outrage at me calling Shane Warne a fool, I am not having a go at Shane Warne.

Professor Noakes is merely highlighting that the real drug abusers in sport are too clever to be caught! In fact I have been led to believe that Shane was tested the day after he took this pill and if he had been tested 48 hours or so later, he would have been clear!

Recently there was a court case for unfair dismissal when the America sporting authorities appointed one individual to address drug abuse in American athletes. He became so successful in finding these guys that he got sacked! Evidence suggested that 13 American medallist had tested positive but had not been reported to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). It is interesting too that drug testing is not used in some sports and that the main abusers of the drug code are usually sprinters and weightlifters, where the accent is on speed and strength. In fact it is a standing joke that the Russians knew a little bit about the use of drugs to enhance performance. The East Germans were better, but the Americans were world champions!

Shane Warne mentioned in his statement after sentencing that he was a victim of the hysteria around drug abuse in sport and, incidentally, this is the first World Cup that drug testing has taken place!

On a lighter note, the South African cricket side selected to go to the Commonwealth Games in 1998 had to be drug tested before we went. The tests were held in a hotel in Pietermaritzburg and as the guys were shuffling in and out of the urine sample room, Dale Benkenstein returned and said: "Guys this is just not good enough and has to stop; someone is taking the piss out of us"!

On a more serious note I shudder to think of the repercussions had Sachin Tendulkar been found positive if he took medi-nite because he was suffering a cold and just happened to be randomly tested the next day!

The point is that cricket especially along with other team sports needs drug testing but need to look at the criteria needed for their sport. It will be a travesty of justice if Shane Warne is not able to join the 500 club because of a foolish mistake.


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Bob Woolmer