India celebrate as Moin Khan walking back after being dismissed

Moin Khan c Zaheer Khan b Ashish Nehra. India win by five runs

Scott Barbour / © Getty Images

20 Greatest ODIs: No. 10

Inzy, Dravid, Karachi, 349

When India went on the momentous 2004 tour of Pakistan, proceedings started with an utter classic

Rahul Bhattacharya  |  

Pakistan vs India, first ODI, Karachi, 2004

India won by five runs

When the Indian cricket team came to Karachi to begin the tour of 2004, the most high-profile one they had ever undertaken, they were to stay a mere night in the city. The squad flew in the day before the match, at some decoy hour, to the old airport used by cargo planes, and were to be whisked back out the night of the game.

All that Karachi reputation, all that history: the 2002 bombing outside the Pearl Continental, where the Pakistani and New Zealand teams were put up; on India's previous tour, in 1997, five fielders struck by objects thrown from the crowd; the one before that, in 1989, the captain, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, manhandled by a pitch invader in the Test, and the ODI, where stone-throwing led to a pitched battle between police and students, abandoned in 15 overs. Leading up to the game this time around, conjuring up a general spirit of mayhem, riots featuring stones, flowerpots, chairs and baton charges broke out on successive days of supposed ticket sales.

In other respects, preparations were immaculate. Some were festive - a provincial holiday was declared; two cinemas were permitted to screen the match live. Others were abundantly cautious. Some 7000 security personnel were to be on duty. Fantastic traffic restrictions were in place. Omar Qureshi noted with his wryness: "In normal circumstances one would have written that all roads will lead to the National Stadium. Precisely the opposite will be true. All roads will be closed."

The road that was the pitch at the National Stadium, however, was open for play and on winning the toss Pakistan, rather graciously, invited the guests to use it first.

Virender Sehwag made the most of it, cutting Mohammad Sami to pieces, then helping his team to 21 runs from the many deliveries it took Rana Naved-ul-Hasan to bowl his first two legal ones. When Sehwag left, with 79 from 57 balls in the 15th over, India were galloping along at ten at over. Rahul Dravid, in the purplest patch of his career, paced a superb 50-over innings, scoring at nearly a run a ball despite just the eight boundaries in 99 runs. His dismissal, improbably for these partisan encounters, drew a momentary gasp of regret from the audience for the missed landmark, followed by a standing ovation.

After the match was finished came its greatest moments. From all around the ground, spontaneous applause rose up and rained down onto the field

Notwithstanding the pulled-in boundary ropes - a convenient marriage of security and commercial considerations - a total of 349, back in 2004, was monumental. To win, Pakistan would have to get a good 20 more than anyone had done in the over 2000 one-day internationals played. At 34 for 2 after eight overs, the task looked still taller.

But two stalwarts were now together. At one end Yousuf Youhana, as he was those days, grooving into an innings of thrilling panache, every now and then inside-outing bowlers into or over the fence with supreme artistry.

At the other end the great Inzamam-ul-Haq. A year earlier at the World Cup, Inzamam had averaged 3 and was dropped. The Pakistani touch was not in bringing him back to the team in six months but bringing him back as captain. He was stately in this avatar. In press conferences he stroked his beard and deadpanned one-liners. At the crease he grimaced and hunched patiently for the quickest of deliveries, not that the Indians had them, with the air of a man receiving them for afternoon parleys, in which he always came off the better.

The pair put on 135 in 20 overs. On Yousuf's departure for 73, Inzamam picked up his pace further, unfurling a high-class repertoire of strokes - cuts, glances, chips, pulls, swat-flicks - and drawing from the audience of 33,000 a tremendous rising energy of hand claps, foot stamping, rolls of paper upon railings, so that Sourav Ganguly would say he could not even hear his fielders. Such was the gathering inevitability of his mighty innings that when Inzamam departed, for 122 off 102, a Pakistani victory, which had all of one-day history ranged against it, and notwithstanding the 72 still to get in eight overs, no longer seemed out of the question.

Sachin Tendulkar walks out to bat from among what seems like a battalion of security men

Sachin Tendulkar walks out to bat from among what seems like a battalion of security men Scott Barbour / © Getty Images

For now came Abdul Razzaq, that leg-clearing free-swinger. He didn't care much for the shortened boundaries: a six clanged into the stadium roof. India's fielding began to fray, but when it came together, with a mere ten needed off eight, it did with astounding grace, Mohammad Kaif sprinting in, lunging forwards to reach Shoaib Malik's skier while getting his knee out of the way of Hemang Badani's face, and sliding headlong over the turf without dropping the ball.

It boiled down to nine from the final over, Ashish Nehra to Moin Khan and Naved-ul-Hasan. Five fine leg-stump deliveries later, denying the batters any room whatever, that reduced to six off the last ball. Javed Miandad was Pakistan coach, watching with increasing animation from the dressing room. And Nehra did, in fact, send down a full-toss, higher than expected, perhaps quicker too, and Moin could not make Javedesque contact; a hand slid off the handle and the ball off the face for a simple catch at cover.

A magnificent game of cricket had already done enough to get on to lists like this one. Yet now, after the match was finished, came its greatest moments. From all around the ground, from the stunned silence of defeat, from every stand, spontaneous applause rose up and rained down onto the field, the sound of dosti, evoking memories of Wasim Akram's team lapping Chepauk after the remarkable Test of 1999 - proof that when it comes to India and Pakistan, for better or worse, cricket is the ultimate catharsis.

Perhaps the best tribute paid was a sideways one, by the man who faced the last ball, surprised that no blame attached to him. "We know how much the match meant to the two nations," Moin would say. "But somehow I remain unconnected."

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care