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October 15, 2000

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Cairns plays the hero, Kiwis win ICC trophy

Prem Panicker

If ever a mortal rose above his own mortality to attain heroic stature, it was Chris Cairns, today. This morning, with his knee still dodgy, he came into the team with a full quota of pain killers shot into him.

As Ganguly and Tendulkar went berserk against the opening bowlers, Cairns was tossed the ball -- and bowling off a five step run up, concentrating on line and length, he produced a spell of 10 overs for 40 runs, that pulled New Zealand right back into the game. Then came his turn at bat and again, with the Kiwis in trouble, Cairns stood tall and survived both the pressure, and the pain, to pull his side through to the finish line.

It was an outstanding solo performance, and it powered the Kiwis to their first ever ODI tournament win -- the side no one rated, the side that came in from the cold of a series loss to Zimbabwe, and blindsided all the pundits to take the title.

As for India, the ironies continue. No one expected India to go through that tough draw and make the finals -- but they did just that, backing their nerve and their verve to upset more fancied applecarts. What supreme irony, then, that it was the nerve that failed, at the final hurdle, as India lost a match they seemed to have won right at the outset.

India, this morning, must have been pleasantly surprised when Stephen Fleming, on winning the toss, inserted them on a wicket that had been well watered and rolled, and was slated to play hard and true. Tendulkar and Ganguly celebrated, with an opening four overs in which they blasted both Shayne O'Connor and Geoff Allott and put the Kiwis immediately under the gun.

That exhibition of blazing strokeplay, in course of which Sachin set a little personal record when he became the highest scorer in ODIs, was the cue for Cairns to begin his heroics. The Indians were pegged back, but the openers appeared to have budgeted for it, and settled down to working the ball around, with Sachin in particular, after going at over a run a ball, changing pace and settling down for the long haul. 100 inside the 20 over mark for no loss, 141 in the 26th over, and India seemed set for the kind of score you don't even think of chasing.

And then came the first of two run outs that changed the complexion of the game.Saurav Ganguly played one to cover, started off for the single, and then, when it was all too late, sent his partner back. That is a problem with Ganguly -- when he thinks he is set for a big one, he develops an over-cautious streak about his own wicket, and that often costs his partner dear, as a couple of Lancashire batsmen will tell you. Sachin was a lifetime too late to beat the throw to the bowler's end, and left for 69 off 83, at a time when it seemed like nothing would get him out.

Much as I admire Dravid, I don't think he is the guy you want coming out to bat in the 27th over. He is a slow starter by nature, and nothing ever makes him change his game. Here, he took his usual time to settle and Ganguly, who by then must have been feeling lower than sea-level after that awful mixup, came under pressure to keep the run rate going. To his credit, the Indian captain found his equanimity and opened out, attacking the slow, steady stuff of Harris and Astle, producing his usual effortless sixes in the V. And gradually, Dravid began finding his feet. Only for Ganguly to do it again -- he started for a single, Dravid was off the blocks fast and in fact, almost made it to the other end, when Ganguly decided he couldn't make it, and went back. Bye bye Dravid -- his innings of 22 off 35 was not quite what was wanted given that he came in with the bowling at his mercy, and India on 141/1 in the 27th over, but it was still a lousy way to go.

What would have saved the situation was if Ganguly had managed to go on and bat through -- with two of the top three gone, he was the only one left with the ability to get the big ones and power India past the 280, 290 mark that had seemed so easily attainable at the halfway stage of the innings. However, he fell just when he couldn't afford to, Astle bowling a full toss outside off and Ganguly, committed to hitting over the long on fielder, dragging it around and, as a result, getting neither elevation nor distance, and picking out the fielder at long on. 117 off 130 with nine fours and four sixes was a superb knock, but unfortunately, his departure in the 43rd over was also pretty much the death blow for India.

At this point, one thing needs saying. Ganguly in his post-match analysis said the turning point was when the Indian middle order made a meal of the slog overs. True enough, but Ganguly, leading a young team, would have gained in stature, had he mentioned his two bad calls that led to two run outs, and a bad throw that missed running out Cairns when the batsman was just in his 40s.

Vinod Kambli proved that his innings in the tournament opener was one of those flashes in the pans. With Yuvraj stroking freely at the other end, Kambli needed to pat the ball around, take the singles and let his partner have the strike while he concentrated on settling down. Instead, he shaped to play the hero, went for a big hit to a good slower ball from Styris, misreading it altogether and finding long on with unerring precision.

That put the onus entirely on Yuvraj Singh. To his credit, the lad held his nerve, but as the overs ticked down and the runs dried up thanks to the quick fall of wickets, he tried the big hit, to Styris, again misreading the slower ball and picking out the cover fielder on the edge of the circle 18 off 19 balls was good, but just not good enough. And when Robin Singh, to a ball that earlier in his career would produce the huge short arm jab that has seen the ball sailing effortlessly over long on, produced instead a little chip to midwicket, India had thoroughly messed up the slog overs.

264 for six in 50 overs was at least 25 runs less than India should have got given the start. It was also a tantalising total -- 11 runs more than New Zealand had chased so well in the semifinal against Pakistan, but then, Pakistan had the better bowling attack in comparison to India.

India needed wickets. And Zahir Khan had regularly produced them at the top. For once -- was it pressure? the off day coming at the inconvenient moment? -- Zahir lost it. He overstepped repeatedly, lost his rhythm completely, and as a result, went for plenty. You notice it happening -- when you are concentrating on not bowling no-balls, your line and length suffers. And Astle cashed in, to the tune of 30 in the young opening bowler's first three overs.

At the other end, though, Prasad produced a superb opening spell. In his first over, he bowled one outside off, Spearman cut, but failed to keep it down as the ball seamed away a touch, and Yuvraj at point dived to take a superb catch low down.

In the sixth over, Prasad was doing it again -- Stephen Fleming looked out of sorts, his feet were not moving at all throughout his tenure, and Prasad took him out with a ball that angled in to middle, then straightened to have Fleming push down the wrong line and get it on his pads, plumb in front.

That brought Astle, and the in-form Roger Twose, together. And the Kiwis began a recovery, seeing off Prasad, Zahir, and Agarkar. Prasad did superbly well in his first five overs, but first Zahir, then Agarkar, lost the plot in their turn, and put the bowling side under enormous pressure.

It was left to Kumble to pull it back, with a lovely first spell that was a model of tight control. He has of late developed a very good googly, and that is making for a much better bowling performance. Since he now has one going the wrong way, he seems inclined to use the leg break more often, and the fact that he is turning them away, then occasionally bringing them back, has been troubling batsmen through this tournament. Twose was baffled, Astle only slightly less so, as India attacked both batsmen with slip and silly point or short square leg in place.

Astle it was who finally succumbed, trying to play one to leg, playing for the googly and getting the leg break which took the edge onto pad, for Robin to hold at short square. 82 in 15 overs was very good going, but on the minus side, the Kiwis had lost three.

Cairns came in at this point, but Kumble almost immediately after struck a huge blow, taking out the in-form Roger Twose. The batsman seemed ill at ease against the turning ball, right through. Kumble flighted a googly, Twose pushed at it tentatively, and was beaten for both flight and turn. Dahiya, unsighted by the batsman's stocky body, did well to take and get the ball back to the bails before Twose could get his foot back in. A superb stumping, and India seemed yet again to find the ability to keep taking wickets when it mattered.

Craig McMillan is an aggressor by nature. Cairns, meanwhile, read the situation well and dropped anchor at one end, calmly knocking the ball around, allowing his partner to try and knock Kumble off his line. McMillan succeeded, with two successive, and superbly played, sweeps in the 21st over for fours.

However, at the other end, Sachin Tendulkar had started what was to prove a superb spell of off and leg break bowling. After a succession of off breaks, he tossed up a leg break and McMillan, spotting the width, went for the cut. The turn and bounce caught the toe of the bat, and Ganguly at point had an easy take. 24th over, five down, 132 on the board, and though the Kiwis were nicely ahead on the run rate, you had to figure India was in the driver's seat thanks to the fact that half the side were back in the hut.

From that point on, Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh teamed up in a spell of superbly controlled spin bowling, with Yuvraj sticking to the basics of left arm slow to complement Tendulkar who, at the other end, was bowling pretty much anything he fancied at any point. Neither Cairns, nor Harris, could make any kind of headway against the pair, and Ganguly, seeing that his two spinners had the upper hand, let them bowl through their quota.

The best index of how effective this combined spell lies in this statistic -- Sachin Tendulkar, who finished his spell in the 38th over, had figures of 10-1-38-1, while Yuvraj, who finished a couple of overs later, had 10-0-32-0 on the board against his name. And in tandem the two, coming together when the ask was fractionally under 5 an over, pushed it back up over 7 an over by the time they were through.

In between, Kumble was brought back to replace Sachin -- and promptly showed that when it comes to the big match, experience is no antidote to pressure. Where he had bowled so superbly in his first spell, Kumble produced one bad over that allowed Harris to break free, with two fours -- a very short flipper that was pulled wide of the sweeper, then an even worse delivery down the leg side,that wend down to fine leg for four.

Yuvraj in the next over, pulled it back with a superb 9th over, giving one run in his first five balls. The pressure on the batsmen mounted, and produced the mistake as Harris played out on the on and Cairns tried to come down for the single. Ganguly, at midwicket, had all the time in the world but produced a wild throw, Yuvraj at the bowling end compounding the error by not positioning himself right. Cairns, due there to be run out by a couple of yards, got back in, and India had missed a chance to swing the game its way, once for all. At the end of that over, the 41st, the Kiwis were 197/5.

Cairns and Harris, the latter unable to really produce the big hits but keeping his cool and hanging in there, kept inching the score along. Until the 46th over, when Cairns, having waited with the patience of a spider, pounced as Kumble, in an effort to keep things tight, slotted the flipper on middle. Spotting the ball out of the hand, Cairns danced down, picked it up and deposited it right out of the stadium and into the car park. Before that ball, the Kiwis needed 30 off 20. The very next ball, Kumble overcompensated by firing one through on leg and Cairns, who seemed to have a line directly to the bowler's head, calmly stepped inside the line, paddled it very fine, got four more, and suddenly, the ask of 20 off 18 balls was, spelt differently, curtains for India.

There was also a bit of bad captaincy, prior to this, when Ganguly for the 45th over, brought back Zahir. Prasad, the slower bowler and theoretically, the harder to hit, had overs in reserve, the Kiwis play pace very well, they had the wickets in hand, and Zahir at his faster pace went nicely off the bat for ten. Seen from another angle, those two overs produced 24 runs, with the 45th going for 10 and the 46th, by Kumble, for 14. And the score, 221/5 in 45, had shot up to 245/5 in 47 as a result.

That score must have rubbed in, to the Indians, their own folly with the bat -- because after 47, the Indians too had made exactly 245/5, before losing it completely. The Kiwis, though, didn't, with both Cairns and Harris keeping their nerve, and tapping singles around, Cairns in the process getting to his third ODI hundred (all of them made against India, incidentally, but none more vital than this one).

Prasad produced some artificial excitement in the 49th over, when he had Harris driving at a slower ball well disguised, for Robin Singh to pull off a catch at full stretch overhead.

The Kiwis at that point needed 11 off 9, but immediately thereafter, Prasad drifted to leg, the ball rocketed to fine leg off Parore's hip for four leg byes, and the equation came the right way round for the Kiwis. Still -- Parore took the next one on the pad, the ball richocheted to third man, the batsmen went for a second, the throw was good, Cairns was way out of his ground, and Prasad at the bowler's end failed to gather the ball.

You don't keep mistakes like that, in a tight chase, and win. In the previous games, India had fielded out of their skin. Here, it was as if the sheer unexpectedness of getting into the final, mucking up the second half of their batting stint, and yet finding themselves in with a chance to win, overwhelmed the Indians entirely. The last ten overs saw too many mistakes by the fielding side, and the Kiwis in the end went out deserving winners by four wickets.

India can think back with some pride to a tournament where they came in expected to beat Kenya and then crash to Australia, but where they upset the calculations and actually made the finals. Yet, more than that joy, it will be regret that overwhelms -- they had the perfect chance here to script a fairytale beginning to the new season, and just when it came time to write the final chapter, they let their pen run out of ink.


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