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January 25, 2000


India Down Under

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Ganguly ton powers India to first win

Prem Panicker

With a good batting track and a quick outfield greeting them at Adelaide for a game they absolutely needed to win to stay alive in the CUB triseries, India as always tinkered with its batting lineup -- this time dropping VVS Laxman and bringing back Kanitkar.

Not that it makes any difference, really -- earlier, Kanitkar was dropped and Gandhi brought in -- the kind of changes that leave you with the impression that the Indian management is making changes for the sake of making them, while being well aware that substituting one non-performer for the other makes no difference whatsoever.

Sachin Tendulkar won the toss and opted for first strike. And for the second time in three goes after he returned to the top of the order, he teamed with Ganguly to get India off to a good start -- which, again, makes you wonder at the wisdom of batting down the order in the earlier games. How much did that bit of senselessness set the Indian team's cause back? Whose fault is it that India on tour lacks men in the middle, leading to a situation where the captain is unsure whether to open, or bat lower down? Interesting questions for which, as always, you can expect no answers -- not from the management, or the board, or the selectors.

The Pakistan new ball bowlers, Akthar and Akram, appeared a bit carried away by the sight of some green on the track, and tended to stray somewhat. Ganguly and Tendulkar took toll, both casting aside inhibitions and driving, mostly on the up, to produce a stream of boundaries that got the team rocketing off the blocks. Akthar, on whom Ganguly was particularly severe, went for 25 in his first four overs, Akram for 33 in 6, India went to 50 off 47 balls and the progression showed 67/0 at the end of 10, 88/0 at the end of 15. At that point, with both batsmen sharing the workload and the right-left combination working superbly for them, Tendulkar had got to 41/45 and Ganguly to 42/48.

It took Abdul Razzaq to bring some sanity to the proceedings. Despite being taken for 11 in his first over, he quickly slipped into a tight line and length, giving away just 3 in his next two overs. And off the first ball of the 16th (his 4th), he did for Tendulkar yet again when he had the Indian captain fishing around off, attempting to run one down to third man and managing merely to touch it through to the keeper. The opening partnership had realised 88, at a run rate of 5.8.

Ganguly and Dravid settled down to the job of consolidation and around this point, the former went ahead of Michael Bevan (249) as the highest run-getter in the CUB series thus far. Through this series, the Indian vice captain has looked in good touch, and around this point in time, he was beginning to look rather ominous.

At the other end, Dravid, after a nervy start, settled down to work the ball around and the pair had added 87, off 119 balls, when Dravid rocked into a pull at a short ball from Afridi, only to pick out Inzamam on the boundary line -- a shot hit too early, and too hard, with the result the batsman failed to keep it down. It was not the kind of authoritative innings that Dravid needed to be playing -- but on the plus side, he had in course of his association with Ganguly kept one end up and in the process, ensured that there was no collapse after the fall of Tendulkar.

Kantikar's advent to the crease must occasion some surprise -- not exactly in form, his appearance at a time when India needed to take complete charge was a mis-step by the team management. In the event, he scratched around, the momentum slowed, 11 runs were added at under four an over when an Afridi wrong one foxed the batsman into giving him a leading edge -- a sitter which Afridi, to his visible disgust, dropped. Immediately thereafter, however, he went to smash the slower one from Akthar over the top, and managed only to hole out to Inzamam at deep midwicket.

Robin arrived at the crease and with him, some commonsense as well. Nudging the singles, letting Ganguly -- by then past his second 100 of the tournament -- make the running, and occasionally clouting the loose delivery (a huge six over midwicket off Afridi being the standout shot in this period), Robin did his part in a 48-run partnership that lifted the run rate back up. The two scored at close to seven an over and India, which had got to 175/2 in 35 and 194/3 in 40, began motoring again, getting to 234/3, at 5.2 per over, at the 45 over mark.

In a bid to go into overdrive, however, Robin looked to go over midwicket only to play too early to the one going through straight with the arm from Saqlain, got the top edge for the bowler to hold. The same over saw Ganguly, by now really motoring, leaning back with rare elegance, to lift the off spinner over long leg for a huge six. Twice during this spell, in fact, Ganguly smashed deliveries on the full into the fence at the square leg region -- as per existing rules, he got fours for both shots.

Just when it looked like the Indian vice captain would be able to bat through the innings, Wasim Akram bent one back to trap him in front, ending a superbly paced innings of 141 off 145 deliveries that paced the Indian innings right through. The notable feature of his batting here was not the strokeplay, which maintained the standards Ganguly has set for himself, as the care he took to ensure that the run--rate stayed around the five an over mark during the course of his tenure, by working the ball around.

India ended on 267/6 in the allotted 50 overs, having made 73 in the last ten. Good though the performance was, one aspect of India's batting problem surfaced again here, with the lower middle and tail failing to make use of the wickets in hand to really blast runs at the death. 33 runs came off the last 5 overs -- which, given that they were 234 for the loss of just 3 wickets at the 45 over mark, qualifies as criminal waste. Jacob Martin was guilty of wasting deliveries with defensive pushes, as also Srinath -- apparently, despite the reverses thus far, the elementary lessons have not yet been learnt by a section of the Indian batsmen.

The key to the chase was keeping wickets in hand, for Pakistan -- and taking them out, quickly, for the Indians. As it turned out, it was the Indians who had things going their way in the first phase, as a progression of 23/2 in 5, 49/2 in 10, 62/3 in 15, 88/3 in 20, 105/3 in 25, 127/5 in 30 and 152/6 in 35 shows.

The track remained good for batting. If wickets fell quickly, the Pakistan batsmen were to blame with some injudicious strokeplay early on. Saeed Anwar played a drive at a slanting Mohanty delivery, the shot played well away from his body to find Martin at cover.

Shahid Afridi then got into the act, pulling savagely at a short ball from Srinath. The ball wasn't in the slot for the shot and the top edge saw Sameer Dighe cover a good 20 meters or so before diving to pull off a very good catch.

Ijaz Ahmed, who as in his previous innings looked in good touch, and Inzamam, very lucky to survive an early LBW appeal, then set about hauling Pakistan back into the game, with a steady partnership that raised 41 runs in ten overs. The two in fact were just beginning to settle down when, against the seeming run of play, the wicket fell. Prasad, who had put up a very iffy display in the field, and who looked equally out of it with the ball, bowled a rank short ball and Inzamam pulled, the shot was played well enough but Kanitkar, out on the midwicket boundary, ran back towards the fence, having to keep one eye on the ball and the other on the fencing, ending up leaning up against the fence to take a very well judged catch.

The good work thus far -- most especially from Mohanty, who after his mauling the other day, came back nicely to bowl a long, 9 over spell with commendable economy -- was continued after the first of the drinks break, courtesy Robin Singh and Anil Kumble. Both bowled tight, with a lot of control over line and length, to a predominantly offside field, and the runs dried up, the asking rate kept climbing and pressure steadily mounted on the batting side.

That kind of thing was always liable to produce wickets -- and it was Youhanna who succumbed first, with Kumble holding one back a touch, the batsman launching into a shot before the ball had got to him and picking out the cover fielder with unerring precision.

At the other end, Ijaz was batting fluidly, bringing up yet another half century off 70 deliveries and seemingly in control of things. Yet, the experienced number three made the same mistake as his predecessors, allowing the tightness of the bowlers to get to him and playing that one shot too many, attempting to lift Kumble over long off, not quite getting under the ball and managing only to find the fielder.

And Moin Khan, who has been having a most forgettable tournament thus far, continued Pakistan's misery when he got into a godawful tangle trying to cut one off the stumps, to be trapped in front by the top-spinner -- a very strange mode of dismissal, that, it is not every day you see a batsman LBW cutting.

And then came a dramatic recovery -- from an unexpected source. It was Razzaq who was expected to try and haul it back for Pakistan, but on the day, the pressure of the situation got to the Pakistan all rounder, subduing his natural ebullience. At the other end, though, Azhar Mahmood more than made up for his dormant partner, with a spectacular assault on the Indian bowlers that saw the Indians, despite seeming to have the game in control, wilt under the onslaught.

Mahmood cut, pulled, blasted drives on both sides of the wicket and in the process, smashed Robin Singh off length and line, before turning his attention to first Prasad, then Srinath. 72 runs were scored in 10 overs, and during that period, Razzaq managed just 13 off 27 -- the rest was all Mahmood, as he blasted his way to a 50 off just 34 balls.

At the 40 over mark, thus, Pakistan had -- at least as far as runs were concerned -- gone ahead of India for the first time in the innings, motoring along from 152/6 in 35 to 196/6 in 40 (India at this point being 194/3). And just when they didn't need it, came the fatal error -- all Razzaq had to do was support Mahmood, but instead he tried to play the hero, went for a huge slosh at Prasad and ended up caught at long off.

That kind of thing would have got the young all rounder a censure from his skipper -- but then, Akram went one better, holing out with a swipe at Mohanty that found long off -- both batsmen in fact falling to deliveries they could have stroked out for two, or more. And Saqlain, who during the course of this tournament has impressed with his tenacious batting, played an equally rank bad shot to Srinath to find midwicket, leaving Mahmood stranded at the other end.

The all-rounder still seemed hell bent on winning it all on his own, but a touch of cramp saw a delay with Mahmood calling for a runner. Perhaps he figured he couldn't last much longer, perhaps the pain was getting to him -- whatever the reason, the first ball after the injury break saw Mahmood lashing out at Kumble, attempting to slog the leggie out of the park only to be held on the midwicket fence by Kanitkar, to seal the Indian win.

Kumble, on the day, kept his control immaculate, never allowed any of the batsmen the width to take liberties, and when Kumble bowls thus, India in the field look much better -- tragedy thus far being that such performances from the leggie have been few, and far between, on this tour. For Pakistan, Mahmood impressed hugely. Having started his career with a bang, and looked on course to be rated with Pollock, Kallis and Cairns among the game's premier all rounders, Mahmood appeared to have let his batting slip away over the past few months. Today, though, he came out blazing, and immediately looked a far different, far better player.

For India, meanwhile, the win brings a faint whiff of hope -- mainly because it pegs Pakistan at 6 with just one game to play, while India, now with two, have three more to go. Winning two out of three brings in run rates and suchlike unmentionables into calculation -- realistically, India has to go out there wanting to win three out of three to make it to the finals.


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