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June 12, 1999

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Kiwis dump India, slip into semis

Prem Panicker

Yesterday, Roger Twose was sitting in his hotel room, under the eagle eye of team manager John Graham, writing an extra-mural business management exam paper for the degree he is doing from Massey University.

Not sure how that one is going to turn out, but the man who, when he played for Warwickshire, hung up a sign outside his room reading 'This room belongs to the second best left-handed batsman in the world' today passed a very searching test at the hands of the Indian bowling and the weather, and came through with a winning knock, a place for his team in the semis, a magnum of champagne and the man of the match award.

India, meanwhile, ended its World Cup career as it began it -- with a defeat. And, more importantly, with a grim reminder (why such a reminder was needed after the events of the league phase is a mystery) that indiscipline, loss of concentration, lack of focus and application can be very, very costly in the one day game. In a match that went right down to the wire, the scoreboard showed 35 extras against against their name.

That figure included 16 wides and 11 no balls. In other words, with 251 on the board to defend over the course of 50 overs, the Indian bowlers generously gifted 27 extra runs, plus 4.4 extra overs to do it in.

Remind you of the match against South Africa? Of the game against Zimbabwe? 'We have put those defeats behind us', was the management attitude on both those occasions. When you do that, without learning from those mistakes, then you are doomed to repeat them.

That India, already out of the running for a semifinal berth, was not up for this game is not a valid excuse -- a professional team playing at the highest level can't go through the motions and besides, having lost all else, India at least had pride to play for. It lost, and ends with a World Cup record for the year which says played 8, won four, lost four.

The Trent Bridge pitch had a bit in it for everybody. There was bounce, there was seam movement aided by sub-surface moisture and a decent cloud cover for most of the time, and the ball came on to the bat nicely enough to let you play your shots if you knew how to play them.

Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss and opted for first strike. India brought back the now-fit (well, almost) Ganguly for Ramesh. And Tendulkar and Ganguly took first strike.

After a careful start, Tendulkar produced a couple of beautiful drives in the 5th over, off the dangerous Geoff Allott -- one straight, the other through cover. Ah, we think, the man's middling it quite nicely, this could be fun. Not! First ball of the next over, Dion Nash produces a ball that starts outside off, swings in late and lands on yorker length, the inswing beating the short arm push that Tendulkar favours through the covers, and going through onto the stumps. End of an eminently forgettable cup campaign for Tendulkar, who pre-tournament buildup suggested could be one of the biggest stars. Barring that one melodramatic innings against Kenya, Tendulkar in this competition has time and again flattered, then deceived -- the last two games in the Super Six being exemplary.

Saurav Ganguly, judging by the way he played, appeared still a touch unsure about his knee. The feet weren't flowing into position as easily as when he is at his best, which in turn meant touch and timing were a shade awry. But he gritted it out, put a premium on his wicket and saw through 62 balls for the 29 he eventually got before a dream yorker from Allott, brought on for his second spell, got the bowler a record 20th wicket.

If Ganguly was under the weather, no such problems for Rahul Dravid, who on the evidence thus far would rank as the best batsman on view in the World Cup. He was middling the ball from the get go, playing shots with a carefree panache that showed a master batsman at the top of his form. One shot is worth recalling. A ball from Chris Cairns was banged down with venom, and rose off a length. Had Dravid stood in his crease, it would have gone over his shoulder and been declared a no ball. Instead, Dravid, who addresses the ball with bent knees, rose with the ball, his toes completely off the ground as he punched fiercely while airborne, the ball blazing a track through the covers to the fence. That shot beggared description. But Cairns got his revenge when he produced another lifter outside off. Rahul swung into the square drive, the ball climbed higher than he anticipated, and found point.

Jadeja and Azharuddin set about trying to repair the slide. When Dravid's wicket fell at the last ball of the 15th over, India were 71/2 and going along at a healthy rate. Jadeja initially had problems getting bat on ball, Ganguly at the other end struggled and by the time the latter was out, India had added just 26 runs in 8 overs (there is a delightful irony in there somewhere -- not so long ago, it was held that Dravid's arrival at the crease signals a disastrous drop in the run rate; these days, the drop comes when Dravid departs!).

Azharuddin, playing arguably his last world cup innings, needed to go out on a high. He started off in an unsettled fashion, then started finding his touch again, the wristplay in particular working -- if not as smoothly as in his prime, at least well enough to let him rotate strike. But just when he seemed to be settling down for the job at hand, a huge heave at Larsen saw the ball flaring off the top edge, high in the air and down into keeper Parore's gloves.

By then, however, Jadeja had got his second wind. There is something enigmatic about this guy. When he is batting in the middle overs, he seems edgy, poking his bat about, surviving mainly because even at his worst, he has a knack of pushing the ball off the square and running the singles. Then, as the innings goes into the 35+ over stage, the unsure Mr Jekyll gives way, without warning, to the murderous Mr Hyde -- and he is about as difficult for bowlers to handle as quicksilver. That was the story here as well, as he suddenly resucitated an Indian innings that seemed terminal, with a sudden burst of big-hitting that had a petulant Nash, at one point, irritated to the point where he slung one deliberately, full pitch, at the batsman's head.

Robin Singh meanwhile played his usual little cameo, nudges and quick running interspersed with one of those trademark jabs that blasted the ball from around off into the upper stands over long on. One short single too many, though, saw him depart and India finished up on 251 for six in the allotted overs.

It could have been some 6-8 runs more -- but Nayan Mongia doesn't believe much in running between wickets, never has. In fact, the normally phlegmatic Srinath was seen gesticulating angrily after watching his partner ambling an easy single where there was, for a more fleet-footed running partner, a tight three.

The Kiwi attack performed to par. Allott as always was tight and controlled. They say you have to hold the ball with your two fingers on the seam and the thumb supporting it underneath -- but they forgot to tell this guy, seemingly; he wraps his all fingers round the ball, in a most peculiar grip, but hey, lookit the results he gets! The usual parsimony of Larsen and Astle were in evidence till Jadeja began dancing down the wicket to them -- neither bowler is used to such treatment, and seemed clueless when it happened. Nash got his, first from Dravid, then from Jadeja, and turned in pretty ordinary figures as well. And the Zimbabwe bowlers also gave away a healthy 35 extras (which does not excuse the Indians matching them).

252 to get was a healthy ask, but it needed disciplined bowling to do the job. Srinath had a bad first over, as did Mohanty, but both settled in quickly. And Astle and Horne, who at the outset seemed like they wanted to blaze away to the target with overs in hand and all on their ownsome, were pegged back by nagging accuracy and immaculate movement off the seam.

An interesting bit of captaincy -- "Brilliant stuff", was Martin Crowe's verdict in the commentary box -- saw the fall of the first wicket. Azhar, who today kept at least one slip in place right through the innings, was using the two slips and one gully field to Astle. The batsman, who started out driving hard through the V, changed his tack once Mohanty settled into a good line and began beating the bat, and opted to play squarer of the wicket. Azhar took out his slip and gully and set a most peculiar field -- a slip, a regular point, and a catching point, about 12 feet from the bat and slightly squarer than the other fielder. And sure enough, a ball later, Mohanty bowled the slower one, Astle misread the pace and pushed it straight to the shorter point.

Srinath was used in a quick, short first burst, then replaced by Prasad. Two overs later, back came Srinath and straightaway, got the wicket -- a quicker ball outside off had McMillan, who apparently has no clue about backfoot play, fending off the quicker ball with feet static, and finding slip.

Mohanty then got back into the act, taking out Stephen Fleming. The Kiwi skipper kept trying to charge the bowler and to his credit, Mohanty held his nerve, shortening the length whenever he saw Fleming dancing down to him. The southpaw finally came down once too often -- this time signalling his intention in advance, and Mohanty promptly sent the ball wide of the charging batsman, seaming it further away to take the bottom edge of the flailing bat through to Mongia (a dismissal identical to his take-out of Neil Fairbrother in the game against England).

At the other end, Horne was surviving -- and even he, if you were to ask him now, wouldn't be able to tell you how. Repeately harassed by Srinath and embarassed by the slower Prasad and Mohanty, Horne was also lucky to see the umpires turn down two LBW shouts that seemingly had him dead to rights. But the point finally is that he survived. And hung on. And at every opportunity, gave the ball a fair old thump and if mishits landed in front of, behind, or in between fielders, well, tough -- he took the runs, grinned at his partner, and soldiered right on.

At the other end, Roger Twose was outstanding. When he came to the wicket, singles were being sold at a premium. Within minutes, they were available for the asking as he goosed his partner into getting a move on, and began actively pushing the scoring rate along. Their parntership for the fifth wicket, at a run a ball, was what in the final analysis, sparked the Kiwi win.

Azharuddin, as he has through this tournament, bowled Mohanty out rather than risk him at the death. And brought on Kumble as late as possible (on this occasion, in the 27th over) in order to have him anchor the death. In fact, his bowling changes, the way he rotated the pacemen at the start, the field placings, they all mirrored the last game against Pakistan. On that occasion, everything worked. This time, nothing did -- edges failed to go to hand, the wides and no balls mounted, and the target kept getting whittled down.

The Indians did fight back very well for one phase of the chase, after the Kiwis had whittled the ask down to 4.9 per over. With Kumble controlling one end and first Robin, then Tendulkar holding it down at the other, the ask was pushed back up to the six an over mark when, with 9.4 overs to go, rain took the players off the field. Prior to this, Horne had pushed one short of mid on only to see Chopra, substituting, race in, pick up and slam the stumps down to catch him out of his ground, ending a patchy but invaluable innings of 74.

At the time of the interruption, the Kiwis needed 58 off 58 balls -- doable, with six wickets in hand. When play was resumed, Srinath in his incomplete over, then Prasad, pushed it up to the 6.8 an over mark with some superbly controlled bowling.

In the past, this reporter among others has found cause to criticise Azharuddin's captaincy as unimaginative, unadventurous. These last two games, it is almost as if the skipper, figuring his time is running out, has shed that cautious exterior -- and stood revealed as a born gambler. After 45 overs, the Kiwis needed 34 off 30 balls. Srinath had one over to go, Kumble had two, and the fifth bowler had two. The obvious ploy would have been to let the regular bowlers bowl one more apiece, taking it to the 37th and pushing the ask further up.

Instead, Azhar summoned Robin Singh back and threw him at the big hitting Chris Cairns. The bowler's first ball was a loosener, short outside off. And Cairns, who in the previous over had suffered severe embarassment as Prasad flashed a stream of leg cutters past his bat, lashed the ball straight out to wide long on, placed perfectly for the hoist.

The pressure seemed really on. An over later, it was completely off. Mongia failed to get his body behind one as Kumble fired a yorker length ball on line of leg stump, the batsman flicked and missed the ball shot through for four wides. An irritated Kumble pitched the next one short and was pulled for four. And that brought the ask down once more.

Then came Srinath and in one over of superb improvisation, Adam Parore finished things off. A good length ball around off was flayed over point for four. Second guessing the bowler and figuring Srinath might try to go short on the next one, Parore moved a long way over to off, and pulled from off middle stump, the ball taking the glove and flashing to the fine leg boundary. A ball later, he again moved right across his stumps, changing the line of a yorker length delivery on line of off, taking it on his pads and flicking fiercely, through square leg, for four more. It was a brilliant, neck or nothing cameo from the keeper-batsman and, on the day, fortune stood security for the brave.

The game effectively ended in that over, and a lashed four through the covers off Kumble finished the formalities. When it counted, the Kiwis held their nerve. The Indian bowling, which must be faulted for its lack of focus especially in mid-innings, when they failed to squeeze the Kiwis struggling somewhat at 90 for three after 21 overs, was out-thought at the very end, and the Kiwis walked out deserving winners.

India was helped by 35 extras, to put a sizeable target on the board. The bowlers handed the unlooked for advantage right back on a plate, and that prodigality more than any other single factor cost India the game.

Meanwhile, the Kiwis will probably savour the irony of it all. Rain had robbed it of a sure shot qualification. Deemed to be out of the competition -- everyone (including Anshuman Gaekwad) was already talking of the unfairness of Zimbabwe, without a single win, going through into the semis. Not any more -- the Kiwis have pipped them to that post with this win, which edges them ahead on run rate. That must have them smiling -- especially as rain had ruined what looked a sure win against Zimbabwe in the Sixes earlier.

Now Australia has to beat South Africa tomorrow. Or go back home, while Zimbabwe and New Zealand go through to the sudden death phase. And that should guarantee produce a corker when the two teams square up at Headingley for the final match of the Sixes, tomorrow.

Meanwhile, for the Indians, it is time to 'exit right, head bowed', as a stage director might put it.


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