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December 5, 2000

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Ganguly ton powers India to 2-0

Prem Panicker

There are days when Saurav Ganguly cannot seem to put a foot wrong. This was one of them. His reading of the pitch ("I think it will turn sharply as the day goes on") was spot on. His call at the toss was right. His decision to ignore the dew, which delayed the start of play by half an hour, was dead right given the chances of turn on the track. And he topped it off with a superb innings of 144 off 152 balls, with 8 fours and six effortless sixes, to power India to 306/5 in the allotted 50 overs -- the kind of score Zimbabwe didn't have a hope of chasing.

The real key here was Ganguly's call on the Sardar Patel Stadium at Ahmedabad. Given that the dew in the morning was heavy enough to force the umpires to call for the super-sopper, the tendency for captains would have been to look for the dew to help the seamers, and bowl first. Ganguly's judgement was spot on and, in the final analysis, more even than his batting, it was this that helped India to the win as Zimbabwe struggled against the sharply turning, bouncing ball.

India made one change with Agarkar, who was expensive in the first game, going out and Sridharan Sriram coming in -- a move that was intended to beef up the spin department while further strengthening the batting.

Tendulkar, in contrast to the first game, looked tentative at the start, especially against Travis Friend who got the ball to produce some variable bounce early on. One such ball, a beauty that kicked like a startled horse off a length, got the wicket as Tendulkar went on the back foot to defend. The ball climbed, seamed just enough to pass the bat and take the glove through to the keeper, the wicket falling in the 6th over.

At the other end, Ganguly seemed to have shaken off whatever was bothering him in the first game. His footwork and timing were spot on right from the start, the shots had the crisp, easy elegance that characterizes his batting when he is on song, and the drives kept piercing a field packed tight to block his favorite shot.

But what stood out in his batting, and in the partnership of 175 for the second wicket with Rahul Dravid, was the running between the wickets. In the first ODI, the Indians produced a rank bad display in this department. The way they played today seemed to indicate that someone had sat them down and led them the riot act -- right from ball one, there was a conscious, and constant, attempt to either work the ball off the square, or play it down with soft hands, and race the singles.

Dravid, in fact, concentrated almost entirely on singles in a steady, controlled knock of 62 off 88 balls. Ganguly, for his part, kept changing gear at will -- but unlike in the past, he kept an active eye out for the singles. Generally, once he changes gear and starts getting the big hits flowing, he tends to let up on running the singles hard, but this time, his running between wickets was exemplary.

The pair appeared to have worked out that they first needed to consolidate and ensure that they would get a defensible score on board. Once they were sure of getting there, the momentum was picked up, the change of gear timed impeccably and executed with precision.

Thus, the really interesting statistic for me was that when the pair took their second wicket partnership to the 150 mark, off 180 deliveries, they had as many as 79 singles and 11 twos -- a most welcome sign.

With Ganguly in supreme touch, Dravid focused on rotating strike, letting his captain set the pace. It took a superb bit of fielding to get rid of the India number three. Ganguly blasted a ball out on the off side, hitting the off drive with enormous power. Streak, at mid off, rode a bad bounce, picked up on the bounce and immediately released, to throw down the stumps and catch Dravid, backing up, out of his ground.

Yuvraj Singh, coming in next, got the benefit of some bad umpiring right away. Even before he had settled, he went for a slash outside off, got the edge, Andy Flower stayed low to hold well, but much to everyone's surprise, umpire Hariharan decided there was no touch. Yuvraj got the benefit of luck there -- now he needs to benefit from some straight talking from the senior players. He is a gifted batsman, but appears to have lost his grip a touch -- in recent times, he has tended to play as if the bowling just didn't matter -- in fact, he reminds you these last few outings of Shahid Afridi at his most irresponsible. Someone, I would think, needs to sit the lad down and warn him of the danger of throwing a promising career away through sheer over-confidence.

At the other end, Ganguly gave his young colleague a lesson in clean hitting. Taking on Douglas Marillier's off spin, Ganguly launched into an array of blistering strokes, an inside out drive back over the bowler's head and a lofted shot over midwicket's being standouts in an over that fetched him 21 in the over. Taking a single to keep strike, Ganguly then took on Viljoen with a straight drive, then another lofted hit over midwicket, for sixes off successive balls before an attempt to blast one over mid on saw the turning ball catch the toe of the bat and flare to point for a simple catch, to end a beautifully paced innings of 144/152, his 16th ODI century.

India, after getting to 190/1 in 40 overs, looked to maximize during the death - and, in fact, used the slog overs to such good effect that 106 runs were piled up off the last 60 balls.

Once Ganguly left, Yuvraj, Sunil Joshi, Hemang Badani and Ritender Singh Sodhi all chipped in to keep the momentum going. Yuvraj, after hitting a huge six over long on off Murphy, tried to repeat, but picked a ball too far outside off to try and hit to leg and only managed to pick out the fielder. Joshi played a lovely cameo, of 22 off 12 with a superb lofted six over long off from Olonga being the stand out shot, and Badani during a very brief tenure showed that he is on top of his game, playing with enviable ease against both pace and spin.

Judging by the events in the last 10 overs, one would say that Streak made the error of bowling his spinners against the Indians at the death. However, there really was turn to be had even in the first innings, and the spinners till then had bowled a tight line -- if the spinners vanished in the slog, the credit really goes to Ganguly, who timed his assault to a nicety and in the process, helped his colleagues up their game a couple of notches.

What really hurt Zimbabwe's cause was the indiscipline when it came to bowling wides -- 16 wides, plus three no balls, meant a free gift to the Indians of 3 more overs, not to mention the extras accumulated.

On the chase, Zimbabwe's fate was sealed within the first 11 overs. The chasing side needed a fluid start, and Campbell in fact looked in good touch with the bat. However, fellow opener Douglas Marillier and number three Stuart Carlisle let the pressure get to them to such an extent that between them, they kept Campbell away from strike for long periods of time, and used up 37 of the first 63 deliveries to score just three.

Zahir Khan tormented Marillier with an outstanding over, his third, with five out of six deliveries beating the bat for pace, angle and length. And Prasad reaped the reward when the frustrated Marillier came down the track looking to try and get some easy runs against the slower seamer. Prasad pitched on line of middle and off, making the ball go away just enough to beat the flailing bat and take out off stump.

In the 11th over Carlisle, who in the first game had looked good, but failed to find that form here, went to good bowling from Zahir. After a stream of deliveries pitching middle and leg and seaming further to leg to cramp the batsman for room, Zahir upped his pace a notch, pushed the length further up, and hit line of off and middle, to go through the gate as Carlisle looked to play to leg, and rattle the stumps.

Ganguly then continued his good work of the morning, with a shrewd bowling change. With two left-handers, Campbell and Andy Flower, at the crease, Ganguly brought on Sachin Tendulkar as first change, to bowl off spin. Right from ball one, Tendulkar got bounce and sharp turn, putting both men under pressure. And in his second over, the 15th of the innings, one such ball, pitching middle and turning rapidly away to off, had Campbell pushing for the ball to find the thick outer edge and fly low to slip. Ganguly, unsighted momentarily by the keeper, did well to take a superb catch very low to his right. With Zimbabwe reduced to 55/3 in the 15th over, Ganguly appeared to have realized that the game was won, and left the field to rest a slight injury, Dravid leading in his absence till close.

Zimbabwe's only hope was to go after the 'fifth bowler' -- but here, Sodhi played a key role, bowling an immaculate line and proving almost impossible to hit off the square. His action might not be the prettiest in the game, but the youngster appears to have a knack for using the width of the crease to create angles, the control to keep the ball just back of a good length and slanting in on off, and enough wristwork on the delivery to make the ball dart in off the seam -- three factors that combine to cramp the batsman and check shot-making.

The Flower brothers mounted a recovery of sorts, though Grant Flower was very lucky to find a ball from Joshi, in the left-arm spinner's very first over, turn rapidly to take his edge, and bisect slip and the 'keeper. Joshi, who for once bowled with confidence on a track that gave him sharp turn and enormous bounce, got his man in the 23rd over, when Grant Flower looked to try and hit Joshi off length, shaped to cart him from outside off over midwicket, got the edge, and holed out to point.

Guy Whittall, the Zimbabwe vice-captain, came out looking positive and intent on giving the becalmed innings some momentum. His strokeplay against spin was a touch chancy, but effective -- a six over long off from the bowling of Sridharan Sriram being the standout. However, Whittall fell one ball later, trying to repeat the hit -- this time, Sriram held the ball back a touch, Whittall failed to get to the pitch of the ball, and gave Prasad at long off an easy take.

Sriram in fact bowled a very impressive spell, and the ball that took out the in-form Andy Flower (51 off 57) was a beauty. Flower alone had looked comfortable against the turning ball, but Sriram held his nerve, used flight to create uncertainty, then held one back a touch. Flower came out looking to drive, was deceived, and managed only to push it tamely back to the bowler. Zimbabwe at that point were 147/6, in the 34th over, and there was no way they could win from there. Dravid, thus, gave reserve bowlers Yuvraj and Badani a bit of a go, and despite the slackening of the pressure, the wickets kept falling with Joshi taking out Viljoen, Sriram pitching in with his third wicket, of Travis Friend, and India ultimately coasting to a 61 run win with ease.

The spinners all did their bit, but the standout feature of the second half of the game was the ground fielding. Downright horrible in the first game, the Indians picked up in that department here with Yuvraj, Sodhi, Badani, Sriram and Das (substituting for Ganguly) providing a hard edge to the fielding side, backing up the spinners and keeping the pressure going.

Improvement, thus, was visible in two vital departments -- running between wickets, and ground fielding. More than the eventual outcome, what will be of interest in the remaining games is to see whether this was a flash in the pan.

Or could it be that a sharp-eyed coach, and a more determined team management, have finally got together?

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