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Bowlers win it for India

By Prem Panicker
Last updated on: October 15, 2006 21:39 IST
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India launched their campaign in the ICC Champions Trophy with a four-wicket victory over England in a Group 'A' match at the Sawai Mansingh stadium in Jaipur on Sunday.

Led by an inspired showing by their bowlers, the hosts skittled out the opposition for a paltry 125 in 37 overs and then achieved the target with 20.3 overs to spare.

Sachin Tendulkar led the run-chase with an brisk innings of 35, which came off 41 balls and was studded with five fours.

Yuvraj Singh was unbeaten on 26 in India's score of 126 for 6.

Earlier, Munaf Patel (3 for 18) and Ramesh Powar (3 for 24) complimented Irfan's Pathan's extended new ball spell of 8-3-20-2 to send England crashing to their lowest total against India.

India meet defending champions the West Indies in their next clash at Ahmedabad on October 26.

England innings

Overs 1-10 (21-3):

Granting this is not a 300 pitch -- 260 should, in my mind, do the job -- England's start was shambolic, on a wicket that wasn't the horror story the scoreline indicates.

Wickets in the 4th, 5th and 7th overs, and some quality bowling by India's new ball bowlers, set the tourists back in their quest for a good start -- and had India dominant even before the first power play was done.

A combination of Munaf Patel and Darryl Harper took out Ian Bell in the 4th -- the ball was on a fullish length, and Bell, looking to work it off his pads, was struck in front of the stumps.

The new ball was bouncing, though -- a factor umpire Darryl Harper ignored while giving the decision (4/7; England 10/1).

Umpire Simon Taufel had no issues with the next decision, as Irfan Pathan produced a delivery that was a trademark in his early days before he inexplicably misplaced it.

The ball angled to off, swung back in to the right hander and pinned Freddy Flintoff bang in front, and well below the knee roll (0/7; England 11/2).

The England captain never got to settle down -- the second ball he faced was a beauty from  Munaf outside off that beat him flat; Pathan produced a couple of away-going deliveries before delivering the sucker punch with the ball coming back.

Michael Yardy, in ahead of Pietersen, didn't last long enough for us to be able to pick him out of a police lineup. Patel this time straightened his length further; like Bell, Yardy looked to work him off his pads and was pinned and this time, given the fuller length, there was no problem with Harper's call (4/9; England 17/3).

Pietersen and a somewhat tentative Andrew Strauss -- who in the third over had a wild swish at Pathan that nearly went to Dravid at second slip -- now face a recovery job as England, at the end of 10, are 21/3.

Comments about the two new ball bowlers, and such, in the next lot, once they are done with their first spell.

Overs 11-20 (69-5):

In his third over, Irfan Pathan had got Strauss flashing, the edge going perilously close to a diving Rahul Dravid at second slip.

Off the first ball of the 13th over, the opener's luck ran out -- to a Pathan delivery just back of good length, Strauss walked into line and pushed; the movement away and a touch of extra bounce did the damage as the ball glanced off the thick outer edge to Dravid (10/32; England 27/4).

Paul Collingwood finally restored some sanity to the batting, using his feet to chip the ball into the gaps. With his partner showing signs of assurance, Pietersen began opening out, a flicked on drive off Pathan in the 15th, a lovely shimmy down the track to chip Agarkar to the deep midwicket boundary in the 16th over, another dance that ended with a delicate flick to the fine leg fence in the bowler's next over, and a fierce square drive off Patel in the 19th over, indicating that England's rock-star was desperate to party.

Good bowling combined with good captaincy to take 'KP' out -- Dravid kept the slip in place; Pietersen seemed increasingly keen to make things happen and Patel, in that 19th over, frustrated him with a tight line around off.

To one such delivery in the channel, Pietersen attempted to use his wrists to finesse it down to third man; extra bounce and a hint of seam took the edge, straight into Tendulkar's lap at slip (27/39; 55/5).

Munaf Patel's first spell of 5-2-8-2 was impressive as much for what he did not do, as for the two wickets he took early.

On a track with signs of uneven bounce, Patel figured out that all he had to do was hit the 130 kph mark and keep the ball around that off stump line, just occasionally bending it either way to ask questions of the batsman. It was a disciplined opening spell (and his return, in place of Pathan, in the 17th over was as impressive), and it served to create, and sustain, pressure on the batsman who struggled to get him off the square and past the well set ring field.

Irfan Pathan was, if anything, even more impressive. It's been a long while since he really hit his straps, but here the pieces came back together -- and his returning confidence was matched by his captain's, as Dravid allowed him an extended spell (8-3-20-2).

The left arm seamer ran in hard, with none of the tentativeness that has marked his outings earlier this year; he hit the 130 kph mark regularly and, most importantly, he rediscovered the lost knack of bending the ball into the right hander, and away from the left hander, from length.

Coming in behind the fronting seamers, Ajit Agarkar took a leaf from Patel's playbook. The ball, by then, was keeping lower with greater frequency; Agarkar played the percentages by bowling closer to off and putting a premium on risky shots, though he was, at a touch over 140 kph, the fastest bowler on the park.

Dravid didn't have to think particularly hard on the power plays -- given the pedestrian pace of the England innings,  he had the luxury of taking them sequentially and getting them out of the way. Also, with his seamers bowling tight lines, he had the luxury of keeping his spinners back till the ball had softened and lost all semblance of sheen.

Another aspect that merits mention is the fielding -- despite the absence of Mohammad Kaif, the inner ring -- with Suresh Raina taking over Kaif's mantle as the star -- held tight, and made run-making difficult.

India has the upper hand with half the batting side back in the hut inside 20 overs -- but it now needs to shut England out as quick as can be, ideally short of the 150 mark; on this track, you don't in your lung-opener really want to be chasing too much.

Overs 21-30 (104-5):

It's too close to the end of the monsoon season for Indian curators to produce belters -- under-cooked pitches are clearly the norm for this tournament.

And as clearly, too many visiting teams are playing by rote; in their minds, India equals high-scoring games, and this mindset is costing them big time as the batsmen fail to adapt their game to the attritive requirements of these slower, lower tracks.

England's problems have stemmed from this factor -- the batting of Strauss and Pietersen in particular displayed an impatience, a 'why can't I hit every ball to the fence?' mindset that cost their team traction after being put in.

The power plays were over, before Rahul Dravid used his most powerful play -- off spin.

Harbhajan Singh in the 22nd over and Ramesh Powar in the 23rd over bowled in harness and, with the luxury of the England top order decimated, Dravid could afford to give his spinners the luxury of close catchers at the outset.

Off the two, Bajji attacked more and was in consequence more expensive; Powar relied on variations of flight and regulation off spin to peg the batsmen down at the other end.

An interesting field setting for Bajji during this phase was the use of a regular square leg backing the forward position. With the offie getting the ball to turn in and both right handers trying to turn the ball with the spin, this meant the bat pad was in play for the error and if the batsman got it right, the deeper fielder was in play to block the runs.

Paul Collingwood, the master of the chip and nurdle, looked to break the shackles with a slog-sweep in the 26th that split the difference between square leg and midwicket to find the fence. Off Bajji in the next over, he played an immaculate lofted straight drive, stepping to leg to free up some space to hit through as the ball turned into him.

At the other end, Jamie Dalrymple lived up to his pre-tournament billing as a handy bat, chipping the runs around and supporting his partner to good effect in a partnership that gradually hauled England back into some form of contention.

This lot of ten overs was pretty much a standoff -- the spinners kept tight and ensured that only 35 runs were scored.

Against that, Collingwood and Dalrymple with a 49-run partnership for the 6th wicket in 67 deliveries have managed to keep England's head above water, just when it seemed the batting side was going down for the third time.

England 125 all out in 37

The pressure of having to bat England out of a hole, getting runs while guarding his wicket, was always going to be crushing, Paul Collingwood succumbed to it in the 31st over.

He attempted to work Ramesh Powar's first ball around but was hit on the pad. The offie spun the next one more and got it to bounce higher; Collingwood again looked to nurdle but was defeated by the extra bounce and turn, managing only to inner edge onto his pad for Mahendra Dhoni to run around and hold in front of the stumps (38/54; England 104/6).

Chris Reid was by rights out to the second ball of his innings. An attempted sweep off Powar without getting close to the pitch ended with the ball ballooning off his glove to Dhoni. Simon Taufel, though, turned the appeal down -- a surprising decision by a high quality umpire, since the only way that ball could have bounced that high was if it had hit bat or glove; the pad was a long way behind.

Reid, though, learnt nothing from the let off -- in the next over, he danced down to Harbhajan but failed to get to the pitch; the lofted on drive merely picked out Irfan Pathan on the long on fence (2/7; England 107/7).

Sajid Mahmood managed to escape an LBW shout in the 35th over, but then aimed a slog at the next ball from Ramesh Powar -- and set up as good an example of making a simple catch a complicated, brilliant one as you want to see.

Harbhajan, at long on, ran in a touch too early, realized the ball was hit harder than he thought, and frantically back-pedalled. With the ball dropping over his shoulder, Bajji managed to keep his eye on it and hold, with both hands at full stretch, then brake before his momentum carried him over the ropes (8/13; 119/8).

Harbhajan Singh worked hard, rotating through his full quota of variations, but it was Powar's day for reaping rewards. In the 37th over, his 8th, the stocky offie added Dalrymple's scalp to his collection with a rare straighter ball; the batsman played for a turn as he stepped out to hoist, and ended up playing inside the line. The outer edge glanced off Dhoni's pad for Dravid, at slip, to hold a lovely reflexive grab to his left (24/46; 125/9).

Dalrymple had displayed some grit in hanging around in support of Collingwood, but the task of batting his team out of jail was a bit too much for the tyro.

In the same over, a straight hit by Harmison saw Powar stick his hand out on the follow through; he collected, then flicked the stumps down and Billy Bowden, in the third umpire's seat, figured Anderson was out of his ground.

England was all out for 125 in 37 overs and India, yet again, surprised its fan base.

This morning, a friend predicted that India, true to type, would start off sluggishly as it tends to do after even the briefest layoff. Not -- on the day, the team hardly put a foot wrong with the ball and in the field, keeping the pressure on from ball one to turn in a very confident performance in the field.

Dravid should now be breathing a sigh of relief -- he put England in simply in order to avoid having to bowl with a greasy ball; the swift take-down of the tourists must have come as an unlooked for Diwali bonus.

There is, mind, just enough of a variable in the pitch to make life interesting for India on the chase against the likes of Harmison, Anderson and Mahmood -- but 125 runs in 50 overs is way too low a target to raise even the remote vision of an upset.

India innings

Overs 1-8 (55-1 at the break)

The difference between India and England was apparent as early as the second over. While the two Indian opening bowlers had in their initial deliveries focused on getting their ducks in a row, Steve Harmison started his first over -- the second of the innings -- with a ball several feet wide of leg stump, that went to fine leg for four.

The next ball was short, outside off, and begged to be hit -- Sehwag obliged, smashing it past point. The third was wide, the fourth full on the stumps, and the batsman creamed him through mid-wicket.

But then, Sehwag has often been his own worst enemy -- and that was true here as well, as Harmison responded with another ball wide of off that the batsman chased, getting the toe of the bat onto it for Andrew Strauss to hold overhead at first slip (9/4; 18/1).

It's hard to say which of the two -- Harmison or Sehwag -- was the more surprised.

At the other end, Sachin Tendulkar gave early indication of why, on the day, he became the most capped player of all time (368 ODIs). The first ball he received, from James Anderson, was an absolute jaffa, scooting through at almost ankle height.

Immediately, you saw the batsman change -- his initial movement became a full forward press; from that vantage point, he began watching the ball to figure out whether to stay forward, or rock back.

Harmison's first over continued to leak runs -- Irfan Pathan upper cut the first ball he received to third man for a single; Tendulkar then whipped the next through midwicket for four and by the time the bowler finally got through his opener, he had bled 20 runs, including 7 through wides.

India seemed in a hurry to finish things off -- Pathan greeted the first ball of Anderson's second over with the sweetest of front-foot cover drives; the bowler responded with a Harmison-style wide down the leg side and it was already apparent England's heart just wasn't in it.

Add luck to the Indian mix -- in the same over, Anderson kept another one low and Tendulkar, essaying a cut, under-edged it past his off stump to fine leg for four more, before standing tall to punch the next delivery through the covers in signature style.

At the end of three overs, India had knocked 37 runs off the target -- and the game, as a contest, was pretty much over.

England's batsmen had paid a price for not trying hard enough to stick it out there; in the second half of the game, the bowlers were paying an early price for trying too much, too hard, too soon.

The perfect example of this lack of focus was Harmison -- having made a meal of his first over, he went around the wicket and promptly speared one across Pathan; the ball took the pad and raced to fine leg for four. The next ball was short outside off, and Pathan smashed it to the point fence for four more.

2-0-24-1, and Flintoff had enough of Harmison; Sajid Mahmood came on as replacement and straightaway showed his promise, hitting a good line and testing Tendulkar around his off and middle twice in the over.

In between, a crisp drive by Pathan to mid off brought up India's 50, off just 5.5 overs at 9.18 rpo.

Mahmood was the only quick to impress. Tall, with a no-fuss run up and a very straight delivery stride, the right-hander controls his line well and gets enough lift off the deck to pose problems.

At the break, India had made 55/1 in 8 overs; the 71 runs still needed, in 42 overs, shouldn't cause the team much stress when play resumes.

After 10 overs (68-1)

An under-edge by Tendulkar off Anderson kicked off post-dinner play, but full service was resumed almost immediately with Irfan Pathan tickling a four to fine leg and Tendulkar greeting Sajid Mahmood, in the 10th over, with a fierce short-arm slog-pull followed by a lofted cover drive hit off the front foot with almost casual contempt; the latter stroke brought up the 50 off 49 balls for the second wicket, Pathan contributing 19 off 33 and Tendulkar 26 off 23.

Mahmood with his 5th delivery got late shape to beat Tendulkar outside his off -- but the oohs and aahs were purely cosmetic, with India ending the 10th over on 68/1.

After 20 overs (103-4)

The first ball of the 11th over produced a wicket against the run of play. Pathan launched into a drive against Anderson, but didn't quite get to the half-volley zone. The ball was screaming over short cover when Kevin Pietersen, who started his career as the man who couldn't even catch a cold, leapt up to hold a stunner (19/34; India 68/2).

Rahul Dravid came out to the accompaniment (coincidental, surely) of fireworks blistering the sky and, to the second ball he faced, played the most exquisite square drive; to the very next ball, he tried a Pietersen style steer from outside his off stump and only managed to put Andy Strauss at second slip in business (4/3; India 72/3).

Anderson greeted Yuvraj Singh with a scorching bouncer that had the left-hander in considerable strife as he fended it away from his ribs -- and for the first time today, there was a sense that there were two teams out there.

With Mahmood producing an aggressive over against Yuvraj and Anderson, in his next over, taking the toe of Tendulkar's boot with a late-swinging yorker that, unfortunately for the bowler, was slipping to leg, the one-sided nature of the contest changed, even if it was too late to affect the outcome.

The first sign of English spin came in the 16th over, with Michael Yardy -- a left arm spinner with a bustling approach, a quick action, and a flat, no frills delivery that has the virtue of being wicket-to-wicket on a very full length and quick (he had a 111.3 kph delivery in his second over that comfortably shades Anil Kumble, the fastest of contemporary quality spinners).

At that kind of pace, though, he unsurprisingly doesn't get much turn, or offer up much variation -- hard to get away, but no real threat to batsmen who know what they are doing.

Steve Harmison, given a chance to redeem himself with a second spell, finally struck in the 18th over with a delivery bowled from wide of the crease, angled into the stumps that kept just low enough to beat Tendulkar's attempted push to leg and nail him in front (35/41; India 98/4).

It's the first time I'm watching him bat after his injury layoff, and the innings on view was, like the proverbial curate's egg, patchy.

There was one signature punch through covers, one superb whip off the pads, one stroked drive through extra cover -- but against that, a couple of Chinese cuts, several played-and-missed outside off, and some signs of tentativeness were less than convincing.

With just 28 more to get at that stage, India sent in Dhoni. At the 20 over mark, India was 103/4 -- a breeze, considering the target; but at this point you had to wonder how this game could have gone, had England batted with a modicum of sense.

Overs 21-29.3 (126-6)

The trouble with small totals is that batsmen like Sehwag and Dhoni believe they can get there in an over or three.

That mindset produced yet another wicket, as Dhoni first missed with an almighty heave-ho, then slogged Jamie Dalrymple's third ball of the 27th over to Collingwood at a shortish mid on where England's best fielder held a good catch (7/22; India 119/6).

That was a needless dismissal; the one that followed later in the over even higher on the stupidity scale as Suresh Raina pushed hesitantly at a full length delivery he could have stroked away, and watched the ball trickle onto his stumps off the inner edge (0/2; 119/6).

India, apparently, was underlining that when it comes to its cricket, there rarely is such a thing as an unalloyed good day -- if the bowlers have a good day, the batsmen will find a way to make things 'interesting' or vice versa.

In the commentary box, the man of the moment was going 'This is what pressure can do'. Couldn't quite figure out what he was talking about -- when Dhoni lost his head, India was 7 runs shy of the target with 23 overs, and five wickets, to go.

So there was pressure how? Chalk this down, folks, to the team's seeming determination to never make a win look easy. The pity of it is that instead of coming off this game on a mental high, this hiccup has likely taken some of the fizz off the collective spirit.

Anyway -- thanks to Harbhajan, who whipped Sajid Mahmood to the backward square leg fence to finish the win, and Yuvraj playing within himself and eschewing all risk, India scrambled home, so that for now is that.

The highlight of the day, for me, was India's decision to go in with one batsman less in Mohammad Kaif, in order to accommodate five bowlers.

Typically, for most teams, one bowler is going to have an off-day on any given day and India is no exception. If there are only four bowlers, you start out with your part-timers under pressure to give you ten tight ones. On top of that, if a front line bowler switches off, you are looking at needing to fill his quota with part-timers as well -- and you don't want close to 20 indifferent overs in an ODI.

Against that, today Agarkar was a touch off -- but even so, the three seamers had a combined analysis of 21-5-72-5. And those figures are even more impressive if you narrow it down to the opening bowlers, Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan: 16-5-38-5.

And once they were done, the spinners took over, sending down 16-1-51-4, with the Powar run out rounding things off.

That kind of performance gives the team the 'options' they are constantly talking of -- in reserve are Sehwag, Yuvraj and Sachin, to provide cover for any one bowler having an off day.

The challenge, now, is to duplicate this performance against the West Indies, so India can go into the October 29 showdown against Australia without worrying about qualifying for the next stage.

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Prem Panicker

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