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Ganguly guides India to win over Kenya

By Prem Panicker
March 08, 2003 03:19 IST
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If there is any message in India's handy 6 wicket win over Kenya in its first Super Six encounter, it is this: It is very easy to go off the boil, considerably harder to start cooking again.

The first half of the match saw a clearly lacklustre India in the field, going through the motions against Kenya and allowing the African nation, batting first on winning the toss, to post a tantalizing 225/6 in the allotted overs – an interesting target given that India needed to score the second highest total at Newlands by a team chasing under lights, to win.

The second half of the match initially continued the pattern, with India losing three quick wickets and showing some discomfort in the middle as the fourth wicket partnership, between the captain and the vice captain, struggled to get some momentum.

Finally, Yuvraj Singh's assurance and Sourav Ganguly's acceleration took the Indians cantering past the target – but it had taken a while to get the kettle boiling again.

There is another message in this win – for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which ended up with egg on its face after the World Cup organizing committee headed by Dr Ali Bacher turned down the Indian board's request for the day-night semifinal to be turned into a day game.

The making of the request seemed to indicate that the Indian board was not quite confident of its own team's credentials under lights – a needlessly downbeat message to be sending its own team.

On what looked a good batting track, Kenya had no hesitation in opting for first strike on winning the toss. Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath discovered early on that there was very little in the wicket by way of lateral movement – they responded by producing a rather indifferent spell of opening bowling, against which the Kenyan openers eased themselves to a comfortable start (0/22 in five overs).

Ashish Nehra made the difference when he came in to bowl. First up, he cramped Ravindu Shah on an attempted hook to a short ball on middle – the ball ballooned in the air and Harbhajan Singh at square leg let it loop over his head, the fielder seemingly having lost sight of the ball against the afternoon sun.

A single resulted, and Kennedy Obuya (aka Otieno) flashed a drive at the very next delivery, to get the thick edge to Dinesh Mongia at slip – the fielder lunged, got both hands to the catch, and let it out to grass.

In the very next over, Obuya again drove hard at a delivery from Nehra that moved away off the seam, got the bottom of the bat to the shot and Mohammad Kaif, rushing in from cover, found himself off balance as he tried to take the ball at just over head height.

Obuya made the best of his lives, playing a composed knock of 79 in course of which he controlled the Kenyan innings. A good 75 run partnership (126 deliveries) for the first wicket with Ravindu Shah was broken by a misunderstanding as Obuya pushed out to the on side, Shah set off for the run and was sent back, only for Zaheer, racing down the track, to field on his follow through, spin around, and slam the stumps down at the bowler's end with his throw.

In an attempt to accelerate, Kenya promoted Steven Tikolo – and lost him quickly as the batsman attempted to swing Harbhajan Singh over midwicket only to hole out to Zaheer fielding on the line.

Obuya then settled down in company of Thomas Odoyo to milk the Indian bowlers, working singles as and when possible and keeping the board ticking over. This phase was notable for some interesting captaincy by Ganguly – as soon as two quick wickets fell, Ganguly squeezed in a few of the fifth-bowler options, then settled down to the ploy of having one of his main bowlers operate, in short spells, at one end while the fifth bowler, in this instance Mongia, bowled through at the other.

The fact that a lead bowler was always on view meant that the Kenyan batsmen were not really able to break loose – as the the rate of progression (22/0 in 5, 36/0 in 10, 48/0 in 15, 70/0 in 20, 85/2 in 25, 105/2 in 30 and 123/2 in 35) makes clear.

Obuya finally took the onus of providing momentum on himself, turning it on with a straight six off Mongia and a silky off drive off Srinath. In between, India let go another chance – Obuya looked to swing Harbhajan over midwicket and Mongia, the fielder who in that position had in the preliminary stage taken one of the best catches till that point, over-ran the ball in amateurish fashion and let the ball go over his head for four.

Harbhajan finally beat the batsman in the 40th over with a ball curling in from just outside off, drawing the batsman forward and beating him to hit the stumps.

Mongia made amends of sorts, bowling a delivery quicker and fuller on length, defeating Odoyo's attempt to sweep and pinning him in front. That set the stage for Maurice Odumbe to play a superb little cameo, using all his experience to hustle the Indian bowlers, moving all over his crease, creating angles and playing improvised shots with élan to take Kenya to what, as mentioned at the outset, was a tantalizing total of 225/6 in the allotted 50 overs.

The Indian bowling was marked by competent performances by Nehra and Harbhajan, a steady spell by Mongia, and half-cooked efforts by Zaheer and Srinath, both of whom seemed unable to raise their game against opposition of this nature (it needs mentioning, though, that Zaheer's final analysis was sponsored by some outrageous luck – his last two overs saw a stream of shots that do not exist in any batting book; a typical example being Martin Suji swaying away to avoid a bouncer only to find the ball follow him, hit his bat, and balloon over Dravid's head for four to third man.

The Indian innings got off to the worst possible start – and the reason was obvious. The batsmen, who towards the latter stages of the preliminary league had been facing quality fast bowling, found in Martin Suji and Thomas Odoyo two bowlers who were around 126kmph at their very fastest.

With the ball not coming to them, the openers went at the ball hard – and paid. First, Virender Sehwag – a forcing drive outside the off saw the ball getting to him after the bat had completed the stroke, the thick edge flying to slip for a comfortable catch.

Tendulkar, shortly after, went across to off looking to work a ball off his hips to the on side – a shot he played to devastating effect against the Pakistan quicks. Against them, the shot was producing fours through midwicket – here, he found himself too early into the shot, and ended up putting it to Tony Suji at square leg.

In two previous World Cup knocks against Kenya, Tendulkar had managed 267 runs without getting dismissed – here, for the first time in this World Cup he walked back without breaking double digits.

Mohammad Kaif's dismissal was even more indicative – to a slow medium pace delivery on the stumps, Kaif squared up, pushed in defense, and then found the ball coming on to pin him in front. Kaif stood rooted to his crease for a long time after the umpire's finger went up – we'd like to think it was disappointment that forced the reaction.

At 24/3 in 9.2 overs, India was ambling along Bleak Street – a situation made more difficult by the fact that the onus was on Ganguly, struggling for form and touch, to take it from there.

With Dravid shutting one end down, Ganguly took his time to get a good feel for the ball, reined in his impatience and curbed his tendency to go fishing outside off, and began playing with a very straight bat. Noticeable, too, was his proactive running between wickets – in fact, it was Ganguly who was the aggressor in his calling and running, time and again hustling Dravid through for the shortest of short singles.

The 84-run partnership (123 deliveries) saw Ganguly (47/50) gradually find the range and timing on his shots. At the other end Dravid, who had looked good when the requirement was to stem the rot and ease India back into the game, found it impossible to force the pace against the slow Kenyan attack, backed by electric fielding by the ring inside the circle.

It was Collins Obuya, the leg break bowler who had rattled Sri Lanka in the preliminary stage, who undermined Dravid's nerve. The first delivery he bowled in his spell would have done Shane Warne proud – using his high arm action to float the ball over the batsman's eyeline, Obuya landed the ball on driving length on off, drawing Dravid forward and beating him with dramatic turn and bounce.

A clearly rattled Dravid, who had contributed just 32 to the partnership off 73 deliveries, kept trying to work Obuya away, only to end up getting the leading edge to a leg break landing on his leg stump. Dravid was looking to flick to the leg side, but ended up putting the ball back down the track for an easy caught and bowled (108/4 in 29.3 overs).

At that stage, Kenya had made 102/2 – obviously, India still had a job to do. Yuvraj Singh came out and gave cause for alarm in the first three, four deliveries he faced of Obuya's: time and again, Yuvraj looked to force the ball and found himself cramped by bounce and turn.

 This phase produced a moment worth noting – Ganguly walked down to calm his younger partner down, then in the next over danced down the track to loft a six over the straight field, almost by way of signaling that he had things in control and needed Yuvraj to get his bearings and not do anything rash.

 Yuvraj responded, initially driving the ball very straight in the V for singles and letting his captain do the hard work; then, as he got a feel for the wicket and the bowling, opening out his shoulders in powerful drives on either side of the wicket, and thumping pulls that  kept finding the boundary despite the Kenyans putting two sweepers in an attempt to block him.

 At the other end, Ganguly paced himself perfectly. In this innings, he used the singles (35) and twos (8) to great effect to keep the board ticking over, and bided his time waiting for the loose delivery to capitalize on.

For a very brief period in the Indian innings, the ask went above the six an over mark – a situation rectified in one over as he first smashed a lofted off drive off Tony Suji, then climbed into Obuya with a lofted on drive and a short arm pull in swift succession.

At the other end Yuvraj began opening his shoulders, first pulling and square driving Maurice Odumbe, then blasting Obuya for successive fours. By the 40th over mark, India had regained control, with 174/4 on the board and both batsmen looking to cruise through what remained of the task.

Ganguly duly completed his 21st ODI century and his second of this World Cup; Yuvraj meanwhile maintained an uncanny record, putting up his 12th ODI fifty, 11 of which have come helped the team to wins.

The truest index of what the two achieved was their partnership figures – the unbeaten 5th wicket stand of 118 off 111 balls, which saw India cruise to victory in the 48th over, contained a contribution of 50 off 47 deliveries from Ganguly, and 58 off 64 from Yuvraj.

Kenya in the field showed a lot of spirit – and some fatal amateurishness. Thomas Odoyo and Tony Suji had both shown an ability to hold line and length, both had returned very decent figures, both had three overs apiece to go. With India needing over 6 an over to win, one or both of them would have seemed the appropriate bowlers to produce a few tight overs and increase the pressure further.

Instead, Kenya put all its eggs in the spin basket – and both Ganguly and Yuvraj are very good, aggressive players against the slower bowlers; they thrived, and shut the fielding side out of the game.

You wouldn't call this a fluent win, though in the end it was a comfortable one – the bowling was for the most part pedestrian, the fielding close to shambolic, the initial batting alarming.

In fact, if India has the ability to up its game when facing stronger sides, it also seems to have the ability to doze off against the weaker ones. To the credit of the side – on this occasion, led from the front by its captain – it woke from its slumber in time to prevent an upset.


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Prem Panicker