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Ganguly propels India into final

By Prem Panicker
March 21, 2003 02:45 IST
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On the eve of the second semifinal in Durban, Sourav Ganguly was asked whether he felt any qualms about playing Kenya. Why? the Indian captain enquired.

Because, he was reminded, Kenya has beaten India twice in ODIs, because Kenya proved competitive against the big teams through this tournament, because Kenya has actually defeated two Test teams in this competition, three if you include Bangladesh.

By way of reply, Ganguly pointed to the Super Six encounter between the two sides. 'We bowled rather badly, dropped six catches, and we still beat them by six wickets,' Ganguly said -- indicating, with his response, that he anticipated few if any problems.

The only problem Ganguly and his team actually faced came early in the second innings, when around the 15 over mark, a severe electrical storm lit up the skies around Durban. Ganguly, who till that point had been using his seamers to slice through the Kenyan batting, promptly tossed the ball to Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh.

For the next ten overs, he stationed himself at slip, one eye on the Duckworth Lewis chart he kept pulling out of his pocket after every other ball, the other eye on the skies; he yelled 'Jaldi, jaldi' often enough and loud enough to put himself at severe risk of laryngitis.

The bowlers raced through their overs and when, at the end of 25 overs, the scoreboard read 83/5 Kenya, the Indians visibly relaxed, confident that from that point on, neither rain, nor the vagaries of the Duckworth Lewis system, could stop their progress to the finals.

The rest of the match, before and after that brief period of tension, was pure routine to an Indian team that seems to have developed an almost Australian belief in their invincibility.

Going in with an unchanged lineup, Ganguly won the toss -- and couldn't check a broad grin as he opted for first strike. Much debate, ahead of the game, had centered on the risks of batting second in Durban under lights; the thunderstorms that flooded the ground on the eve of the match added an unwanted dimension to the game and, by winning the toss, India ensured that a couple of major worries were laid to rest.

The track was slow and sluggish, the outfield wet and inclined to halt the progress of the ball. The Kenyan attack was just the kind that could use such conditions, not to blast batting lineups out but to hold a maddening line and length and make run-scoring a tortuous process.

Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, finding that the ball wasn't coming on to the bat, concentrated on batting through the early overs.

From the way they batted, it was apparent that the opening pair had decided that this was not a wicket -- nor bowling --- to drive on, or against. Thus, both were content to work the ball around against the seamers and, where singles couldn't be scored, settling for dot balls.

Sehwag uncorked a couple of superb cover drives, Tendulkar responded with a  couple of fierce pulls, but overall it was batting in a controlled second gear, as the progression of 27/0 after five overs, 43/0 after ten and 56/0 after 15 indicates. (At that point, Sehwag had made 27 off 46 and Tendulkar, 26 off 45; the only yardstick of note was that Tendulkar had in the seventh over gone past 600 runs in this Cup).

The wicket finally fell in the 19th over as Sehwag, who batted with a patience and circumspection his best friends would not have accused him of possessing, finally aimed a heave at Peter Ongondo, looking to cart him over wide midwicket. The factor the openers had guarded against all that while -- the ball not coming on to the bat -- kicked in to defeat the shot and find the leading edge, and Maurice Odumbe at cover turned his back on the batsman and made a difficult steepling catch look easy.

That brought Ganguly and Tendulkar together -- and after a brief spell of working the ball around for singles, Ganguly began signaling his intentions to get a move on with things. It was an interesting period of play, with the Indian skipper repeatedly going down the track and the Kenyan bowlers as consistently dragging the ball wide or short to defeat the intention.

The floodgates opened in the 26th over, when Ganguly came down the track to Steve Tikolo to waft him, with characteristic ease, over long off for the first of his five sixes. The 29th over brought more mayhem -- Collins Obuya, who had through this tournament impressed with his leg spin, found himself bowling to a batsman who thrives on turn. Twice in the over, Ganguly went down the track, making room to get under the ball and cart it over the wide midwicket boundary; on the second occasion the ball went missing and had to be replaced.

Those three big hits were the exception, however, at that point -- after 30 overs, India had a modest 127/1 on the board, that innings comprising 115 dot balls, 40 singles, 12 twos, two threes, nine fours and the three sixes.

From then on, there was an obvious intent to accelerate, yet the Kenyan slower bowlers performed prodigiously to keep two batsmen of this caliber from getting the bit between their teeth -- runs continued to be scored mostly through singles and twos, and just the occasional four. India went to 158/1 in the 35th over, adding 31 runs in a five over period without a single big hit.

The 38th over saw Ganguly bring up his individual 50 (70 deliveries), and also the 101 of the partnership off 113 deliveries. The same over also saw Tendulkar aim a savage pull at a Tikolo delivery, hitting very flat and wide of midwicket to find David Obuya, standing tall on the line, take the powerful hit overhead -- again, a Kenyan fielder had made a tough chance look very simple.

India were on a comfortable 188/2 after 40 overs -- and at that point, 51 deliveries had gone by without a single boundary hit; an indication both of the tightness with which the Kenyans bowled and fielded, and the fluency with which the Indian batsmen worked the ball around for singles and twos -- a new-found facet of their batting where, in earlier years, the batting has come in for much critical comment for tending to try and score predominantly through boundaries.

From that point on, the Indians upped the tempo even further. Ganguly was the pivot of the innings, constantly looking for the big hits and putting enormous pressure on the Kenyan bowlers while first Mohammad Kaif, then Yuvraj Singh, looked to bat around him. In the 44th over, Ganguly crossed the 400-mark for this Cup and installed himself firmly in the number two position; at the end of 45 overs India had made 221/2. The next over, from Tikolo, was greeted with another huge six, this time over long on, followed by a fiercely driven four through extra cover.

More mayhem was in store in the 49th over as Ganguly, who by then had decimated the spinners, turned his attention on Martin Suji. Suji, the quickest of the Kenyan bowlers, had come on to the bat a lot more than the likes of Thomas Odoyo and Ongondo -- this made it almost inevitable that he would be singled out for tap.

The first ball of the 49th over was taken on the full and slapped by Ganguly over long on for a six to bring up his third century of the Cup, equaling the record of Mark Waugh, a ball later, Yuvraj came down the track to convert a half volley and slam a six in the same region, then finished up the over with a four.

Thomas Odoyo bowled a superb last over, keeping the run-scoring down to just five runs, for the wicket of Yuvraj -- but by then, India had added 82 runs off the last ten overs to progress to a commanding 270/4 in the allotted overs, Ganguly finishing unbeaten on 111 off 114, with five fours and five sixes.

It is the fours and sixes that will get attention -- but what really deserves complimentary notice in that knock of 114 is its underpinning: 54 dot balls, 40 singles, 9 twos, 1 three or, in other words, a total of 61 runs without boundaries in a knock of 111, and a very high proportion of scoring shots to dot balls.

That Ganguly played in that fashion underlines both the fact that this was not a wicket for blasting away on, and also how much he (as in fact the whole team) have changed in the attitude to the single as a scoring weapon.

A successful Kenyan chase seemed improbable -- the real question was whether the Indian bowlers would be on song or, as in the earlier encounter between the two teams, go off the boil a bit.

That question was answered inside the first three overs as Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath began with a fiery spell. Kennedy Obuya, who against Australia had been hit a painful blow on the elbow by Brett Lee, was hit pretty much everywhere else today; a very well directed bouncer from Zaheer knocked him on the temple, another hit his forearm, Srinath rapped him in the groin and ribs -- Obuya found himself in the wars.

At the other end, Ravindu Shah looked comfortable against lifting deliveries, so Khan altered his length and sought the LBW. Twice, he was turned down by umpire Darrell Harper, the third time he got his man with a yorker length delivery that pushed Shah back with sheer pace and thudded low into his pads in front of leg and middle.

For some reason, Ongondo came out as pinch hitter. The only explanation that suggests itself is that Kenya figured they had a chance to make the par score required around the 25 over mark, and hope for rain to be their ally.

That hope was knocked over in Ashish Nehra's first over. A bouncer went wide down the leg side; the bowler's first legitimate delivery was another very well directed bouncer on middle and leg that cramped the batsman's attempt to pull, found the high part of the bat and lobbed gently to Zaheer at mid on.

Kennedy Obuya's own tortured stay at the wicket ended when Srinath, who had grimaced time and again as his deliveries proved too good to find the outer edge, finally homed in on the target -- a fuller length ball brought the batsman forward, the away movement was just enough to take that outer edge through to Rahul Dravid behind the stumps.

Thomas Odoyo went in quick time -- another Nehra lifter off just short of length forced the reflexive, almost defensive, pull; the ball climbed at pace to force the mishit, and Sehwag running in off the line at fine leg took the steepling catch with ease.

At 36/4 in 14.3 overs, the match as a contest was finished. Ganguly, with an eye on the D/L chart and the other on the electrical storm playing out against the dark skies, got his spinners on to rush through a few overs to ensure that the last loophole available to the Kenyans was well and truly blocked.

The period produced some amusement -- Harbhajan Singh found so much purchase on this track that the ball began turning square, from outside the off to outside leg; time and again the batsman and keeper were defeated by the dramatically turning deliveries. It was too good a performance against a team of this caliber -- it takes better batsmen to get out to such deliveries.

The 19th over produced another wicket as Yuvraj watched Maurice Odumbe play a beautiful inside out drive for six, a replica of the seven fours he had hit against Grant Flower in the Super Sixes. The bowler sent the next one up, giving it more air -- Odumbe bit the bait, went for the shot, and holed out to long off.

Once the 25 over mark was completed, the Indians ambled through the rest of the Kenyan innings, bowling at half throttle and yet proving too good for the batting side. Tikolo alone provided some resistance; assisted by some luck as umpire Harper turned down a clear LBW against him off Tendulkar.

Not that it mattered -- the Indian outfit, very relaxed in the middle, shut the doors down one by one and Zaheer with a beautifully directed yorker from around the wicket took out the last wicket, of Martin Suji, to seal the 91 run win and ensure that Kenya, that had batted through 50 overs against the Australians, did not repeat that performance here.

It was a comprehensive performance, with bat and ball; and in the mechanics of the win there was all the evidence you wanted that the team is riding a confidence wave and feeling good about its own abilities, both with bat and ball.

Kenya's dream run ended with a rude wake up call; meanwhile, India moved into the final showdown against Australia that has looked inevitable from the halfway stage of this tournament.

The rains kept away -- and that, too, helped the team cause; had the day's play been called off, India would have had to do it all over again tomorrow, and that would have left it with just 24 hours to recover before the final.

One minor worry exists -- Dravid, diving to his left to pull in a wayward delivery from Srinath down the leg side, appeared to have hurt a finger on his left hand. From that point on, he wisely refrained from trying too hard (as the byes and wides will indicate).

In fact, as you watched him wringing his hand each time he stopped a ball with his left, the pain was evident and the question you found yourself asking was, with the game well in control, why didn't he go off rather than aggravate the injury further?

On the plus side, he now has two days to get back to full fitness ahead of the big game.



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Prem Panicker