Vantage point

Thursday, February 27, 2003


That is a play on words which basically means "Nehra sank England". If you remember my blogpost after the win against Zimbabwe, I had raved about what a different bowler he is looking. Yesterday, when he came on first change after Zaheer and Srinath had tied the Englishmen up in knots, I said to a friend "If Nehra bowls even half as well here, as he did against Zimbabwe, we will win". He did not bowl half as well, but in fact thrice as well. The pace, though about 4 kmph slower than that day, was still enough to rattle the batsmen. The line and length was absolutely deadly, and his performance yesterday was reminiscent of Ashish nehra's idol, Wasim Akram.

Imagine that he was almost certain not to play after the ankle injury he sustained against Namibia. His ankle was swollen till the morning of the match, and it was only after a lot of hard work by Andrew Leipus, the physiotherapist, that Nehra could scrape through the fitness test that morning. Apparently, he was absolutely desperate to play because this was such a big match (and maybe there was a fear that Agarkar, who would be picked in his place would do well and Nehra would be benched subsequently??). Whatever the reason, he came out with an absolutely brilliant spell of bowling, one which I have no hesitation in declaring as the best ever ODI spell by any Indian bowler that I have seen in my life. He kept hitting the right length and landing it on the seam. Though there was very little swing, he just bowled a very penetrative line and earned all his wickets.

However in all this praise for Nehra, we are forgetting one of the most brilliant run outs ever. If you have seen the 1992 Inzamam dismissal by Jonty Rhodes, you can understand what I am talking about. Now replace Inzy with Nick Knight and Jonty with Kaif. Knight just pushed the ball gently and called for a cheeky single. As the ball rolled towards short cover, and Knight sprinted to the non-striker's end, Kaif pounced on the ball like a tiger puncing on its prey, took a dive towards the stump, and let the ball go while he was in mid air, aiming at the stumps. From where he threw, he had just one stump to aim at, but he struck wood nonetheless and effected what was definitely the best runout by an Indian in a long time.

India came out like angry tigers and their commitment was displayed in their fielding. they dove and stopped almost anything in their vicinity and looked as good as any fielding side. In fact the whole attitude is typified by an incident which everyone must have forgotten by now. When England were eight down, and the match was definitely in India's bag, one of the batsmen (I think it was Flintoff) hit an amazing shot which was racing towards the boundary. Kaif chased the ball till the last moment, dived straight ahead, and stopped the ball from going to the boundary. This aggression even at an easy stage is very much in contrast to the usual Indian tendency to relax when things are going their way.

The bowling won this match for India, just like against Zimbabwe.

The batting still is in relative disarray, though not as fragile as two weeks ago. Tendulkar and Sehwag came out blazing all guns. Caddick said in an interview 2 days back, "I am ready for Tendulkar!". Turns out he meant "ready", in the same way that my mom says "Dinner is ready for you". Whenever a bowler shoots his mouth off in the press about him, Tendulkar singles him out for special treatment. He took about 30 runs off Caddick's two overs, including a disdainfully pulled six which was sailing towards the South Africa-Zimbabwe border, but because of the wind, dropped some metres outside the stadium. Sachin looked it great form and looked set for another 150, but made an error of judgement and was caught at point, reminiscent of the way he used to be regularly dismissed half a decade ago.

After that the Indian batting floundered bigtime. Dinesh Mongia!!! What on earth is he doing in the team? And that too at 2 down!! His true place in the batting order is at 10 down. This is the third successive match now that he has come, played like a slowpoke and ruined India's runrate. The man lacks the will to take singles or the skill to hit boundaries against even half-good teams. He should be dropped and replaced by either Sanjay Bangar or the specialist wicketkeeper, Parthiv Patel. Because if the Indian seamers keep bowling as brilliantly as they have in the past two matches, a specialist keeper is a more sensible option.

Yuvraj and Dravid stepped up the rate (Dravid hitting his first six after god knows how many years!) towards the end and took the total to 250 odd. Kaif's form is a reason for worry and I hope he is "back" soon. Ganguly was playing reasonably well until a bloodrush made him throw it away.

All in all, the batting is just about 65% of its true potential right now, but since the bowling has been 110%, we are winning.

Next target, Pakistan. Going by current form, they should be just pushovers. But when it is India they are playing against, that too in a "do or die" situation, those guys can come up with some brilliant cricket. It will be a great match to watch. Shoaib does not worry me, it is Akram whom the Indians need to play cautiously. Sehwag has a tendency to play across the line to the kind of line and length that Akram bowls, and that will be an exciting contest to watch. In general McGrath and Akram have demostrated over the past few years that even if the Brett Lees and the Shoaib Akhtars are superfast, it is accuracy, variety and intelligence that makes you great bowlers.

This is certainly a fascinating World Cup. The attention now shifts to Pool B, where no single team can yet be sure of a place in the Super Six.

Man, what a time to be alive!!!