Vantage point

Friday, March 14, 2003

They are like an honest demolition squad of the Pune Municipal Corporation at work on JM Road. Just razing everything in sight, regardless of history or reputation. I am talking about the Indian pace trio - Javagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan.

Today they knocked over New Zealand with what can now be called consummate ease. Until now, it was Nehra or Srinath who had taken a bunch of wickets, with Zaheer providing tight support, taking 1 or 2 every match. Today he came to the party as well, amassing 4 wickets for 42 in his 8 overs spell. Highlights of his spell were the dismissals of Astle and Harris, both LBW, and both reminiscent of the way a certain Wasim Akram knocked people over. The ball pitching and straightening...ahh, vintage Wasim.....and now we can also call it vintage Zahir. There was also the McCullum wicket, when he was bowled through the gate, again, the ball pitching and straightening.

The match started with India winning the toss, and electing to field, a decision that surprised many on that sunny morning at Supersport Park, Centurion. I really doubt however if Ganguly expected more from this decision than a practice chase, since India has won most of its matches in this World Cup batting first and he would have liked to go into the final having experienced and weathered all possible predicaments. But just 3 balls after the match started, the Kiwi scorecard read 2 wickets for no runs, and the tone was set. There was really no resistance from the Kiwis, who according to some commentators are "best with their backs against the walls". With a scenario in which a defeat would lead to an almost certain exit from the tournament, their backs couldn't be any more walled. However what they showed today was no "dour determination". Flaming Fleming fretted, fumed, fumbled and fiddled to thirty before throwing his wicket away. Crafty Cairns cringed and cowed clumsily before he cut himself out of the tournament in a way that would make a Kamikaze pilot nod with approval. The rest weren't even expected to be half as good as these two, but ended up being twice as bad.

New Zealand were all out for 146, with Zaheer taking career best figures of 4/42 for the third time in his life.

India's reply started without the typical flourish. Sehwag went cheaply and Ganguly was bowled by a beautiful Shane Bond yorker. Tendulkar hit Tuffey for 3 successive poetic boundaries before he was unable to keep down what would have been the fourth and was caught at point. But those were all the wickets that fell. It seemed as if the pressure of the situation was felt only by the couch potatoes and armchair experts all over India. Dravid and Kaif, benefitting from a dropped catch each (so much for the spry Kiwi fielding), guided India to a comfortable victory.

The so called "brilliant" captaincy of Fleming was very evident by its absence. Inspite of defending such a paltry total, he sent the 2nd slip out even before India reached 50. The field settings were all wrong and it was obvious they had not cared to study Kaif's game at all. Just because the guy got out on a single digit score in every match in New Zealand does not mean he can not bat. The only unorthodox yet insipid move Fleming made was giving the ball to Craig "Look Mom I can bowl a bouncer" McMillan. I have no idea what that guy thinks he is but in his first over he bowled a pretty pathetic bouncer and then started sledging Kaif. Now Kaif is not your 20th century Indian cricketer who thinks the ideal way to respond to some lip from the bowler is to look away and pretend you didn't hear anything. He shot back some profanities of his own and gestured where he was about to dispatch Macca. This verbal duel continued for a few minutes and deliveries until the umpire decided he had had enough and warned both the players.

This cheap and futile trick of upsetting the Indian batsmen showed how clueless Fleming was feeling. This cluelessness persisted as Shane Bond came back for a fruitless second spell.

At 100/3 India needed 47 to win with more than 20 overs to spare and I left with my friends to have dinner at a restaurant. I came back and saw that we had won easily without losing another wicket.

Fleming and Bond notwithstanding, India shook and stirred the Kiwis out of the World Cup.