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Ganguly hoists India to record score
Prem Panicker | January 21, 2007 13:07 IST
It is tempting, when a team has lost 13 of its last 17 ODIs beginning with the second ODI in the away series against the West Indies May 21, 2006 , to look at a score card reading 338/3, and gush.
Bear in mind, though, that this is the first of 8 ODIs the team has to get its personnel, balance and game plan right before the World Cup, and you figure it is the negatives that need highlighting -- because it is on erasing the negatives that the team will need to focus.
From that point of view, what the spell between overs 20-30 showed was that the team is yet to develop a ruthless cruelty as part of its mental makeup.
India had made 126/0 at the end of 20, and the bowling was at its mercy. The two openers were set; India had opted to go into the match with batting all the way down to number seven, and Lara had been forced to postpone a power play because runs were leaking off both pace and spin.
Yet, the 10-over phase produced a mere 51 runs for the loss of Gautam Gambhir's wicket; that same phase also allowed Lara to squeeze through the third power play that was hanging over his head like the proverbial sword.
A more ruthless team would have, during this phase, begun to put the boot in; India, however, opted to play the more conventional game, pushing the ball around the park, playing out an inordinate number of dot balls and relying on the occasional fours and a well hit six by Ganguly to keep the board ticking.
The start -- with Brian Lara winning the toss but opting to insert, hoping for some early morning advantage -- promised much, much more. India teamed two left-handers, leaving Robin Uthappa on the bench � and Gautam Gambhir took off like a scalded cat, starting with a cover drive he liked so much he held the pose for an awfully long time, then tonking Jerome Taylor to the tune of 16 runs in the second over of the innings.
At the other end, Sourav Ganguly, making his comeback to the ODI side, opted to take a little longer to suss out the conditions and settle back in. Once he got his eye in, the former captain played with the sort of freedom and invention that characterizes his best essays in the shorter game.
The contrasting styles of the two batsmen served to complement each other while putting enormous pressure on the bowlers. Gambhir used the depth of the crease to perfection, stepping onto the front foot or rocking right back to force the ball, especially on the off side.
Ganguly initially played on similar lines, but once he figured out that the pitch was on the slower side, that the ball wouldn't come onto bat too fluidly, and that sudden bounce wouldn't negate his ploy, he took to skipping down the track, occasionally in straight lines, more often running around the ball, making room to free his arms and blast the ball either straight, or out on the on side.
The first sign of that intent was evident in the first ball of the 9th over, when Ganguly skipped down to Ian Bradshaw to whip on the up, over midwicket, for the four that brought up India's 52 off just 50 deliveries.
From then on, Ganguly's game was cat to the Windies' mouse: rattled by a batsman dancing down that early, the keeper came up, Bradshaw tried the fuller length and Ganguly waited back in his crease for that one, transferring weight back to get under the ball and hoist over the bowler's head for the first six of the innings.
With both batsmen feeling their oats, the first ten overs produced 65 runs; Lara opted to take the first of his two power plays and the openers punished him, stepping up the intensity of their attack and forcing Lara to rotate his bowlers in near desperation.
The boundaries flowed off both bats, Ganguly increasingly began finding the range and timing on his lofted shots, and Lara was forced to push his fielders as deep as he could; Ganguly and Gambhir immediately crashed in by using the checked pushes to pick singles, and the odd two, at will.
Two trademark forays down the pitch by Ganguly, off Daren Powell in the 15th over, brought up India's 100 off just 90 balls, and visions were being raised of a score in excess of 350.
The two openers brought up their individual 50s immediately after; Ganguly getting to his 61st ODI fifty in 54 balls; an over later, Gambhir pushed a single to mark his second ODI 50 off 49 balls.
Inexplicably, the two eased off a bit around this point. Where they were scoring at well over 6 an over, the 16-20 over phase produced just a touch over 5 an over (26 runs).
Lara did spread his field intelligently, looking to make singles difficult, but he was helped by two batsmen who, while still finding boundaries at will, opted to ease off just a touch.
That mindset carried into the next phase as well, and Gambhir paid a price. Having batted himself into a bit of a lull (after getting to his 50 at a touch better than a run a ball his next 19 runs took 26 balls), he tried to pick the pace up again, rocking back to cut Chris Gayle but managing only to slap it straight to Marlon Samuels at short third man (69/76; India 144/1 in 24.4).
The partnership provided the perfect platform: the two batsmen had, in their respective styles, destroyed the lines and lengths of the West Indies bowlers; the situation was ripe for the batsmen who followed to put the boot in.
That in fact seemed to be the team's mindset, with Sachin Tendulkar walking in ahead of Rahul Dravid. The newly minted vice captain did play a few interesting shots, whipping off his pads through the arc between fine leg and square leg, opening the bat face to run the ball to third man, and playing a couple of crisp drives � but any reasonable read would be that Tendulkar is nowhere close, as on date, to his best.
A trademark of Tendulkar at his best is when he comes onto the front foot to a ball just back of good length, leans back to get under it and straight arms it over the bowler's head or over mid on. He tried one such shot here, lost a few years of his life as he watched it marginally clear mid-on's fingers, and opted for discretion over valor, content mostly to work singles around.
Chris Gayle did for him with a fuller length delivery that Tendulkar tried to push on the on; the length defeated the shot, hit the batsman just above his boot and umpire Billy Bowden had no problem with the appeal (31/38; 214/2.)
Out walked Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but the focus was on Sourav Ganguly, batting with wonderful fluency and looking good for the century that would have lifted his comeback into the realm of fairytale.
Ironically, the most remarkable facet of his innings today proved to be his ultimate downfall. Through his 109-ball knock, Ganguly had played in a fashion approaching his pomp, with immaculate footwork, impressive timing and, overall, that air of unchallenged authority he wears when he is in prime touch.
Most noticeable, though, was his willingness -- eagerness, even -- to soften his hands and work tight singles to roll the strike over while keeping the run rate up; even when he began cramping around the 36 th over, he continued scampering between wickets with the vim of someone much younger.
A brilliant piece of fielding ended his innings. In the 39th over, Ganguly again softened his push, and played Gayle off his pads onto the on side and taking off for the single. Dawyne Smith -- who was the sole Windies fielder to impress on a day when the visitors were unusually sloppy -- raced around from a backward square position, picked up and threw down the stumps in a fluid motion, to catch Ganguly a foot short of his ground, and two runs short of his century (98/109; 219/3).
Ganguly winced in disappointment and began walking off; but the smiles came back in a hurry as a capacity crowd stood to cheer him back into the hut.
Dhoni and Rahul Dravid headed into the slog overs with India 225/3 at the end of 40; any reasonable estimate based on the start, the wicket, and the momentum the batting side had attained would put that score at about 30 runs below where it needed to be.
Gayle gave just 4 in the 41st, but in the 43rd Dhoni took him on, hoisting him into the media box behind the bowler's head before Dravid with a very delicate reverse sweep added to the toll (13 runs); Lara was forced to switch him out and bring back Bradshaw.
With Smith going for 8 runs in the 42nd and 44th, India made 42 runs off the overs 41-45, moving to 267/3; heading into the business end, the key for India was how they played Dwayne Bravo, the end-overs specialist who would be bowling 46, 48 and 50.
The 46th over (5 runs) was typical Bravo: a stream of deliveries of varying speeds, all right in the block hole giving the batsmen no room to free their arms; the only scoring option was the blocked single.
Taylor, in the 47th , stuck with the fuller length and seemed in control till he went around the wicket to Dhoni � the batsman promptly worked the angle, using the pick-up to work an enormous six before Dravid went on his knee to square drive an improbable six over point; the two took 17 off the over and Bravo's effort was nullified.
Dravid in fact played an atypical knock, opening his shoulders to consistently hit up and over (there's been some talk in the media of the Indians, during the prep camp, being made to hit hard and through the line) -- his second six, over long off, brought up India's 300 in the 48 th, and Dhoni in the same over moved his front foot out of the way, made room and cracked Bravo over wide midwicket for another six (19 runs).
Perhaps the most remarkable shot of the innings was off the first ball of the 49th -- a low, swinging Yorker that Dhoni went down on one knee, converted into a full toss and used the toe of his bat to ramp over the midwicket boundary (the fifth six inside the last 10 balls). The over brought up the 100 partnership (62 balls; Dhoni 69/30; Dravid 42/29).
India ended on 338, taking 113 off the last ten overs and 71 in the last five overs. The Dhoni-Dravid pairing, which realized 119 off 71 balls, gave the innings the beef it had threatened to lose in the middle overs; Dhoni ended with 62/42 (3 fours, four sixes) and Dravid with 54/35 (four fours, three sixes).
For the West Indies , there were very few positives: the bowlers couldn't hit optimal lines, the fielding was ordinary with the occasional lapse into the shambolic that cost the team at least two clear run outs.
338 -- India 's highest one-day score against the West Indies -- is not exactly un-gettable on this wicket, with true bounce and a tendency to play on the slower side; India , what is more, has to squeeze out at least ten overs from Tendulkar and Ganguly. But at the halfway mark, the force is with the home team -- the Windies, in a bit of a slump after the Pak tour, will need to play a lifetime-knock to get there.
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