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India stumble after Uthappa onslaught
Prem Panicker | January 27, 2007 18:24 IST
Powered by Robin Uthappa's 70 off 41 balls India raced to 268, but failed to bat out the entire 50 overs in the third one-day international against West Indies in Chennai on Saturday.
After being put into bat by Brian Lara, the Karnataka batsman gave the hosts a rousing start. Despite well-compiled half-centuries from Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid India were dismissed in 48 overs; their old foe Dwayne Bravo returning with a four-wicket haul.
India have won the first two matches, taking an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the four-match series.
As Robin Uthappa went nuts against Dwayne Bravo in the 10th over of the Indian innings, a friend popped up on Gmail's talk feature to ask, where the hell did this kid come from?
Karnataka, would be the flip answer � but the question is really testimony to the shortness of public memory. It is less than a year ago � in April 2006, actually � that the youngster debuted with a crackling 86 off 96 against England that powered a chase of 289.
The key ingredients of the youngster's batting were on show there � what his innings of 70 off 41 balls here at the MAC Stadium in Chennai was serve up a reminder.
His style is unfussy; he opts to come onto the front foot even as the ball is being delivered, and then go back only if he absolutely has to.
From that hitting perch, he brings the bat down in very straight, clean hitting arcs and shows a marked preference for the V; always, it is the full face of the bat that meets the ball. As witness his wagon wheel here: 5 to third man, 7 to fine leg, two through point, nothing square on the on, 12 through the covers, 8 through midwicket, 15 through mid off and 21 through mid on (a total of 36 out of 70 in the V, an unusually high percentage.
His first two scoring shots were nervous: a tentatively flicked brace to fine leg, then a flashy drive outside off that put the ball in the air but wide of slips for a four to third man.
From then on, it was all confidence, timing and, when occasion called for it, brute power. The problem Uthappa poses for bowlers is his willingness to attack both lengths: when it is even remotely near the good length spot, he is there on the front foot, driving through the line and where necessary, on the up; when you pitch it short he blasts it square and when you bounce, as the Windies bowlers did twice to try and stem the flow, he flashes into the hook instinctively.
Uthappa first took to Taylor, slamming 24 runs off 18 deliveries; he then turned his attention to the quicker Powell (15/7), who was consistently hitting 142 and over on the speed gun: in the 8 th over a blazing drive on bended knee through cover point brought up India's 50; the next ball was straight driven for the four that brought up the 50 of the partnership off 35 balls (Uthappa contributed 40 off 25 against Suresh Raina's 7/13) and when Lara brought mid on very straight to block that shot, the next ball was driven even straighter. An over later, Uthappa picked Powell up from outside off and muscled the ball over long on for a six that brought up his 50 (33 balls, 8 fours, 1 six).
A desperate Brian Lara turned to Dwayne Bravo to try and rein in the scoring, and Uthappa went nuts. Two balls to read the bowler, then down on bended knee to blast one through extra cover; the predictable slower ball saw the batsman come forward to loft over the long off boundary; the fifth ball was push-driven, in a fashion favored by Tendulkar at his best, through extra cover and when an irritated Bravo bounced, Uthappa flashed into the hook and got four more to fine leg.
The end came in anti-climactic fashion: Lara brought on Chris Gayle for the 11th over, with the power play taken; Uthappa went onto the front foot and looked to loft the bowler back over his head, but saw the ball smear off the bat a bit, giving it elevation but no distance and Lendl Simmons, back-peddaling from mid off, held (70/41; 11 fours, two sixes).
A standing ovation from the capacity crowd greeted an innings that left the West Indies bowling rattled (as indicated, among other stats, by the 22 extras they gave away in the first dozen overs alone), gave Virender Sehwag a complex, and the selectors a definite headache.
By contrast, Gautam Gambhir was not his usual ebullient self. A few plays and misses toyed with his nerves; when Powell banged one in, the southpaw went onto his toes to crack square, but misread the bounce and top edged to Simmons at third man (0/6; 7/1).
If Suresh Raina's promotion to number three was likely an attempt to give the youngster some quality time in the middle in a bid to recapture lost form, the results were mixed. On the plus side, Raina seemed a lot more at ease around and outside his off stump than during his much-discussed slump; he was surer about his leaving and clinical with the forcing shots square when opportunity afforded.
On the downside, the confidence is still not fully back; the occasional well hit shot, especially on the up and in the V, was followed by long spells when he unerringly picked out fielders. He looked to have batted his way back into a semblance of form, but fell in tame fashion when, to a length ball outside off from Taylor, Raina mistimed a drive and put it in the air for Lara to hold well at cover (23/36; 126/3).
Rahul Dravid started, as he has in his new avtaar, like a scalded cat, whipping drives on either side of the wicket. At the other end, Tendulkar took his time to get his eye in, opting for singles off checked pushes till he had gotten a feel for the immaculate batting conditions.
Despite the loss of Uthappa and Raina during this spell, India kept up a decent run rate between overs 10-20, adding 56 and taking the score to 151/3 at the end of 20. It could have been far worse, but the Windies fielders came to the party with a string of superb saves that, during these ten overs alone, saved anywhere up to 20 runs.
The two batsmen settled into risk-free accumulation � and with the West Indies fully on the defensive using Gayle and Marlon Samuels to take the pace off the ball, a single per ball was there for the taking, so Tendulkar and Dravid took them without working up a sweat. India progressed to 183/3 after 25 ( 7.32 rpo) and 206/3 after 30 (6.86 rpo). The 200 came up in the 29th over; in the 32nd, both Tendulkar (50/54 with just two fours) and Dravid (50/56 with six fours) got to their half centuries.
Tendulkar, who had been let off in the 25th over when Dinesh Ramdhin missed a simple stumping off Gayle, had another life at 52 when he looked to chip Gayle over the infield; Brian Lara mistimed his jump and made a mess of an overhead catch he would have taken in his sleep any other day. A pushed single in that over brought up the 100 of the partnership (55/57 being Sachin's contribution, and 53/59 Dravid's).
Dravid, who had been hitting along the ground all along, went down on one knee to try and slog Gayle over the ropes in the 35th over, but didn't get hold of the shot well enough to beat Emrit, who judged it to a nicety and took it right on the fence (57/67; 232/4).
Two overs later, Tendulkar left. Again, the attempt was to clear the infield off Bravo; again, the batsman failed to get proper hold of the sort of shot he played to perfection in his pomp. The shot was hit a touch too soon, with the bat turning in his hand. Unlike Lara earlier, Runako Morton was right on the money here � sprinting to his left at mid on, Morton timed his jump to perfection to take a blinder (60/66; 237/5).
Tendulkar put much-needed runs against his name here, but yet again, failed to really impress. The batting conditions were the best we have seen in a long time; the attack was on its knees; the platform in place when he walked in was awesome in its proportions, and the situation cried out for a dominating innings, the kind that could really administer the coup de grace � which was not what we got. That the run rate, a monumental 9 per over when Uthappa fell and a healthy 7.32 at the 25 over mark, had fallen to 6.26 at his dismissal was testimony to an innings that was fine enough statistically, but below par in real worth.
The onus was on Yuvraj Singh, playing serious cricket for the first time since his freak injury during the Champions' Trophy and seemingly needing time to find his best touch, and local lad Dinesh Karthick to give India the sort of score batting first in these conditions demanded. India headed into the slog on 247/5 at the end of 40 � where the first 20 overs had produced 151 runs, the second 20 had yielded just 96.
Karthik in the 41st over slog-swept Samuels; the ball went up in the air and down the throat of Gayle on the midwicket boundary; the fielder got under it, got both hands wrapped around it, then dropped it like the hottest of potatoes.
An over later Yuvraj, who never looked even close to being in big match touch (the only competitive cricket he has had since his injury was a turn with an under-19 squad!), fell. He had never found the range, power and timing on his shots; an attempt to swing Bravo around merely produced a steepling top edge the bowler held with ease on the follow through (10/21; India 255/6).
The pressure got to Karthik as well � in the same over, he fished at one that Bravo slipped through the corridor quicker and fuller, got the edge and Ramdhin held with evident relief (8/17; 255/7). From 230/3 in the 34 th over, India had lost 4 wickets for the addition of just 25 runs inside the next 8 overs, and was clearly going to fall short of par score on a true track.
Next to go, Agarkar: Samuels kept him quiet for two deliveries on the stumps, the third was outside off and Agarkar flashed, looking to finesse a four to third man. Morton, this time at a very short third man, dived forward and to his right to snaffle another great catch (2/10; 259/8)
Without Uthappa facing him, Jerome Taylor came back, and felt confident enough to produce the fast bowler's one-two: a bouncer, then the fuller delivery. Ramesh Powar, intimidated by the former, stayed in his crease and wafted at the latter, managing an edge onto pad that the bowler comfortably held on the follow-through (5/13; 265/9).
Bravo rattled Sreesanth with a series of short deliveries around off; one fend too many found the bat handle through to slip, and India's innings folded for 268 � at least 70 short of what they should conceivably have got judging by the pitch, the bowling, and the almost unbelievable start.
For the Windies, who impressed with superb ground fielding but were let down by some inept catching, the quicks were yet again wayward. Belter or no, the captain would have expected his bowlers to bowl decent lines on one side of the wicket. He would have been disappointed, especially in Taylor and Powell who sprayed it around to too great a degree especially in the early overs, when the assault was on.
Chris Gayle, whose ten overs yielded 57 runs for two wickets, and Marlon Samuels, whose 1/41 in 10 was at least in part due to the slump, were the most impressive � superb returns on a pitch of this kind. It does need mentioning, though, that Dravid and Tendulkar accorded both spinners great respect, never really looking to put either under the hammer and seemingly happy to work them around for singles. Bravo, who went for 19 in his first over, took 4 for 20 in his next eight -- a good comeback against the lower half of the batting lineup.
On a larger note, the fact that India opted to experiment with its lineup is understandable: this series, and the one to follow against Sri Lanka, are intended to fine tune the team for the World Cup and you cannot do without exploring all available options.
What seemed a touch off, though, was the decision to give Sourav Ganguly a break (unless any injury niggles had a role in that call): the player has been out of international cricket for close on a year, he is now on a vein of prime form, and you would think time on the bench was not as valuable to his cause and the team's as time in the middle for him to add more runs, and confidence, to the bank.
Switching Gambhir out to give Uthappa a go would surely have been the more logical option?
West Indies in India 2007: The Complete Coverage
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