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Ganguly shines as India go one up

Last updated on: January 21, 2007 20:47 IST

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Man of the match Shivnaraine Chanderpaul's unbeaten 149 went in vain as India beat the West Indies by 14 runs in the first one-day international of the four-match series in Nagpur on Sunday

In a high-scoring match that saw a record 662 runs being scored -- the highest on Indian soil -- the West Indies, chasing 338 for victory, were in the hunt till the final over but some fine fielding thwarted them.

A superb save in the deep by Dinesh Karthick prevented a certain four and Raina's speed restricted Chanderpaul down to a single off the next ball, making it 17 needed off three deliveries and No 9 Jerome Taylor on strike.

Earlier, India were powered by a brilliant opening stand between Sourav Ganguly (98) and Gautam Gambhir (69) that laid the platform for the record total against the West Indies.

India innings

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.

West Indies innings

As turning points go, the one in the 6th over of the West Indies innings had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Shantakumaran Sreesanth in that over made a ball kick off just back of good length. Chris Gayle had gone back to the length, to try and drive on the up; the extra bounce caught the edge and flew true to slip – and Sachin Tendulkar made the most awful meal of it.

The West Indies openers had crawled to 21/0 in the first five overs, thanks largely to a great start by Zaheer Khan. Consistently hitting a length on the fuller side of good and bowling a tight line around off, Zaheer kept the openers from breaking loose, and had two very good shouts for LBW off the first three balls he bowled at Gayle.

By contrast, Sreesanth was a touch loose, experimenting too often with lengths in an attempt to break through, and getting two fours taken off his first two balls before he figured out that short=suicidal on this track.

Against that, he kept producing wicket-taking deliveries. In the 4th over, he managed surprising bounce off length to find the edge as Gayle slashed; Gautam Gambhir at deep fine leg failed to react in time, and let go a tough chance (Gayle 2/11 at the time, and Windies 13/0).

That let off, and the one by Tendulkar in the 6th over, played havoc with Sreesanth's focus; he followed up the spilt chance with a no ball; the next was flick-pulled to the backward square fence; the next ball saw Gayle step to leg and blast over mid off; a thumping cover drive and a whip over midwicket produced two more fours – and the floodgates were thrown wide open.

It didn't help that Agarkar, replacing Sreesanth after that over presumably to give the younger bowler time to get his bearings again, bowled his full quota of gimme balls. At the end of ten overs, Windies had raced to 69/0, clubbing 48 between overs 6-10 and finally getting on the right side of the run rate ( 6.9, against the requirement of 6.75).

India went further behind the eight ball in the 11 th.: first Ganguly, who was needed to pitch in as fifth bowler, pulled up seemingly with a hamstring and limped off the field; then Robin Uthappa, the substitute, spilt Shivnaraine Chanderpaul at slip – the toughest of the three chances that had gone down till then – off Harbhajan Singh, who had taken over from Zaheer Khan.

With Gayle (50 off 46) dismissive of the bowling and with the initial buzz in the field being dampened by the stream of spilt chances, Windies looked in a position to make an improbable chase possible. Harbhajan went back over the wicket, landed one on Gayle's leg stump and made it kick and turn enough to take the edge, and this time Rahul Dravid, the third slip tried in a matter of six overs, held clean and low (52/46; 80/1).

Harbhajan pulled it back. His first three overs had cost 10 runs for the wicket of Gayle; with the first ball of his fourth over, he pitched a doosra to perfection on middle, squaring Morton up and going through his defense to hit the top of leg stump (8/14; 102/2).

Agarkar finally got his bearings around this point, bowling his next two overs for two runs, including a maiden. At the end of 20, Windies were 113/2 (126/0 India) and the required rate had been driven back to over 7.

That gave Dravid just enough breathing space to take Agarkar (7-1-46-0) out of the attack and bring Sreesanth back. India cleared another little hurdle at the end of the 22nd over, when it got through its allocation of powerplays. The West Indies at that point was 129/2 scoring at 5.73 and, more to the point, the ask rate had been pushed to 7.64.

With Marlon Samuels visibly troubled by Sreesanth, and with Chanderpaul checking his headlong rush and seemingly settling down to play for the long haul, Dravid slipped in his fifth bowler, bringing Tendulkar on in the 25 th over (Windies 139/2 in 25; India were 144/1).

At the end of 30 overs, West Indies were 165/2 against India's 177/1 at that point of its innings. Chanderpaul and Samuels appeared to have settled down to pushing the singles around, keeping the board ticking and conserving wickets for a do or die assault at the death. Score-wise, there was nothing between the two teams; in terms of bowling resources, India were hampered by the absence of Ganguly, and Sreesanth too was off the field.

Somehow, though, logic seems to fly out the window when chasing a big total. A message was sent out from the dressing room; Samuels responded by trying to make something happen. The batsman stepped away to leg in an attempt to manufacture a shot off Zaheer Khan on the off, missed, and was bowled (40/60; Windies 175/3 in the 34 th over).

Brian Lara came out, survived a perilously close LBW shout against Zaheer and then played out a fascinating five deliveries from Tendulkar: a leg break, an off cutter, an off break, a top spinner, then a straight seam up delivery. Assorted all sorts didn't begin to describe it; they forced the batsman into five dot balls that pushed the ask rate above 10 (Windies 182/3 in 35).

Zaheer had bowled 8 overs (2 maidens, 34 runs, 1 wicket); Dravid chose to ret him and bring back Sreesanth, who had till shortly before been in the dressing room. By the time the bowler got over his stiffness, Chanderpaul had cracked him for a four and six on the on side.

Fed up with Tendulkar's teasing, Lara in the 37th hoisted Tendulkar out of the ground over long off, flicked two braces a fine, and finally gave the fifth bowler something to think about (Tendulkar had gone for 22 in six; his 7 th cost 14 on its own) as West Indies brought up its 200.

At the other end, Harbhajan Singh came on and Lara came dancing down the track, to hoist the bowler right out of the stadium over long off in an amazing strike; they changed the ball and Lara changed the angle, square driving four more.

The partnership produced 53 off 33 and then got better; at the end of 40 overs, West Indies were 239/3 (India 225/3) and from that point, needed exactly 100 runs in 10 overs.

In the 41st over, Tendulkar used smarts to take out Brian Lara. The bowler went back to over the wicket to change the angle; Lara waltzed down a touch too early, telegraphing his intent and the bowler responded by firing the ball wide enough down the off side to beat the flailing bat. Dhoni collected and whipped off the bails to end a threatening innings on 31/223; Windies 241/4.

In the next over, Chanderpaul moved to his 100 (108 balls); more to the point of the match, Harbhajan bowled himself out (2/60 in 10). An over later, Tendulkar was done too; two long hops, both thumped by Dwayne Bravo for fours, spoilt an otherwise impressive spell (1/59 in 10). On balance, you had to say that Samuels and Chanderpaul missed a bet: had they been more proactive against the part-timer in his first six overs, Dravid would have been left with no bowling options to turn to.

The game turned, for one final time, in the 44th. Zaheer angled one across the right hander, Bravo stayed back and tried to upper cut it to third man but managed only the edge to Dhoni as the ball surprised him with a bit of extra bounce (17/12; 264/5).

Dwayne Smith has a reputation for being a bit of a hitter, but the quick loss of Lara and Bravo had pushed the ask out of the park; Smith tried to make something of a late-swinging yorker from Agarkar in the 45 th, played all over it and lost middle stump (269/6).

At the 45 over mark, Windies were 275/6 (against 267/3 India); this was where Dhoni and Dravid had kicked their assault into high gear but the chasing side didn't have the luxury of wickets in hand to attempt a similar assault.

The result, at this point, was a foregone conclusion; the only point of conjecture was how many runs would separate the two teams.

Predictably, India lost the plot again. This time, Sreesanth helped make the game interesting by dropping a dolly off Chanderpaul, off the bowling of Agarkar, in the 47th over. The batsman promptly cashed in, first cracking too fours off Agarkar in that over, then taking Sreesanth for three successive fours at the start of the 48th.

Sreesanth banged one in, Dinesh Ramdhin went for the hook but managed only to sky the ball for Gautam Gambhir to run around and hold (6/6; 304/7).

Agarkar came on in the 49th, bowled short, and was promptly whacked over midwicket by Chanderpaul. The Windies went into the 50 th over needed 20. The first ball produced a wicket – Chanderpaul smacked Sreesanth back down the track, the bowler fielded, whirled, realized Ian Bradshaw had backed up too far, and ran back to take off the bails (317/8).

A superb save in the deep by Dinesh Karthick saved a certain four; Raina's speed kept Chanderpaul down to a single off the next ball and with 17 needed off 3 and Jerome Taylor on strike, it was pretty much over.

India scrambled the win by a wafer-thin margin of 14 runs (incidentally, justifying the feeling, at the halfway stage, that India hadn't maximized its opportunity with the bat).

Chanderpaul's heroics -- 149 not out off 135 deliveries -- had kept his team in the hunt throughout; if Samuels had given him company for just a while longer and the Windies had kept wickets in hand for the late blast, who knows – it was the Windies' game for the winning.

The win, narrow as it was, helped India halt its slide; it also reversed recent trends between the two sides, which have seen India at the receiving end in six of their last eight encounters. As such, it merits a modicum of celebration.

The result, however, doesn't disguise a few problems: the catching was shoddy (Sreesanth rounded it off by dropping a dolly, at deep midwicket, off Chanderpaul, in the 47 th, off Agarkar); despite all that practice, the fielders didn't manage to hit the stumps even once (at least 3 clear run out chances were wasted thanks to this factor, including one in the penultimate over with Chanderpaul half the length of the pitch away from safety); the two support seamers haven't given the impeccable Zaheer Khan the support he needed.

But the single biggest problem India needs to crack is its balance: thanks to an outsize score, it got away with being a bowler short. But as the injury to Ganguly underlines, shows, going in with only four bowlers and two part-timers is not a 'plan'; it is more a recipe for disaster, especially in a tighter game.

It will be interesting to see what changes the side makes for the second ODI -- a batsman short, a bowler long readily suggests itself.

Prem Panicker