Cricket Find/Feedback/Site Index
March 12, 2000


Indian Safari
send this story to a friend

Ganguly ton takes India to 2-0

Prem Panicker

All it takes, Saurav Ganguly said on taking over as captain, is just one win.

He's now got two, and if anything, this was a more all round performance than the previous one, with the Indian bowlers bundling South Africa out for 199 to set up a win that Ganguly nailed down with a man of the match winning unbeaten hundred.

Winning, they all say, is a habit just like losing is. And nothing underlines the point as much as the attitude of the team in the field today. They all seemed sharp and focussed, sure of themselves. Remember, they had got there after a long train ride from Cochin while the South Africans flew in by chartered jet -- the sort of thing that, if the team was losing, would have weighed on the morale (you got to wonder, though, just why the BCCI failed to spend the couple of lakhs it would have taken to hire a plane to fly the Indian team in -- they are making over a crore per ODI, surely chartering a plane wouldn't bankrupt the board?). Here, though, they shrugged it off and just focussed on what they had to do.

But for me the lasting memory was of the toss. Hansie Cronje won it, on an obviously overprepared track, and said, "I'll bowl". He repeated it, then corrected himself and said, "I mean, I'll bat".

Makes you wonder if the changed decision is weighing on his mind, as he finds himself 2-0 in a five Test series with the onerous job of winning three on the trot now if he wants to take the series, against an Indian team looking increasingly buoyant and sure of itself.

The pitch at the Keenan Stadium in Jamshedpur was not exactly the kind you want to see. It was overdone, baked hard, and began crumbling early. Batting first thus was a good option, given you could never be sure what it would do as the day wore on.

India got itself into the game as early as the first over. Agarkar found swing as early as the first ball, bowled two on line of middle and leg, straightened his line and bowled the third just around off. Gary Kirsten, who had been looking to go to leg, played all around a ball as he tried yet again to play to the on side, and ended up getting his furniture disarrayed.

South Africa would have been in more trouble had Jadeja got his fielding act right. With the score at 14/1, Gibbs and Kallis were engaged in a yes-no situation, Jadeja got to the ball with Gibbs stranded halfway down the track running in from the non-striker's end, but a wild throw to the keeper let the batsman off the hook.

At the other end, Kumaran was getting equal amounts of swing, but inexperience saw the ball going all over the place, the bowler failing to keep the line right and ending up getting taken for 18 in his first three overs. Agarkar, however, more than compensated, bowling a very full length, keeping the line around off and posing problems for the batsmen. Equally interesting was that he never once looked to pitch short, a failing seen often in recent times, but kept the length right up and varied his pace very well -- a slower ball getting the second wicket, as Kallis was lured into a drive on the off, misread the slower leg cutter and edged behind for Dighe to hold.

Ganguly got his bowling changes spot on. Joshi was brought in to give Kumaran a break, and immediately, with an attacking field, Joshi hit the right line and got turn and bounce off the track. Joshi's story is a bit of an eyeopener -- Sachin Tendulkar during the home series against New Zealand had expressed lack of confidence in the bowler. Generally, if you know your captain is unhappy with you, you tend to lose the plot with the ball, and that seemed to be happening with the left arm spinner. Here, with Ganguly giving him three round the bat, he hit his length and line right off, and in the overall analysis, you have to say that his bowling turned the game India's way, as he kept chipping out the wickets and and never letting South Africa get away to a good total.

Wicket number three in fact was a tribute to good captaincy. Joshi was bowling to Gibbs and giving him a few problems. At one point, we heard Ganguly yelling from the slips, in Hindi, "Bowl quick, don't give him time to settle." Joshi promptly hustled Gibbs with a ball bowled flat and quick, fielded on the follow through, raced back to his mark, came in quick and bowled a looping, flighted ball, the batsman seemed a bit unsure, unsettled, looked to steer to the off side, managed only to get a nick and Dighe, who after his Kochi outing was having a very good day with the gloves, stayed low to hold a good catch.

With Klusener coming out ahead of Cronje, in an obvious ploy to disrupt Joshi's line and length, Ganguly again made the right change, bringing on Sachin Tendulkar to bowl his off breaks to the left hander -- and the ploy again worked, with Tendulkar in the first over of what turned into a tight, pressure-building spell, made one turn away from line of off, Klusener pushed at it, got the edge and again, Dighe held well.

Niky Boje and Hansie Cronje, batting sensibly and focussing on working the singles and batting South Africa back out of the hole, put on a partnership that was looking very good when bad thinking produced the next wicket. Boje, for a couple of overs before his dismissal, seemed fidgety, wanting to get the board moving faster. With the ball not quite coming on properly, attempts to force the pace were laced with risk, and Boje took that one risk too many when Kumaran, brought back for a second spell, bowled a slower one outside off, Boje stepped to leg to make room and slashed, and Dighe went low to hold the edge as it was dying on him.

At the other end, Hansie Cronje was playing a brilliant innings. The focus was entirely on the singles, on strike rotation, on ensuring that runs kept coming. Every now and again, he would either come down the track and lift judiciously, or kneel and sweep through the onside, to give the bowlers something to think about. At the post match media briefing, Cronje identified the moment South Africa lost as the moment he lost his head and went for a needless big hit, just as the innings was heading into the slog. At the time, the South African captain was set, and looking good to guide the innings through the final phase. Instead, he essayed a wide charge, head high, looking to lift Joshi over the top, the bowler saw him coming and angled the ball a touch wide, Cronje got it on the low part of the bat and Robin, on the line at long on, had an easy take.

The Joshi road show continued with another big one immediately after, when Shaun Pollock came up with some bad shot selection, stepping to leg to a ball floated up on leg and middle, looking to guide to on and playing inside the line of the turning ball to be bowled.

Ganguly, who had till that point done his bit with his captaincy, now chipped in with a great catch. Crookes shaped to push Joshi against the turn to the leg side, lunging far forward to play the shot, losing his balance and getting the leading edge. The looping catch saw Ganguly at extra cover race in and dive forward headlong to hold a beauty.

Strydom keeps getting picked as a batsman, and every time he is in the side, he gets pushed as low down the order as it is possible for him to get. That strikes you as a bit strange -- and a sign that the Proteas really don't have much confidence in his batting, which in turn begs the question somewhat, of what he is doing in the side. Here, he remained rooted in his crease, looked to run a flipper down to third man, missed and got struck on the pad. When the incident happened, I remember my initial reaction was, 'that's out' -- the strike on the inside of the pad seemed on line with off. Replays, however, indicate that the ball could have been missing off stump, which means Strydom could have been a touch unlucky on that one.

India as usual were a touch slow on the bowling front and given that they have been warned about this by the match referee, could have been in for a stiff fine had they overshot the time limit yet again. Ajit Agarkar, however, ensured against that when he bowled a well disguised slower ball that Elworthy pushed back to the bowler in a most obliging fashion, to have SA all out inside the distance.

It is hard to think of any point in the innings when the Indians put a foot wrong. Kumaran's first spell was probably one instance, when he went for 18 off three, but he came back nicely with a tight second spell that prised out Boje in the middle of a reviving partnership. Kumble seemed a touch uncomfortable bowling to left handers, but generally kept things steady and with Tendulkar chipping in with a good tight spell as well (shades of Dravid at Kochi), Agarkar bowling good spells each time he was called upon and Joshi performing prodigies, the Indians turned in a good all round effort.

The best indicator of the bowling side's effort lies in the South African progress sheet: 16/1 in 5, 48/2 in 10, 67/3 in 15 and 88/4 in 20 meant that one wicket had gone in each of the five over spans, the Proteas thus finding themselves unable to put together a partnership of any duration. Cronje and Boje then steadied things somewhat, taking it to 135/4 after 30 overs, but from then on, it all went rapidly downhill. 159/5 in 35, 180/6 in 40, 189/9 in 45 meant that the Proteas had played both the early, and the end, overs badly, and ended up with at least 50 shy of a good, defensible total.

India, chasing on a track where in five previous outings they haven't won a single game yet, opened with Tendulkar and Ganguly. The latter, right from ball one, seemed determined to hang in there, while Tendulkar seemed equally determined to take the attack to the opposition. I wonder -- is Sachin trying to hit his way out of the mental trough he had slipped into, and get back in form? The way he batted suggested such a mindset, as he quickly knocked Elworthy out of the attack. He then decided to go after Pollock, went dancing down the track and smashed one wide of midwicket, then to the next ball went down the track again looking to go over long on and paid a price for that impetuosity, the ball being angled wide, hitting the bat on the low part and ballooning high for Cronje, at mid off, to run back 20 yards and make a difficult catch look ridiculously easy.

The Indians promoted Joshi to number three. Had it worked, Ganguly's captaincy would have been applauded -- the idea was obviously to get someone to come up with a few big hits while the field restrictions were on, and thus bring an easy target down even further. The ploy, though, failed as Joshi, looking to play Crookes against the turn, took one on the pad as the bowler pushed it through straight, and left LBW. That was good captaincy by Cronje -- he had used Boje the previous over, but switched to Crookes when confronted by the left hander.

From that point on, Dravid and Ganguly took command. The former played some nice square drives, one stunning on drive off Boje, and a couple of powerful pulls when the spinners dropped short. But increasingly, it was Ganguly who began growing in stature. Cronje's hope was that his spinners, Boje, Crookes and Strydom, would put pressure on the Indians. If the ploy failed, the credit almost entirely goes to Ganguly, who time and again waltzed down the track and lofted clean and high, in a classical display of big hitting, to put Crookes and Strydom off their line. Strangely, Cronje, known for his astute captaincy, didn't resort to bowling himself or even Kallis till it was all too late -- and that goes to show, I guess, that you are a genius only when you are winning.

In contrast to the South Africans, the Indians focussed on keeping wickets intact, the progression telling the story of this stage: 18/0 in 5, 33/2 in 10, 61/2 in 15, 87/2 in 20, 106/2 at the halfway mark. A rare moment of impetuosity saw the end of Dravid, just when he seemed to have batted himself back into something approaching his World Cup frame of mind. Going down the track, Dravid looked to drive Boje inside out over long on, didn't get to the pitch, the ball turned just enough to take the outer edge and flared to point for a simple take.

Azharuddin then joined Ganguly and noticing that the Indian captain by then had got the bit between his teeth and was running away with the game, slipped easily into a supportive role while Ganguly stepped up his shot production. India 121/3 in 30, moving to 146/3 in 35, 185/3 in 40 and at that point, with 15 to get in 10 overs, Ganguly suddenly realised that there was a hundred here for the taking. Azharuddin, sharing the realisation, checked his own shots, didn't take easy twos that were on offer and concentrated on leaving enough runs on the target board for Ganguly to get the three figures.

Selfish? I guess that is what some would say, and it is a complaint made about Ganguly before (a complaint, incidentally, that Ganguly answered in his interview on Rediff recently, when he pointed out that he had on similar occasions before, ensured that his strike rate was never allowed to slacken). But the game was won, at that point, there was no harm in Ganguly, who had led from the front in the field and with the bat, going for a personal landmark that obviously means much to him, and frankly, as a fan I think I'd far rather have a player hungry for 100s (unless it hurts the team's overall effort, which was clearly not the case here) than someone content to get 20s and 30s.

Cronje introduced some late drama into the game when he brought himself on and took out Azhar first ball, with a late inswinger that the batsman played all around, looking to work a single to the on side and give Ganguly the strike. Jadeja, however, stepped in and stayed in long enough for Ganguly to first get to his hundred, then finish things off with a trademark square drive through the off cordon to cap a fine all round performance by the Indians.

The win broke the hoodoo of the Indians never doing well at Jamshedpur. More importantly, it put the Indians 2-0 up and gave the South Africans the onerous job of needing three straight wins, against a team gaining in bounce and confidence, to take the series.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for Samir Dighe. When picked for the ODIs in Australia, the choice was universally villified, and it was bruited about that he had made the side only because he was Sachin Tendulkar's team-mate. Lo, he gets picked for this ODI series as well -- and it is conveniently forgotten that Sachin is no longer the captain. He gets a shocker of a game in Kochi, and the calls for his axing are loud and prolonged (I didn't see the Kochi match, but I did read the various match reports later, and one thing strikes you when you step back a bit -- in that game, Jadeja, normally not prone to dropping simple catches, muffed one, as did Robin Singh, another very safe fielder. Derek Crookes, who ranks up there with Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs in the ranks of brilliant South African fielders, muffed two, or was it three, simple ones. When you see that, you pause and wonder, do you not, whether there was anything more to Dighe's muffs than mere incompetence? It reminds me of a line I read somewhere -- Snap judgements have a way of coming unfastened. But unfortunately, snap judgements seem the only kind there is, these days).

So, as I said, spare a thought for Dighe -- with that kind of pressure behind him, he responds with a very good outing behind the sticks, and in the process justifies the Ganguly formula that you should watch a player over four or five ODIs before deciding his fate.


Mail Prem Panicker