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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > News > Report

'Team' India too good for Namibia

Prem Panicker | February 23, 2003 22:03 IST

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India defeated Namibia, at the picturesque Maritzburg Oval, by a margin of 181 runs -- that's the unvarnished fact.

Now for the varnishing -- it was a comprehensive team performance; and by rights this would be the cue to uncork the superlatives. And some of the adjectives would be deserved -- after all, the team came into the tournament after a thrashing on designer tracks in New Zealand; looked undercooked in its first win against The Netherlands; was a no-show against Australia; sealed a good win against Zimbabwe with a few hiccups along the way; and finally batted, bowled and fielded, here against Namibia, like a "team" in the real sense of the word.

From that perspective, some superlatives are deserved -- the trick I guess is to keep it on the right side of the line that separates analysis from hype.

Namibia, as opponents, would not have daunted the Indians -- in fact, Sourav Ganguly went into the game saying that he had watched Namibia play, and that he thought his team should not have any problems.

India went in with an unchanged line-up -- and received a bit of a gift, at the outset, when Dean Kotze won the toss but invited Ganguly to take first strike.

The pitch was a touch slow-paced and sluggish -- but then, on such tracks, batting second would have been even tougher, so it is a bit difficult to get a fix on Kotze's plan there. In the initial stages, Tendulkar in particular looked a touch puzzled as he kept playing forcing shots to the Namibian seamers only to find that the ball hadn't gotten to him even after he had completed the intended shot. It was Sehwag who first opened out, rattling off 24 off 24 deliveries -- an innings that included two thunderous fours off Rudi Van Vuuren, Namibia's double World Cupper (he also represents the country in Rugby).

Van Vuuren was the one troubling Tendulkar the most, thanks to a slingy wide arm action, some movement in the air, and a lack of pace between wickets. Sehwag went after him, got him away twice on the trot, but in going for a fierce pull to a ball slightly short, had the mortification of seeing Daniel Keulder at short midwicket snap it up inches off the turf -- a good reflexive catch to a very hard hit (46/1).

Ganguly upped himself in the order, coming in at three at the expense of Dinesh Mongia. And from ball one, the Indian captain focused on tapping the ball around the square, running the quick singles and letting Tendulkar, by then coming to terms with the track and the bowling, do the bulk of the hard work.

The partnership was interesting from many perspectives. There was, firstly, the early stutter in their calling and running, which underlined the fact that it has been a while since the one-time opening partners have actually batted together for any length of time.

Once they got over the initial hiccups, though, there was also the understanding that comes of having spent time together in the middle, in the past. In that sense, the 244-run partnership off 239 deliveries yields an interesting statistic; when you look at the individual breakdown of the two batsmen.

Tendulkar scored 152 off 151 deliveries -- a score that breaks down into 74 dot balls, 49 singles, 14 twos and 1 three besides his 18 fours. Ganguly's score of 112 off 119 deliveries breaks down into 56 dot balls, 48 singles, 8 twos, 6 fours and four sixes.

Check the dot ball to singles differentials, and Ganguly comes across as the one who worked the singles better in this innings -- and statistics don't lie, here; it was in fact Ganguly who was more active in seeking singles, in a very calculated attempt to maximize the time he spent at the crease while minimizing the risk of early dismissal. As a way of batting himself back into form, Ganguly picked the best possible route.

Tendulkar on the day was more artisan than artist, content to play the ball as late as possible and to work it around the park rather than try to put any serious power into his shots. He only began hitting those booming drives in the V late in his innings, after the 40 over mark had been crossed -- till then, the obvious intent was to bat through and bat through he did.

He received a life when with the score 70/1 in the 13th over, he cut hard at the last ball of the over from Louis Burger, got the thick outer edge, and saw Jan Burger at backward point let the catch slip after getting both hands to it. In fact, it was after this let off that Tendulkar noticeably eased off on the power and began relying more on finesse.

Ganguly's innings was similarly two-toned -- the first half was about accumulation and risk minimization, but as his tenure at the crease extended, the feet began moving with greater freedom and the balls started going off the middle, Ganguly slipped into the style that suits him the best -- coming down the track to the slower bowlers and hitting through the line high, hard, and often.

Their 244 run association off 239 deliveries saw an almost equal contribution from both: Saurav scored 98 of those runs off 112 deliveries; Tendulkar scored 134 off 127; and the bias in favour of Tendulkar in those figures is explained by the fact that as the game rounded into the straight, Tendulkar took on himself the onus of hard hitting and acceleration while allowing Ganguly a more relaxed progress towards his own century (Ganguly's 20th, which now makes him the second highest century-maker in ODIs behind the usual suspect, Tendulkar).

With 311/2 on the board at the end of 50 overs, India had pretty effectively sealed the match as a contest right at the outset. The Namibians came out to bat obviously daunted by that mountain of runs.

The second innings went along predictable lines, with wickets falling regularly and just a few highlights worth talking about. The first was Ashish Nehra -- who was given the ball ahead of Zaheer Khan in recognition of the fact that Nehra has worked on fitness and strength and suddenly emerged as a bowler capable of top speeds around the 148k mark. Running in for his second ball of the innings, Nehra had the mortification of slipping, losing his legs from under him, and badly twisting his ankle as he landed.

Nehra limped off the field, and word from the dressing room is that he has a sprained ankle but should be fit ahead of the day-night clash against England on Wednesday.

Item number two is the stream of vicious inswinging yorkers that Zaheer Khan sent down -- in one over, I counted four of those, all homing in on the batsman's toes in a manner reminiscent of Waqar Younis in his pomp. Two batsmen perished LBW to deliveries that would have tested far better batsmen, and Khan will feel somewhat aggrieved at not having got a third victim, as Umpire David Shepherd took a lenient line with the batting side.

Item three was as fine an example of outfield catching as you want to see. Daniel Keulder -- who, in the ICC Trophy earlier had been Namibia's opener and main bat, but who here batted at number four, swung Harbhajan Singh high and wide on the on side. Dinesh Mongia ran around from deep midwicket to a wider position, covered the flight of the ball well, juggled and held at the second attempt -- and then, miraculously, pulled up an inch short of the boundary ropes as he slid in that direction on his butt. How he braked in time, we'll never know -- how, when his attention was on controlling the catch, he even realized that he was in danger of touching the ropes, will be equally a mystery. The fact, though, is that it was a fine catch, and a fitting centerpiece to a good display in the outfield by the youngster.

Jan Burger was the one batsman who could have given India some problems -- the opener, you will recall, had given England the heck of a fright in the meeting between the two countries, with some very fine hitting. Here too, he looked good at the plate -- but could not work up any sort of momentum thanks to the regularity with which he kept losing partners at the other end. (He was also very lucky not to have seen the finger go up as he took a Zaheer yorker on his front toe).

The pressure of having to score while his colleagues paraded to and fro at the other end finally got to the burly opener -- Dinesh Mongia's introduction to the bowling crease saw Burger go back and look to square drive from off the line of off-stump, miss completely, and be bowled; a case of playing the wrong shot, at the wrong time, and playing it too early.

With Namibia reduced to 47/5 in 15 overs, Ganguly opted to throttle back and give his non-regulars some bowling practice out in the middle; a fair call given that in the two crunch games coming up, non-regulars have an important part to play.

On the surface, the fact that Namibia went from 47/5 in 15 overs to the 43rd over before being bowled out might appear to be a case of India going off the boil -- in fact, though, it was apparent that the team had, in mid-game, decided that since the objective of a big win was more or less assured, it might as well use the time in the middle productively.

Dinesh Mongia and Yuvraj Singh did the star turn, taking out wickets at regular intervals and ensuring that Ganguly did not have to turn to his experienced bowlers for urgent relief.

On the day, the Indians stayed focused throughout. The huddles after the fall of each wicket -- an addition to India's cricketing ethos thanks to sports psychologist Sandy Gordon -- were very much in evidence, and one final example of the focus the Indians brought to this game was visible in the way the last wicket fell.

Gerri Snyman looked to swing Yuvraj Singh out of the ground. Harbhajan Singh, fielding wide at mid on, called for the catch and ran around to behind the bowler's hand as the skier came down, and got under it while mid off, Srinath, watched. 'Bajji' got the ball in his hands, and out it popped -- only for Srinath to reflexively clutch it before it could go to ground. This, from arguably India's weakest fielder, was as symbolic of the performance in the field as anything else.

The win gives India 4 points -- the huge margin does wonders for the run differential. But more than either of these factors, the win against Zimbabwe got the team out of the rut it had gotten into; and Ganguly's innings today would have gone a long way to giving him the personal confidence, and authority, that his recent prolonged spell of low scores, bad form and soft dismissals had eroded to a considerable extent.

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