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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > News > Report

Nehra spearheads Indian win

Prem Panicker | February 27, 2003 03:42 IST

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It's amazing, the material from which heroes are constructed.

Take Ashish Nehra - off form in England, dropped from the side, and seen as pretty much of a spare wheel in this Indian attack.

Came the game against Zimbabwe and Nehra was making people sit up by producing a scorcher approaching the 149k mark - a ball that propelled him to the third slot among the fast men in this World Cup.

Who woulda thought...?

He is rewarded by being given the new ball in the game against Namibia - and running in for his second delivery, he slips, and injures his ankle. The next two days are punctuated by a stream of medical reports - yes he is fit, no he is not, yes he is... all you needed was a four-leaf clover, really.

On the day of the game, team manager Jyoti Bajpai tells a television channel that Nehra will not play. Coach John Wright told rediff.com that Nehra was likely to play. Meanwhile, there is much discussion about whether he should be risked at all - maybe Anil Kumble would be the better option?

Finally, Nehra takes the park - and produces a sustained 10-over spell that fetches him 6/23; the third best figures ever in World Cup history.

Who woulda thought...?

The whole game, in fact, had an almost dreamlike quality about it. India won the toss, announced an unchanged side (while England brought in Ronnie Irani for Ashley Giles), and opted to bat first; a decision that over-rode the pitch factor with its bounce, and the fact that they would go up against an England attack pumped up after a thumping win over Pakistan.

Virender Sehwag would be the one who you would have said, on the back of his 300+ runs off 270-something deliveries against England in 9 games as opener, to have gone after the England attack, while Tendulkar was the one theoretically to play the waiting game.

No dice - Tendulkar spent two overs sussing out the pitch and the conditions, and then turned it on in a display of exhilarating hitting that was most notable for the unexpected uncorking of shots he has cut out of his batting vocabulary in recent times.

Chief among them were a fierce hook that saw him overbalance and nearly fall over, followed by an emphatic pull that put the ball out of Kingsmead and into the trees fringing the stadium. There were also the drives on both sides of the wicket, the flicks, and the fierce cuts that turned the clock back, to a Tendulkar of much earlier vintage.

Two aspects of this display were especially notable. The first related to James Anderson, England's latest boy wonder and, before the game got underway, the man everyone was looking to take out the Indian top order. He was driven, cut, and pulled - in a word, dismissed for 26 runs off just four overs, a demolition that saw him being hastily withdrawn from the attack.

The other was Andrew Caddick who, in the days before this contest, put himself on the frontlines by giving statements ad nauseum about all that he was going to do to Tendulkar. In the event, it was Tendulkar who did all the doing - a flick through midwicket, a powerful pull over midwicket when Caddick responded with the bouncer, a drive, a fierce cut...

It was a stunning assault, that weathered the early loss of Sehwag - looking to work Andy Flintoff, in the 10th over, off his pads only for the ball to stop on him a shade, and find the leading edge back to the bowler.

Tendulkar's wicket was against the run of play. In the 16th over, immediately after the drinks break, he looked to force Flintoff, from outside off, through point - the delivery kicked a bit and seamed away, found the toe of Tendulkar's bat for a simple catch to point.

Saurav Ganguly looked a touch edgy, Dinesh Mongia seemed in control of his defense but incapable of moving up from first gear. The dramatic lull in scoring needs, however, to be seen against some very good bowling by Flintoff, who used his height and powerful shoulders to advantage to produce a classic exhibition of seam bowling, and Craig White who took the pace right off the ball, kept it wicket to wicket and backed up by some good fielding, tightened things down and made run-making extremely difficult.

Though logic dictated that the batsmen needed to chip the ball around, Ganguly decided to take the bull - or in this case, the gentle pace of White - by the horns. He came dancing down trying to loft the bowler back over his head, found the ball not coming on to bat enough to pull off the shot, and holed out behind the bowler's back.

Mongia and Dravid then buckled down to the job of consolidation. Runs dried to a trickle and Mongia and Dravid both found themselves unable to up the tempo after having batted themselves into a bit of a rut. It was only following Mongia's departure in the 37th over that the tempo of the game changed again - Yuvraj Singh came out and within a couple of deliveries, had injected enormous urgency into the cricket.

Where singles seemed impossible to find, Yuvraj conjured twos - it was quite simply a brilliant demonstration of running between wickets, as Yuvraj pushed his senior partner into running for his life. Once he found a few balls going off the middle of the bat, Yuvraj picked up the pace of run-scoring, beginning with a lovely six over long on off Ronnie Irani and producing a superlative cameo that powered India towards the 250-mark.

Dravid at the other end was going at around 65 per cent strike rate - but once Yuvraj left, the Indian vice-captain opened out his shoulders, a flat on-driven six reminiscent of the shot he played off Donald, on this same ground, in a classic confrontation in the SBI ODI series in 1997.

The final over, by Caddick, produced some shambolic cricket with four batsmen falling in a heap in the quest for quick runs – but India had put 250 on the board and on this ground, that is pretty much a winning score.

The key, however, lay in how India bowled the first 10 overs against two openers - Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight - who, while not quite up there with Adam Gilchrist and Mathew Hayden, opt for the hard-hitting way out of trouble.

The second over produced a stunning bit of fielding that pretty much set the tone for the innings. Nick Knight pushed Srinath out on the off side, towards mid off. Mohammad Kaif, racing around from cover, fielded with his wrong hand, the left and, in a reprise of Jonty Rhodes' immortal run out of Inzamam ul Haq in the 1992 World Cup, hurled the ball, and himself, at the stumps to take Knight out by the distance of a few yards.

From then on, India was unstoppable. Srinath and Zaheer produced a superb display of seam bowling that pushed Trescothick and the in-form Michael Vaughan onto the back foot. Time and again, the batsmen found the ball flashing past the edge and as the overs ticked by, the pressure mounted.

Trescothick likes room square on the off, or the short of length delivery to pull or hook. Zaheer denied him the first, drew him out and beat him often enough for it to become embarrassing, then banged one down. Trescothick almost reflexively swung into the hook but the ball, outside off, kept coming in at him off the seam, cramping the shot and ending up with him hitting high in the air to midwicket.

Nasser Hussain, more perhaps than Knight and Trescothick, put intent over technique and constantly looks to hit his way out of trouble - if he bats for a while, it is effective if not particularly pretty. Here, however, he struggled against Zaheer and Srinath, the latter repeatedly beating him outside the corridor and on one occasion, actually gesturing as if to ask, what more do I need to do to get rid of you?

Ashish Nehra came in to the attack in the 13th over - and from that point on, England were reduced to spectators in the Nehra road show. The initial question was whether the recent injury would effect his rhythm. It did not. The next question was whether that burst of pace in the earlier game was a flash in the pan - it was not, as Nehra quickly moved up the gears to a top pace, on the day, of 145.8. The final question was, could he maintain the pressure generated by Srinath and Zaheer.

He did, and how. After joining Srinath and Zaheer in the beat-Nasser's-bat game for a bit, he produced the perfect delivery, slanting across the right hander and seaming late; Hussain hung his bat out in a display of rank bad batsmanship and got the edge.

Alec Stewart fell victim to the unplayable ball too early. The first ball that he received angled across to off, swinging in the air to land on line of middle on a full length and straighten to take the pad bang in front - and Nehra found himself on the verge of a hat-trick.

Fired up, Nehra then produced an exhibition of seam and swing bowling that ranks with the best seen in a long time. The England batsmen were reduced to a sideshow as Nehra bent the ball both ways at will, got lift off the deck and kept going up and down the pace scale like a virtuoso.

The batsmen, quite simply, gave up the struggle. Vaughan first, then Paul Collingwood, fell to the delivery slanting across, hitting line of off, drawing them forward and finding the edge. Craig White and Ronnie Irani departed in identical fashion to give Nehra his six-wicket haul, and it was left to Andy Flintoff to play the lone innings of character and sense.

Flintoff, initially keen on the slap-dash route, settled down in the face of the procession at the other end and with Andy Caddick for company, saved some at least of England's blushes with a display of good defense and clean hitting.

Ironically Srinath, who in his first spell had bowled superbly without success, got the wicket with a bad ball when Flintoff clubbed a full toss out on the on side where Sehwag, at wide mid on, leapt sideways to latch on to a stunner.

India sealed an 82 run win with Zaheer taking out James Anderson (one of the rare players who bats left handed and bowls right handed) and the Indians, for the 11th time in the evening, got into their now trademark huddle while Caddick and Anderson hovered on the outskirts, waiting to shake hands.

The batting and bowling efforts on the day will be celebrated; Nehra's performance in particular will catapult him to star status on the Cup stage. But a  vital - and perhaps unnoticed - aspect of the Indian performance today was the fielding.

Mohammad Kaif was dynamite - visibly so, flinging himself around at covers and midwicket, attacking the ball hard, effecting a brilliant run out and being such a peripatetic presence that he forced the English batsmen to stay within the safety of their crease.

Yuvraj Singh was less flamboyant, but equally effective, at point - and with Tendulkar behind them sweeping, that area was virtually shut down. Dinesh Mongia and Ajit Agarkar, on for a prolonged period of time for first Srinath, then Zaheer, kept the long boundaries straight boundaries under tight rein; Sehwag seemed to have flypaper stuck to his hands… it was the kind of fielding effort one expects as a matter of course from the South Africans, Australians and the Kiwis; from the Indians, it came as an eye-opener.

But more than the individual efforts, it was the collective that caught the eye - a ball would be patted out onto the off side and seemingly out of nowhere, three fielders would converge on the ball, another four rush to the stumps to back up... There was no danger of singles being sneaked - the danger, if any existed, was that the Indians would barge into each other under the impetus of their seemingly unstoppable adrenalin rush.

For the second time in two games, the Indians came together as a team. And the results showed.

Meanwhile for us personally, there was a magic moment that indicated, to novices in the field of radio broadcasts, just what was possible - even as Ashish Nehra took his sixth wicket and was swamped by his celebrating colleagues, we got a call on the direct line, from Durban.

On the phone was Ashish Magotra - and with him, was Nehra's brother, who had flown to South Africa for the match, and who talked us through all the heartburn the family had undergone while Nehra's ankle became the grist of headlines across the country, and their joy at his feat.

You can't plan for such moments - but when it happens, it is magic.

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