One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Match Preview: India Vs England

"This is actually a no contest!", I said on this morning while talking on air with my favourite RJ Malishka on Win 94.6 FM. "The Indians are gonna kick some English... ummmm.... ", I stammered... having been requested not to use "ass" on air. "Posteriors!", Malishka completed the sentence for me!

I guess, reading the lines above, you know where my loyalties lie... ;-)

Kingsmead, DurbanIn any case... I preview the crucial India - England Day/Night match to be played at Kingsmead in Durban.

This is going to be one of the matches of the tournament. Two equally matched sides will battle it out on the bouncy pitch at Durban under lights. Can't have anything better than that, can we?!

The Englishmen are on a high after their emphatic drubbing of Pakistan. They played near perfect cricket to skittle out the Pakistani challenge. The batting line-up fired to produce a decent, if not imposing, score. The English batsmen showed character after losing their star batsman, Marcus Trescothick, very cheaply. Michael Vaughn, the best English Test bat this year, began scratchily but managed to prop up the English batting which was given the finishing touches by the "finisher" Paul Collingwood. Battingwise... England are looking settled and confident. Their worry is the possible knee injury of Michael Vaughn who was limping noticeably towards the end of his innings against Pakistan. He will have to undergo a fitness test before today's match. Other than that I do not think England will be worried too much about their batting... especially since they know this Indian bowling attack so well, having played against them a lot in the last year.

The English bowling looks formidable too... with the coming-of-age of James Anderson, the rookie pacer, who till last year was still playing club cricket in England. Anderson's lively pace is not enough to cause any concern to the Indian batsmen. It is his natural ability to swing the ball away from the right-handers, that will trouble the "fishermen" in the Indian line-up. Caddick, the grand old man of English bowling is steady but with occasional spurts of aggression. The rest of the bowling attack consists of Flintoff, Craig White and Ashley Giles. I am sure, Nasser Hussain will play Giles in today's match and bring him on quickly against Tendulkar to bowl that nagging negative line that frustrates The Master. If he doesn't do this, I'll be surprised! The Indian batsmen too have a very good idea about the English bowlers and there will be no secret weapons or surprise bowlers on either side.

Coming to the Indian batting... Sehwag and Tendulkar will open the batting again. Ganguly will come in next, wearing shoes gifted to him by Harbhajan Singh (for those who don't know, Ganguly attributed his return to form to the shoes he was wearing. They were gifted to him by Bhajji and he reckons they are his lucky shoes!). I again feel that Yuvraj should come in at two drop followed by Dravid. Kaif and Mongia should follow. Having regained his lost touch against Namibia, Ganguly would no doubt be looking to score another biggie to prove, to himself and his critics, that he indeed is back to form and his hundred versus Namibia wasn't a fluke. But this doesn't mean he should be daft enough to come back to open the innings. Let the Master and the Clone do that. But it will not be half as easy as it was against Namibia. The Kingsmead pitch will bounce and the English bowlers, knowing the Indian Achilles heel, will capitalize on the nature of the pitch to deny Indians free scoring opportunities off the front foot. But I guess, in Sehwag and Tendulkar, we have batsmen eminently capable of punishing the short of length stuff that is marginally off-line. Ganguly should realise that his coming in later will enable him to face the left arm spin of Giles. If this confrontation takes place, we will no doubt see some balls sailing into the crowd at long-on and mid-wicket.

Surprisingly, in this world cup so far, it is the Indian bowling that has fared better than the batting. Srinath, like an old wine that he is often compared to nowadays, is also being compared to McGrath for his consistency and stinginess. Zaheer Khan was a revelation in the match against Namibia. Obviously stung by his demotion to a first-change bowler, he fired on all cylinders when he was given the ball after Nehra slipped and sprained the ankle. His initial overs were so lethal that every ball that he bowled looked like getting wickets. His, newly-developed, ability to bring the ball back into the right-hander adds a new dimension to his bowling. It was good to see him bowl fast inswinging yorkers that had the Namibians dancing in the crease. I would love to see Nehra back in action. He gave a brief preview of his speed against Zimbabwe and I, for one, would love to see how the English bastmen tackle the fastest left-arm speedster in this World Cup (Nehra was consistently bowling over 150 Kmph). I believe Kumble should make a return into the side... even if it is at the expense of Mongia. Bounce is something that Kumble thrives on, and the Kingsmead pitch will certainly help him there. Moreover, we have kept him out for long enough to make him hungry for some action. Today is the chance to unleash him... because he will be wasted against the Pakistanis. Agarkar will unfortunately have to sit out once again.

The pitch at Durban is bouncy normally. But I doubt that it'll be as bouncy as it normally is, especially since its a World Cup match and the organizers will want a feast of runs than a feast of wickets. So, there is not much to worry about on that front. However the pitch will be fast and unlike the low and slow pitch that the Indians had to confront in Pietermartizburg. The weather should be fine too. But the biggest worry for both the captains will be the fact that this is a day-night game and one side will have huge advantage while playing under lights. We have seen in the England-Pakistan match how the ball began swinging once the lights were turned on. If the same thing happens, the team batting second will have to face the daunting task of negotiating a fast, swinging ball, under artificial lights. On the other hand, if the dew-factor comes into play in the evening, it will prove to be a major headache for the fielding team. The ball will be wet and swing will be non-existent. In that case we will also see some fielding lapses. So, both captains will be hoping desperately to win the toss as it would help them put their carefully chalked out plan into action, rather than being forced to draw up alternate plans.

Ganguly has rated this game as being a 50-50 game. Any side could win. Hussain has already announced that this is the toughest game that they have in the preliminary rounds. Both of them are wary of eadh other. None of them want to make the first move... to commit before its absolutely necessary. This makes for a great match in prospect. But then... like most hyped-up games, this could well be a let-down... a damp squib... a one-sided affair. I hope this doesn't happen... but if it does, I want Ganguly to be the one to bare his torso on the dressing room balcony!

My prediction: A toughie!! ... but I'll go with India! I'm banking on India batting first and batting England out of the contest!

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