One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Match Review: India Vs England

...the team batting second will have to face the daunting task of negotiating a fast, swinging ball, under artificial lights.

This is what I had said in my preview yesterday. And yes, the lights were artificial, the bowling was fast and the ball swung... though only in the minds of the clueless English batsmen, as they were brought to their knees by one of the best first-change bowling spells you will ever see in international cricket.

Take a bow, Ashish Nehra!

Bharat Army steamrolled the Barmy Army in more ways than one as India snuffed out the English challenge like a kid gleefully blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.

Now before my Sameerisms start rivalling the Sidhuisms, I'll start reviewing the match.

As was widely reported, both the captains were wary of each other and were wishing for a lucky break in the form of the toss. Ganguly called correctly and promptly elected to set a target. It was one of the easiest decisions to make. History has shown that batting second is a nightmare in South Africa, especially at Durban, where the ball starts swinging like a drunk driver in the evenings, under the lights.

Tendulkar and Sehwag took guard against the consistency of Caddick and the raw pace and swing of Anderson, on a fast, bouncy pitch of Kingsmead under blustery conditions with winds swirling furiously. The first few overs were quiet and it was as if two prize-fighters were trading sparring blows in the first round, sizing up their opponents. Then suddenly, without warning, a gale struck the English ship. Sehwag and Tendulkar cut loose and turned the steady start into a blitzkrieg. Tendulkar was in sublime form as he Caddick to all parts of the ground with exquisite timing and near-perfect placement. Caddick was made to look worse than a club bowler when Tendulkar pulled a short delivery out of the ground for as huge a six as you'll ever see.

After the dismissal of the openers at the hands of Flintoff, Ganguly (and John Wright) made the blunder of sending a woefully out-of-form Dinesh Mongia and it was like a calm after the storm as the flow of runs trickled into nothingness. Now, I feel Ganguly should sit down and do some serious thinking about Mongia's raison d'etre in the team. He adds no value to the team given his current form and in fact drags the team down with his inept batting efforts. He's no great shakes with the ball either and is good enough only to be posted at deep third man when it comes to fielding. So, why is Ganguly sticking obstinately with him?!! Can anyone answer this question?!! ... It surely cannot be the lame reason that it is dangerous to change a winning team!

Yuvraj and Dravid resurrected the Indian innings with some intelligent cricket and shot-making. But it was comical to see four wickets go down in the final four balls of the Indian innings.

When England began their reply, the tension was palpable. The English batsmen were tense, the Indian team was tense, the crowd in the stadium was tense and the audiences worldwide, watching the match on TV were tense. 250 was just about par for the course. It was neither a big score nor a easily gettable one. It was always going to keep both sides interested.

Srinath and Zaheer produced one of the most disciplined bowling performances by an Indian new-ball attack. It was just amazing how many thimes the ball whizzed pass the outside edge of the bat and thudded into Dravid's gloves. Srinath gave Trescothick a thorough working over with an exemplary line until the frustrated Marcus pulled a short, rising, outside-the-off-stump Zaheer Khan delivery which went straight up in the air and was pouched by Tendulkar. I think it was Srinath's wicket even though Zaheer Khan gets the credit. Harbhajan Singh, I thought was just missing the plot. He was bowling an innocuous leg-stump line which negated his effectiveness. Ganguly's bowling was just about adequate.

Trescothick will no doubt be slammed by the unforgiving English media, as will be the rest of the England batsmen... and rightly so! They were all at sea against a disciplined attack. But they played horrendously against bowling that was essentially straight. There was almost no swing in the air and all the movement that was present, was off the seam. The English batsmen, playing for the swing were defeated in their intentions by the ball that just ever-so-slightly deflected off the seam. Surely, beter was expected from the likes of Vaughn and Hussain and Stewart who played like a bunch of school boys.

Flintoff was the only English player to come out of the match, with his head held high. His bowling was exemplary and his batting was determined and effective. He has that confident air about him that makes the opposition sit up and take notice. Too bad that he had to end up on the losing side.

The Indian fielding was quite special too! The Nick Knight run-out by Kaif will become an enduring image of this World Cup as one commentator rightly mentioned. It was out of this world!

No words can describe the spell bowled by Ashish Nehra. It was truly a class exhibition of fast, straight bowling in the corridor of uncertainty. He mesmerized the batsmen and had them fishing for the balls outside the off-stump. The lethal combination of line, length and pace worked wonders for Nehra. Now, I can use the luxury of hindsight and gloat on the fact that I had said this in my pre-match preview...
I, for one, would love to see how the English bastmen tackle the fastest left-arm speedster in this World Cup
And sure enough... I loved seeing the English batsmen embarass themselves playing atrocious cricket against Nehra. I hope Nehra continues to keep up his efforts.

It was a thoroughly professional performance by the Indians. It would be a folly to attribute the English defeat to the feact that they batted second. Firstly, because that's the nature of a contest. Secondly and more importantly, the conditions did not suit the bowlers as much as they did when England played Pakistan. The conditions were blustery and did not help the bowlers get any swing. all the work had to be done by the bowlers... which they so admirably did!

India come away from the match, victorious and with many positives... like Tendulkar's complete return to devastating form, Yuvraj's and Dravid's return to form, effectiveness of the Indian new-ball attack, Nehra's impressive form, improved fielding and catching. One thing that India will have to think about is Dinesh Mongia.

England however will come away from the match with many negatives and one big positive. The negatives include, the realization that non-ideal conditions reduce Anderson to an ordinary bowler, Nasser Hussain's unimaginative captaincy on the field and pathetic (gee! I'm running out of adjectives, here!) batting English top-order. But the biggest positive from the match is the form of Flintoff. Too bad, England had only one Flintoff!... Well, too bad for England. Very good for India! :-)

A well-deserved victory to the Indians. They will breathe easier from now on. Things have begun clicking for them. I hope the clicking continues till all the pieces fall into place. Well done, India!

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