One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

"Captain Clueless" played "Master Tactician" as he clinically plotted Kenya's downfall in the second semi-final of the ICC World Cup 2003 at Kingsmead, Durban. It was the most thoroughly professional performance by the Indian team in this World Cup. There have been victories over Pakistan, England and New Zealand which have evoked more passion among the Indian fans, but if ever there was a Indian win that was looked clinical and professional, it was this one... over the hapless Kenyans. The Indian team looked ruthless and did their job almost to perfection.

Things went right for Ganguly right from the moment he called right at the toss and elected to bat first. He was always going to bat first on the Kingsmead pitch, rain or no rain. And as the openers, Sachin and Sehwag began briskly, it seemed like mission over for Kenya. But suddenly, the Kenyan bowlers found the length and line required for the slightly moist and slow Durban pitch. The openers, realising this change in tide, immediately went into wicket-saving mode and played out the first fifteen overs without losing a wicket and getting a solid and steady start in the process.

It has been Sehwag's misfortune that he has looked in good touch right throughout the tournament, but has failed to capitalize on his good form. Once again he fell in the thirties, unable to keep his cool after having been tied down for some time. His wicket brought Saurav Ganguly to the crease. At the other end, Sachin looked to have set his sights on a biggie as he took pains to refrain from driving on the up on a pitch that was offering some assistance to seam bowlers. To their credit, the Kenyan bowlers, Odoyo and Ongondo stuck to their task and gave nothing away for Tendulkar to drive. But since the drives were not coming, Tendulkar changed his tactics. He was content in defending the pitched-up balls while waiting for an inevitable short delivery to play the horizintal bat shots.

After Sehwag's departure, Tendulkar and Ganguly slowed down considerably and the score looked like going nowhere at one stage. Then, the threat of rain alerted Ganguly, who realised that they needed to get a move on. Slowly, the tide turned and the ball started finding the middle of Ganguly's bat. Collins Obuya found, much to his dismay, that Ganguly hits huge sixes. Two of them came off one Obuya over. Both went over the mid-wicket boundary by a long way... the second of those sailing away into the Durban streets.

Then, Sachin Tendulkar once again failed to reach a three-figure mark as he was dismissed for 83. It was his fourth dismissal near a century. That bought Kaif to bat. He scored a quickfire 15 in which he helped Ganguly get many runs by scurrying between the wickets like a hare with its tail on fire. Unfortunately, he was run-out trying an impossible run.

Ganguly then went on to get his third ton in this World Cup by swatting a short ball over the long-on boundary for a six. It was his second against Kenya in this tournament. Finally, India finished with 270 on the board... a good score by any standards and more so on the Durban wicket. I think Saurav would have been satisfied with his team's batting performance... and so too his own!

Chasing anything above 200 under lights at Kingsmead is a tough ask for any team. For Kenya it was a task beyond their meagre means. And with the Indian pace attack firing on all cylinders, it would have taken a miracle from the almighty to pull it off, for the Kenyans.

With Zaheer and Srinath bowling at their best, the Kenyans looked clueless. They had no clue as to where the runs would come from. Zaheer was at his usual fiery best. But it was most heartening to see Srinath bowl fast and accurate. To illustrate my point, let me explain. Last few years, Srinath has been bowling at an average pace in the high 120s (Kmph) with an occasional visit to the 130s. Yesterday, his first ball (which is usually just a gentle loosener) clocked 136 Kmph on the speed gun. And it was right on the money too! With bowling like this Kenya looked hapless. Zaheer's fervent plea for a LBW finally turned umpire Harper's mind as Ravindu Shah was caught plumb in front. Kenya then sent in Ongondo to do some pinch-hitting. But the tall bowler could not cope up with the Indian pace and went down to Nehra. By the fifteen overs mark, Kenya were hopelessly behind the asking rate.

But now, the rain clouds were threatening and thunder and lightning were to be seen in the background. And with 10 overs to go for Duckworth-Lewis to come into effect, the Indians looked slightly worried. Ganguly brought Harbhajan and Yuvraj to bowl the overs quickly. He did not care how many runs they gave since it was impossible that with 5 wickets down, the Kenyans would surpass the D/L total by the 25 over mark. The move to get the overs in quickly was yet another example of Ganguly's astute captaincy. He gave further evidence of this when he brought on Tendulkar to bowl. It was nice to see Tendulkar tweaking his leg-spinners effectively, especially just before the big game on Sunday. He also picked up two wickets for his efforts.

Finally, the Kenyan innings capitulated on the score of 179, well short of the Indian total. In fact, the Kenyans got about 50-60 runs more than they deserved as Gaunguly steeped off the gas in an effort to prvent any injuries to his fast bowlers. Srinath and Nehra could've finished it off pretty early. But Srinath isn't a spring-chicken any more and needs his rest. Nehra, who has been suffering from a bad ankle throughout the tournament was also given a breather. One more instance of Ganguly, the Man of the Match, being a shrewd captain.

All in all... it was a foregone conclusion that India would beat the Kenyans comfortably. The only real threat was if the elements and D/L rules conspired against them. But that was not to be as they cruised to victory with consummate ease.

Kenya's amazing run in this world cup was brought to an end as they ran into an opposition that was too strong for them. But the fun-loving Kenyans would take away fond memories of their memorable giant-killing run in this tournament. Hats off to them!

Now, India will travel to Jo'burg and hope to upset the Australian applecart. On form, they look superior to the Aussies at the moment. We will just have to wait and watch. But mind you, the Aussies are going to have sleepless nights for the next couple of days. That's for sure!

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