One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Indian bowlers have a field day at Jaipur

When India played England yesterday at Jaipur, no one expected Rahul Dravid to put the English in to bat on a seemingly flat batting track. Now, with the advantage of hindsight, I'd say it was a brilliant decision. Not because the English team managed to collapse like English teams of a few years ago. But because the decision was based on an accurate reading of the pitch, the composition of the team and most importantly... the knowledge that the Indian bowlers had been performing much better than their much-celebrated batting counterparts in recent times. It was a measure of confidence that Rahul Dravid and Greg chappell have in blokes like Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel and Harbhajan Singh, that prompted Rahul to toss the ball to these guys before letting his star batsmen have a crack at the English bowlers.

But it's different bowling first with early morning freshness in the air and pitch, than after a morning and then some of brilliant sunshine. The slight early-morning dampness on the surface of the pitch is no longer there. Neither is the cool morning breeze to help move the ball in the air. And yet... from the moment Irfan Pathan started bowling, there was immediate swing. It was a testament to Irfan's talent that he got the ball to curve both ways with equal ease. Gone were the cobwebs of self-doubt as he bowled with pace and control that had seemingly deserted him in the last few months. More importantly, he was smiling more often and was obviously enjoying seeing the English batsmen play with childish naiveté!

At the other end, Munaf Patel went about his business with a lethal combination of accuracy and intelligence. If this lad can keep his head on his shoulders, then he is destined for greater... much greater things in the future. Not many people may remember, but a couple of years back, Munaf was touted as India's fastest bowling prospect. Then an injury set him back by a year or two. But he has come back from injury a better bowler. He has sacrificed some speed for accuracy. However, as he has shown intermittently, he can still clock speeds well in excess of 140 kph... and at will. So this is one guy to watch out for. Yesterday, the English batsmen just could not get him away. In the process, Munaf's nagging line and length bowling at a lively pace paid rich dividends.

Agarkar was distinctly unlucky. He unfortunately found himself in a situation where Pietersen and Collingwood were giving him the charge in a desperate attempt to push the wretched scoring rate forward. What ensued was a couple of nicks, an overthrow and a couple of good shots... and Agarkar's figures were ruined for the match. And of course, the English collapse did not give him the chance to come back and work his usual reverse swing stuff with the old ball.

Then came the spinners. I don't think I have to say anything about Harbhajan. He was his usual fiesty self... with a few 'doosra' deliveries here and there. But what was heartening from a spinning perspective was the success that Ramesh Powar enjoyed. Plump as a partridge and bowling with shades wrapped around his rolly-polly head, he tossed the ball up and bowled an accurate line that invited the batsmen to play against the spin every single time... only to find the ball either not there for a drive or to find the ball turning into their pads. His 'classic' off-spin was in contrast to the modern nuances of the trade plied by Harbhajan. Yet... his bowling was the perfect complement to Bhajji's guile as the duo accounted for half the English side. And the final wicket (straight drive flicked on to the non-strikers' stumps by an ever-alert Powar) was fittingly a testimony to the sharpness and spark shown by the Indians in the field.

All in all... it was a brilliant performance by the Indian bowlers (aided no doubt by inept English batting) who fully justified the faith reposed in them by the Indian captain, Rahul Dravid.

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