A feast for the fans

G. VISWANATH

INDIAN batting really flourished in the NatWest Trophy. Coach John Wright endorsed India's batting strength during his post match press conference at Bristol Temple Meads. The 63-run win against Sri Lanka put India on top of the table with 19 points, four more than England.

Man of the Match Sachin Tendulkar said, after receiving the medal and champagne bottle, "The team has to leave behind the results of the league matches and focus on the final at Lord's."

Sachin Tendulkar hits a straight six off Samaraweera. His hundred enthralled the fans.-N. SRIDHARAN

The last two matches of the three-nation series showed that the team batting first was able to defend it. England's victory over India at the Oval and India's win over Sri Lanka showed this trend.

The defeat at the hands of England halted India's unbeaten run in the league phase. On that day, India failed to match England's all-round brilliance, with Ronnie Irani playing the lead-role for the home team. But India was brimming with confidence in the last match of the preliminary league against Sri Lanka.

Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag made a good start on a lovely batting pitch. They departed because of poor running between the wickets. But credit should go to Chamara Silva, whose fine throw from the deep, on the on side, left Sehwag stranded.

Sehwag was responsible for giving a six-run plus start in the first spells of Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa. He looked set for a big score before he ran himself out. By the first few overs of the match, it was evident that it was going to be a tall scoring match. The crowd went home happy because they were able to see Sachin Tendulkar in full flow.

Harbhajan exults after getting rid of Upul Chandana.-N. SRIDHARAN

India made a few changes in the eleven. It brought in medium pacer Tinu Yohannan (for Ajit Agarkar) for the first time and left-hander Dinesh Mongia was back, in place of Venkatsai Laxman. Also back in the side were Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh, the off-spinner getting his second match since Anil Kumble pulled out due a calf muscle injury.

There were disappointments for India's opening pair, but Tendulkar made the day for the spectators. His performance in the five previous matches, though he scored a hundred against England at Riverside, was not up to the mark. In the sense, he did not appear to be fluent.

But on that day (July 11), he was in his element and destroyed the Sri Lankan bowling, especially the seamers Vaas, Zoysa and Dilhara Fernando. Vaas went for 64, Zoysa for 66 and Fernando for 55. The three gave away away 185 runs in 30 overs, which was almost two thirds of India's total of 304 made off 300 legal deliveries and 18 wides and no balls.

Leg spinner Upul Chandana was also not spared. He went for 44 off eight overs, Sanath Jayasuriya gave 14 from two overs, Mahela Jayawardene sixteen off two overs. Thilan Samaraweera was played with respect though.

India lost wickets in a hurry before Tendulkar and Mohammad Kaif propped up a 74-run stand for the sixth wicket.

Sri Lanka's innings came apart, chasing England's 293 in the opening match of the triseries at Trent Bridge.

Kumar Sangakkara punishes Harbhajan on his way to a masterly 66.-N. SRIDHARAN

India set a bigger target, which made all the more difficult, although Kumara Sangakkara took chances and succeeded in making 66 off 47 balls with one six and eleven fours.

When Sangakkara belted the ball around, Zaheer Khan and Yohannan appeared wilted. Harbhajan Singh, who was brought into the attack, broke the stand. Sangakkara was stumped by Dravid, who took his catches and stumping total to 97.

Marvan Atapattu rotated the strike, with Sangakkara going great guns. Sri Lanka appeared to be going for the target when Jayawardene joined Atapattu.

The scoring rate dropped from eight plus to six plus and India took control of the situation, after Jayawardene's reverse hit off Yuveraj Singh went into the hands of Ashish Nehra.

"That shot was needed at that point of time," said Jayasuriya at the press conference.

Sri Lankan threw in the towel after the exit of Atapattu (53, 74b, 5 x 4s) and Russel Arnold. "Well, these are as a result of constant practice put over a period of time. They were fine pieces of fielding," said Wright.

Marvan Atapattu is run out. His fine 53 went in vain.-N. SRIDHARAN

The match also marked the return to form of off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. He broke the dangerous looking second wicket partnership, by taking the wicket of Sangakkara and then took three more wickets for 46 runs.

Ganguly also bowled 10 useful overs and checked the run rate even when Sangakkara was on song.

"I think our batting is okay. It cannot be said about our bowling. We have always done well in championship finals, but here we did not qualify. Murali would have helped us win at least two matches. I think we need a seamer allrounder to provide balance to the team. Thilan (Samaraweera) bowled well, but did not come off well as a batsman. He needs experience," said Jayasuriya.

Any match that produces 500 runs and more must be an entertainment to the spectators. Sachin Tendulkar and Sangakkara gave spectators their money's worth.

The scores:

India: S. Ganguly (run out) 9; V. Sehwag (run out) 39; D. Mongia b Samaraweera 48; S. Tendulkar c Chandana b Vaas 113; R. Dravid lbw b Chandana 13; Yuveraj Singh lbw b Samaraweera 8; M. Kaif c Chamara Silva b Zoysa 41; Harbhajan Singh (run out) 0; Zaheer Khan b D. Fernando 0; A. Nehra b D. Fernando 3; T. Yohannan (not out) 5; Extras (lb-6, nb-7, w-12) 25. Total (in 50 overs) 304.

Fall of wickets: 1-32, 2-73, 3-172, 4-199, 5-210, 6-284, 7-286, 8-288, 9-296.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-0-64-1, Zoysa 10-0-66-1, D. Fernando 10-1-55-2, Chandana 8-0-44-1, Jayasuriya 2-0-14-0, Jayawardene 2-0-16-0, Samaraweera 8-0-39-2.

Sri Lanka: S. Jayasuriya lbw b Khan 5; M. Atapattu (run out) 53; K. Sangakkara st. Dravid b Harbhajan 66; M. Jayawardene c Nehra b Yuveraj 31; N. Zoysa c Mongia b Ganguly 8; R. Arnold (run out) 8; Chamara Silva st. Dravid b Harbhajan 30; T. Samaraweera b Harbhajan 15; U. Chandana c Nehra b Harbhajan 1; C. Vaas (not out) 4; D. Fernando (run out) 3; Extras (b-1, lb-5, nb-6, w-5) 17. Total (in 44.1 overs) 241.

Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-96, 3-160, 4-165, 5-171, 6-188, 7-210, 8-221, 9-233.

India bowling: Nehra 7-0-28-0, Khan 8.1-0-52-1, Yohannan 5-0-39-0, Ganguly 10-0-40-1, Harbhajan 10-0-46-4, Yuveraj 2-0-12-1, Mongia 1-0-8-0, Sehwag 1-0-10-0.

Another class act by Sachin

SACHIN TENDULKAR entertained the crowd with a century at the Nevil Road Cricket Ground in Bristol Temple Meads, Gloucestershire. In the 1999 World Cup match against Kenya, the little champion made his first century (140 not out) in a one-day international in England.

The batting maestro scored his first hundred against England in one-day international at Riverside, Chester-Le-Street. But that match could not be completed because of rain. His 113 in 102 balls with 12 fours and one six made him the highest run getter for India in the NatWest Trophy. This took him to fourth position in the NatWest series honours list, behind Marcus Trescothick (790, 19 matches), Alec Stewart (644, 19 matches) and Nick Knight (341, 12 matches).

Tendulkar's aggregate stood at 323 from six matches. After him are: Australia's Ricky Ponting (298, five matches), Pakistan's Yousuf Youhana (263, six matches), Zimbabwe's Alistair Campbell (257, seven matches), Australia's Adam Gilchrist (248, six matches), Zimbabwe's Neil Johnson (230, seven matches), India's Rahul Dravid (240, five matches) and Zimbabwe's Grant Flower (223, seven matches).

Tendulkar also became the second batsman, after England's Stewart, to score two centuries in the short history of the NatWest series. In fact, only three more batsmen, apart from Stewart and Tendulkar, have made hundreds in the three-year-old tournament. They are: Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya, West Indies' Sherwin Campbell and Australia's Ricky Ponting. He is the leading runmaker in one-day internationals, having taken his tally of runs to 11491 from 294 one-day internationals with 33 centuries and 56 half centuries.

It was a typical Tendulkar knock. He dominated the bowlers right from the word go. He went after the bowling of Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa.

The Sri Lankan attack missed the service of offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who has dismissed Tendulkar four times in one-day internationals. Tendulkar's earlier century against Sri Lanka was in a Sharjah tournament in October 2000. He made 101 then. The previous hundreds, against Sri Lanka, are: 112 not out at Sharjah in April 95, 137 not out at New Delhi in March 96, 110 at Colombo in August 96, 128 at Colombo in July 98 and 120 at Colombo in August 99.

He is now only 59 runs short of completing 2000 runs against Sri Lanka. "It's was a fantastic batting pitch," he told Paul Allott of Sky Television during the presentation ceremony.

He was absent on the field when Sri Lanka chased India's stiff target of 304. "It's nothing serious. It's just that the hamstring became stiff," he said after receiving his first Man of the Match award in this championship.