A low-scoring encounter

G. VISWANATH

ENGLAND, beaten 6-0 (three each by Australia and Pakistan) did not figure in the final of last year's NatWest Trophy series. The home team qualified for this summer's final, by its own improved performance, beating Sri Lanka in the first two league matches, and also with some help from India which defeated Sri Lanka in a low-scoring match at Edgbaston. The story of the Indian cricket team in the English summer of 2002 has been one of success. Though the team lost to Kent in one of the three warm-up matches, it was able to maintain the winning streak in the NatWest series and qualify for the final.

'Man of the Match' Rahul Dravid is poised to sweep Samaraweera during his knock of 64.-N. SRIDHARAN

In a setting that Bob Willis mentioned as more resembling Eden Gardens, Kolkata, than Edgbaston, Birmingham, India quelled the challenge posed by the Sri Lankans to make sure of its place in the final, a full week ahead of the last day of the three-nation competition. England, too, was happy at the outcome of the India - Sri Lanka encounter. It was a match in which the Indians outnumbered the Sri Lankan supporters. Birmingham has the second largest population of Indian and Asian origin after Leicestershire. People carrying the tricolour, with their faces painted, thronged the ground in thousands. Hours after India's four-wicket win, the Indians were still celebrating in Birmingham city. India owed its third win - after the abandoned match against England at Riverside because of rain - to another phlegmatic display by Dravid, who is accustomed to doing the rescue act first, rallying it around next and then taking the team past the winning post. Chaminda Vaas is a left-arm bowler who has been consistent in bowling straight and steady ever since his debut against India in the Ahmedabad Test when Kapil Dev took the wicket of Hashan Tillekeratne and went past Richard Hadlee's world record. Vaas had troubled the Indians at the Oval on a seaming pitch. Here at Edgbaston he was at the traditionally seaming turf and under cloud cover, beating the batsmen no end. He brought his side - after it had been contained for 187 - back into the match, taking the wicket of Virender Sehwag off the first ball. Batsmen accustomed to playing on flat pitches and with little experience on conditions that help the seamers were always going to find it difficult. Playing and missing was the order at Edgbaston. Dinesh Mongia had no clue to the ball that had him playing towards the on side and offering a catch on the off side. Indian captain Sourav Ganguly said the Edgbaston pitch was 'a bit underprepared.' In good old days, Indian batsmen searched for the ball. It is not always easy facing up to left-handers bowling over the wicket. Batsmen (right-handers) have been advised to adapt to the two-shoulder stance, slightly squaring up, while facing left-arm bowlers. It was up to Tendulkar and Dravid to show proper judgment and actually stabilise the innings from 33 for three. Ganguly had chased an away ball from Pramodaya Wickremasinghe and nicked it into the hands of Romesh Kaluwitharana. Dravid stepped in to stem the rot. He needed a big stroke of luck though before he led the Indian fightback and steer the team to safety. When on nine and the Indian total at 74, he was caught by Russel Arnold off a no ball by Wickremasinghe. After this, Dravid shaped a match-winning 64, which included a six, coming off a straight hit. He had young Yuveraj Singh for company and they both put on 91 runs for the fifth wicket after Tendulkar failed to pick up a slower one from Dilhara Fernando and gave Marvan Atapattu a simple catch at covers. Dravid departed at 150, leaving his team 38 runs short of its third win.

Anil Kumble breaks the stumps to run out Russel Arnold. Kumble bowled a tight line to pick up two wickets as well.-N. SRIDHARAN

The match had begun well for India, with Ashish Nehra finding his line and length at once. This was a good sign because at the other end Zaheer Khan was allowing the Sri Lankan batsmen to profit. In his very first over, Ajit Agarkar accounted for Kaluwitharana. Like he did at the Oval, the Sri Lankan opener edged a straightforward catch to Dravid off the first ball from the Indian medium-pacer. Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene put the Sri Lankan innings back on course before both perished to leg-spinner Anil Kumble. In the process they also became Kumble's first pair of victims in the tournament. Jayawardene danced down the pitch for an inside-out shot meant to clear long off, but he found Nehra on the way. A little later, Atapattu lost his patience and was bowled by Kumble. It was the beginning of Sri Lanka's decline. From 125 for two the team was all out for 187. The Sri Lankans paid a heavy price for playing poor cricket. Nehra finished with a very impressive 10-2-28-2. It would have been even better but for the three thundering fours hit by Vaas in his last over. Zaheer Khan returned to pick up two wickets and so did Agarkar. Ganguly's seamers released at slow speed did not really work. He had to use Sachin Tendulkar's military medium-pace for a while to unsettle the two set batsmen in Jayawardene and Atapattu. Kumble who had gone for 40 plus without a wicket in each of his previous two matches, was happy to finish off at 10-0-36-2.

The scores:

Marvan Atapattu, who scored a fifty, drives Sourav Ganguly to the fence.-N. SRIDHARAN

Sri Lanka: S. Jayasuriya b Nehra 22; R. Kaluwitharana c Dravid b Agarkar 8; M. Atapattu b Kumble 50; M. Jayawardene c Nehra b Kumble 36; A. Gunawardene c Yuveraj b Khan 7; R. Arnold (run out) 13; T. Samaraweera c Sehwag b Nehra 3; U. Chandana c Nehra b Agarkar 4; C. Vaas c Ganguly b Khan 26; P. Wickremasinghe (run out) 2; D. Fernando (not out) 2; Extras (b-4, lb-4, nb-4, w-2) 14. Total (in 48.2 overs) 187.

Fall of wkts: 1-33, 2-41, 3-125, 4-129, 5-146, 6-150, 7-153, 8-182, 9-185.

Chaminda Vaas celebrates the fall of Dinesh Mongia, caught by Sanath Jayasuriya.-N. SRIDHARAN

India bowling: Nehra 10-2-28-2, Khan 8.2-0-36-2, Agarkar 9-1-31-2, Ganguly 6-0-30-0, Tendulkar 5-0-18-0, Kumble 10-0-36-2.

India: V. Sehwag b Vaas 0; S. Ganguly c Kaluwitharana b Wickremasinghe 24; D. Mongia c Jayasuriya b Vaas 5; S. Tendulkar c Atapattu b D. Fernando 19; R. Dravid (run out) 64; Yuveraj Singh c Chandana b D. Fernando 37; M. Kaif (not out) 7; A. Agarkar (not out) 7; Extras (lb-3, nb-5, w-17) 25. Total (for six wkts. in 48.1 overs) 188.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-30, 3-33, 4-59, 5-150, 6-179.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-2-26-1, D. Fernando 10-0-22-2, Wickremasinghe 9-0-47-1, Chandana 6.1-0-32-0, Samaraweera 10-1-35-0, Jayasuriya 3-0-23-0.

Mr. Dependable

RAHUL DRAVID'S contribution to India's victory in the second match of the NatWest Trophy tri-series against England was not any less. But, the 'Man of the Match' award was given to Yuveraj Singh because, besides batting well, he also took three wickets, those of Nasser Hussain, Andrew Flintoff and Graham Thorpe.

Dravid had made an unbeaten 73 in that match at Lord's and had a hand in three dismissals. He had batted for nearly two hours, a reasonable indication of his ability to handle pressure and come to terms with the prevailing conditions. In the next match against Sri Lanka he made only eight runs and was bowled by leg-spinner Upul Chandana. But Sachin Tendulkar, Yuveraj and Mohammad Kaif batted sensibly to ensure victory. India was in a predicament when it met England at the Riverside venue in Durham.

Dravid made 82 in two hours and 10 minutes off 117 balls as against Tendulkar's unbeaten 105 off 108 balls. Their partnership was worth 169 runs. Struggling at 52 for three, India reached 285 for four wickets before rain forced an abandonment. Dravid was not denied the individual honour in a team game that is highlighted in every match. He was instrumental in India's four-wicket win against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston. He made a match-winning 64 on a pitch that helped the seamers.

"It has been a good series so far and we are winning. That's great. It is a new challenge (keeping wickets) and I am enjoying it. It is working out well. I need to keep on improving and working at my game and hopefully I will get better and better," said Dravid at the 'Man of the Match' presentation ceremony.

Dravid, India's vice-captain, took the brunt of the bowling from the seamers among whom Chaminda Vaas looked threatening all the time. Dilhara Fernando, too, bowled to a good line and extracted bounce. The dismissal of Tendulkar, driving Fernando, to Marvan Atapattu, put the skids on the Indians.

Dravid stepped in when India was 33 for three and staged a rally with Yuveraj Singh.

"It (ball) did quite a lot on the pitch. The ball was not coming on to the bat and hence it was difficult to play the shots. Rahul played a fantastic innings," said Sourav Ganguly after his team had clinched victory and a place in the final of the NatWest Trophy.