A second win for India


Mahela Jayawardene square drives Anil Kumble during his knock of 62.-N. SRIDHARAN

INDIA has experienced the good and the bad of The Oval. In 1971 Bhagwat Chandrasekhar skittled out Ray Illingworth's England and won the Test match for Ajit Wadekar and India. Years later in 1979 Sunil Gavaskar made 221 in a Test that was described by Ted Dexter and Colin Cowdrey 'as the best they had seen'. And in 1986 India beat England in a one-day international. So far so good. The other side is that India has also been beaten twice by England. And also once each by Australia and West Indies at The Oval, both in World Cup matches. One match against England was abandoned because of rain. There was hope and apprehension for the Indians, one would think so, when they travelled to The Oval this time. But do teams really care about past records?

Generally teams take The Oval for granted as a good track for batting. They were reminded of it recently, when Surrey and Glamorgan made 867 runs in Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy one-day tournament on June 19. Confirmation was available the moment Sri Lanka's skipper Sanath Jayasuriya began to fire shots as if he was manoeuvring a battle tank. The first seven overs from Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra saw Sri Lanka advancing at a run a ball, Nehra conceding very little though. The Indian seamers hit back through Ajit Agarkar whose opening spell of seven overs and three wickets resulted in Mahela Jayawardene (62, 105b, 4x4s) and Sri Lanka playing out the 50 overs so as to set a decent target. The game was dull and drab what with the cloud cover and moisture in the pitch helping the seamers to dictate terms to the batsmen.

Zaheer Khan, who took three wickets for 48 being congratulated by Rahul Dravid after the dismissal of Marvan Atapattu.-N. SRIDHARAN

For the second time Khan did not have a good start. But he came back to take three wickets, including the important one of Marvan Atapattu, bowled of the inside edge of his bat. Khan also dismissed Jayawardene, the perpendicular position of the bat at the point of contact with the ball resulting in a catch spooned to the bowler. Khan was happy to end with figures of three for 48 from ten overs. It was a day when even Sourav Ganguly bowled ten impressive overs. In conditions like the one that prevailed at The Oval Ganguly can prove to be a handy bowler as he once did at Toronto and grabbed five wickets to win the Man of the Match award. The seamers took all the eight wickets as Sri Lanka struggled to cross 200 runs. Having opted to bat first it was a poor score, but then Jayasuriya would not have imagined that the white appearance of the pitch would turn out to be a great ally of the seamers. There was mean bounce the seamers were able to extract and they also got sideways movement. This was enough to keep the batsmen cautious and circumspect.

The Sri Lankan seamers - the experienced ones in Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa - also had a good time. The contest was gripping all the way as Vaas removed the Indian openers, Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. The 71-run stand for the third wicket between Sachin Tendulkar (49, 70 balls, 1x6, 3x4) and Dinesh Mongia did not guarantee a victory for India. The Indians enjoyed the edge because they had a small target to chase which they could have achieved by placing their shots between gaps for singles and twos. Even so, Mohammad Kaif (38 not out, 44 balls, 4 x 4) challenged the Sri Lankan bowlers when some one like Yuveraj ( 31, 44 balls, 3 x 4) had opted for caution than an open show of flair.

The dismissal of Tendulkar, a beautiful over the wicket delivered by Nuwan Zoysa that took the edge of his bat, must have raised hopes for the Sri Lankans. Tendulkar left the scene after umpire Dave Orchard shook his head to confirm that he was indeed caught at the wicket by Kaluwitharana. When Tendulkar departed India still needed a lot of runs, but Yuveraj and Kaif forged a nice partnership that surprised the Sri Lankans. "I have been hooking well in recent times. That's why I was playing that shot," said Kaif whose partnership for the sixth wicket with Yuveraj clinched the second match. It would not be out of place to say that the Indian cricketers are enjoying every bit of the English summer. The Indians proved to be a hit winning back to back matches.

Man of the Match Ajit Agarkar exults after taking the wicket of Kaluwitharana (caught by Dravid).-N. SRIDHARAN

The four-wicket win against Sri Lanka was extremely creditable because there was very little time to recoup after an energy sapping match against England at Lord's. Contests between India and Sri Lanka on English soil have been very few. In fact the two teams have clashed against each other only in World Cup matches, the first time in 1979 and the next, twenty years later.

It is not often that a country gets a chance to play another in a neutral country. Sharjah is an exception. Three summers ago India had batted out Sri Lanka from the World Cup match at Taunton. Then Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid had collared a strong Sri Lankan bowling that had Muttiah Muralitharan in its line up. Ganguly made 183 and Dravid 145 that eventually helped India score 373 for six and beat Sri Lanka by 157 runs. In the latest tie, the bowlers made the most of the conditions with the seamers bowling five maiden overs in the match.

The scores:

Sri Lanka: S. Jayasuriya c Dravid b Agarkar 36; R. Kaluwitharana c Dravid b Agarkar 15; M. Atapattu b Khan 7; M. Jayawardene c & b Khan 62; R. Arnold c Dravid b Agarkar 6; N. Nawaz c Sehwag b Ganguly 11; U. Chandana c Kaif b Nehra 18; C. Vaas (not out) 26; N. Zoysa c Kaif b Khan 4; B. Fernando (not out) 4; Extras (lb-8, nb-1, w-4) 13. Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 202.

Sourav Ganguly in an impressive spell got the wicket of Naveed Nawaz, caught by Sehwag.-N. SRIDHARAN

Fall of wkts: 1-42, 2-65, 3-65, 4-78, 5-97, 6-140, 7-182, 8-186.

India bowling: Nehra 10-0-29-1, Zaheer Khan 10-1-48-3, Agarkar 9-2-44-3, Ganguly 10-1-28-1, Kumble 10-0-43-0, Sehwag 1-0-2-0.

India: S. Ganguly lbw b Vaas 7; V. Sehwag c Jayasuriya b Vaas 12; D. Mongia c Vaas b D. Fernando 33; S. Tendulkar c Kaluwitharana b Zoysa 49; R. Dravid b Chandana 8; Yuveraj Singh c (sub) Silva b D. Fernando 31; M. Kaif (not out) 38; A. Agarkar (not out) 7; Extras (lb-2, nb-7, w-9) 18. Total (for six wkts. in 45.2 overs) 203.

Fall of wkts: 1-17, 2-26, 3-97, 4-113, 5-135, 6-195.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-0-38-2, Zoysa 10-0-46-1, D. Fernando 10-0-53-2, B. Fernando 3-0-11-0, Chandana 10-1-46-1, Jayasuriya 2-0-5-0, Arnold 0.2-0-2-0.

He has a knack of getting wickets

IF one sees the action replays of the match between India and Sri Lanka played at The Oval one might not be convinced that Ajit Agarkar deserved the three wickets he took of Romesh Kaluwitharana, Sanath Jayasuriya and Russel Arnold. The dapper wicketkeeper batsman drove well away from his body, Jayasuriya nibbled at a short ball and Arnold did very much the same. The three nicks were held by Rahul Dravid. Some said it was all fluke. It was not. The fact is that Agarkar has the knack of getting wickets. Obviously Geoffrey Boycott was not happy with the way the Sri Lankans batted. "They threw their wickets", he said while at the Press Box for a cup of tea.

Agarkar might well argue that, that is the way he bowls, inviting batsmen with his swinging deliveries and luring them. He has often been hit and plundered for runs, but his facts and figures after playing 96 matches (before the match against Sri Lanka) reveal that he has been more than a utility bowler for India. Jayasuriya was his 150th victim in 97 matches, a good way to reach a milestone. Obviously Agarkar learned his lessons to bowl on English pitches quickly. Against the England openers, he had two bad overs in his first spell of six. He was hammered in the first for eight and sixth for 13. That damaged his analysis. He gave 21 runs in two overs to Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight, but gave only 19 in the middle four between the first and sixth.

Ravi Shastri felt that the bowling combination should not have been disturbed. "When you have a settled seam attack starting with Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra and followed by Agarkar, it should be allowed to remain that way. The move to play Harbhajan Singh backfired". It was rectified against Sri Lanka and though Khan was put away for runs by Jayasuriya, Nehra got into his rhythm straightaway to bowl more than an useful first spell. Agarkar struck in the first very ball he bowled to Kaluwitharana and after Sri Lanka got to a flying start, making 42 off 42 balls. A great relief was seen on the faces of the Indian players when he got rid of Jayasuriya. Ganguly bowled him for seven overs in which 20 runs were scored off. When he came back for his second spell, Mahela Jayawardene played a peach of a straight drive and steered one to the third man fence.

Agarkar gave 13 runs of his eighth over. This spoiled his final figures, but in the end overs it is more likely that a bowler goes for a few extra runs with batsmen taking chances. A few years ago in Rajkot, Agarkar had blasted runs off the Zimbabwe bowling and followed it with a brilliant opening spell. That effort won him the Man of the Match award. At The Oval he made the ball wobble around and took three good wickets. He should repeat this showing as the series advances into the second and third round matches.