A totally committed cricketer

S. DINAKAR

THE Indians entered the ground without the logo of their official sponsor, but in the end, they managed to put a smile on the faces of their biggest sponsor - their countless supporters.

Mohammed Kaif, who revels in a crisis, cracks Guy Whittall on way to his century.-N. BALAJI

With the controversy over 'Player Contracts', following them to Lanka, the Indians were very much in the news as they arrived in the emerald isle. There were several anxious questions about India in Colombo. Will the Indian team be at full strength? Would Sachin play?

With so much interest generated about India and its participation, the side did need to put up a winning performance against Zimbabwe in its Pool 2 game on September 14.

However, yet another controversy rocked the team hours before it took the field. The International Cricket Council (ICC), that had earlier objected to the Indian cricketers wearing the shirts of their sponsor Sahara India, since it clashed with the interests of South African Airways, one of the official sponsors of the ICC tournament, now said the players could not sport the logo with a 'wing symbol' under the words Subrata - the name of the Sahara boss - inscribed on it. The 'wing,' ICC felt reminded the viewers of Sahara Airlines.

For a weary outfit, that had been on the road away from home for nearly six months, all the heat generated over the logos and the sponsors in the run-up to the tournament and then the first match, would have hardly been an ideal way to prepare mentally.

Zaheer Khan is congratulated by fellow left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra for dismissing Alistair Campbell. Zaheer claimed four wickets.-AFP

Yet, the Indians had a job on hand and they needed to put everything else out of their mind. Sourav Ganguly won a good toss, but he would have hardly bargained for the kind of start India got off to.

It was only months ago, days before the Indian team embarked on the West Indian campaign, that rookie paceman Douglas Hondo had ambushed India in the Kochi ODI. Having played plenty of cricket since then, the Indians could have been forgiven had the name Hondo slipped out of their minds.

At the Premadasa Stadium, Hondo made sure that his name would be remembered by the Indians for at least the next few days as he ripped open the top and middle order with some well directed bowling. True, the Indian batsmen were guilty of casual strokes outside the off-stump, but Hondo deserves credit for pitching the ball up, drawing the batsmen into the drive, and shifting his line to the right and left-handers adeptly.

Ganguly, Dinesh Mongia and Sachin Tendulkar were all taken in the first slip by Alistair Campbell, Sean Ervine in the second slip came up with a sensational catch, diving to his right, to dismiss Yuveraj Singh, and Hondo, not more than medium pace, had scalped four in next to no time.

Virender Sehwag, not surprisingly, came up with some audacious strokes, racing to 48 off just 36 balls and it's his knock that kept the Indian run-rate going at a healthy clip despite the dramatic fall of wickets.

N. BALAJI

N. BALAJI

Rahul Dravid, who is enjoying himself in the additional role of wicketkeeper, runs out Grant Flower. Earlier, Dravid had played a vital innings, scoring 71. Andy Flower has a special preference for the Indian attack. He slammed 145 and here he is seen essaying a reverse sweep against Harbhajan Singh.

When Sehwag departed, snicking young paceman Ervine into wicket-keeper Andy Flower's gloves, Mohammed Kaif joined Dravid at 87 for five. The two, with positive cricket in an adverse situation, put the Indian innings back on track.

Dravid was especially impressive flicking, cutting and driving with panache, besides getting his ones and the twos. Kaif took the cue and gradually India got back into the contest.

The two added 117 in 149 balls and when Dravid departed, run out for 71 off 81 deliveries, the Indians were at a much more comfortable 204. Yet, the recovery was not yet complete.

Kaif, who gained in confidence as the innings progressed and a defiant Anil Kumble, then raised 84 and India, finished at a healthy 288 for six, a total that appeared far, far away just a couple of hours back.

Kaif, a much improved batsman these days with a wider range of strokes, sparkled towards the end, reaching his maiden ODI hundred. More importantly India reached a challenging total.

Douglas Hondo has tormented India earlier, in Kochi, and he did an encore in Colombo. Here he nails the champion bat, Sachin Tendulkar.-N. BALAJI

The rest of the match was about Andy Flower's outstanding 145, during which he guided Zimbabwe to the doorstep of victory, even as batsmen departed at the other end. The man's commitment and the desire to succeed are quite unbelievable, but alas, his effort was in vain.

Andy was dropped twice early on, by Nehra at fine-leg and by Dinesh Mongia at second slip, off Zaheer Khan and Nehra respectively, and he made the Indians pay for their lapses. He reached his hundred off 121 balls, and carried on bravely, before Tendulkar, bowling assorted spin, scalped him in the penultimate over.

Left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan stood out in the Indian bowling, striking in the beginning, middle, and at the end of the innings. He is someone who has made a conscious effort to improve. Zaheer castled Ervine off the final delivery of the innings and India had won by 14 runs. It was a near thing for Ganguly and his men.

The scores:

India: S. Ganguly c Campbell b Hondo 13; V. Sehwag c A. Flower b Ervine 48; D. Mongia c Campbell b Hondo 0; S. Tendulkar c Campbell b Hondo 7; R. Dravid (run out) 71; Y. Singh c Ervine b Hondo 3; M. Kaif (not out) 111; A. Kumble (not out) 18. Extras (b-1, lb-2, nb-4, w-10) 17. Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs) 288.

Fall of wickets: 1-25, 2-25, 3-67, 4-84, 5-87, 6-204.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 7-0-48-0, Hondo 9-1-62-4, Ervine 8-0-60-1, Whittall 8-0-39-0, Price 10-0-38-0, Marillier 5-0-23-0, G. Flower 3-0-15-0.

Zimbabwe: A. Campbell c Yuveraj b Zaheer 8; D. Ebrahim lbw b Zaheer 0; A. Flower c Ganguly b Tendulkar 145; G. Flower (run out) 33; S. Carlisle b Tendulkar 2; G. Whittall c Dravid b Zaheer 29; D. Marillier c Ganguly b Kumble 14; S. Ervine b Zaheer 7; H. Streak (not out) 4. Extras (b-7, lb-15, nb-4, w-6) 32. Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 274.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-43, 3-127, 4-130, 5-201, 6-240, 7-263, 8-274.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-2-45-4, Nehra 8-0-37-0, Kumble 10-0-48-1, Harbhajan 10-0-44-0, Yuveraj 3-0-24-0, Tendulkar 7-0-41-2, Ganguly 2-0-13-0.

IT was in Colombo, during last July that coach John Wright was in a particularly unhappy mood as he met the Indian media for an informal chat. India had lost its third successive match in the triangular ODI competition and Wright wanted to speak his mind that night.

"I don't mind, if I have a batch of players who are not the greatest of talents. But I want them to be playing with their hearts. I want men who would die for India on the cricket field," he fumed.

Mohammed Kaif would have been just the kind of player Wright would have had in mind. A cricketer who yearns to put his best foot forward all the time.

He is also someone who has learnt to work over his limitations. Kaif had a rather limited repertoire of strokes early on, but now he appears a totally different batsman, with the ability to play the lead role.

Before his maiden ODI hundred at the Premadasa Stadium, Kaif had come up with that stirring knock in the NatWest final at Lord's. And when he walked out to join Rahul Dravid with India struggling at 87 for five, he had another big job on hand.

Dravid, incidentally, was the man who made possible Kaif's entry into the XI. With the vice-captain donning the gloves, the place for the extra batsman was created and both, in the NatWest final and in the Champions Trophy game against Zimbabwe, the additional batsman saved the day for India.

It was a clever and beautifully paced innings by Kaif. He played a supporting role to Dravid during their 117-run stand for the sixth wicket, running like a hare between the wickets, but after his senior partner's dismissal, opened out with a flurry of strokes, that were both scintillating and innovative.

Kaif's 111 not out came from 112 balls, with his second fifty consuming only 37 balls. It was during the climactic stages of the innings that Kaif, with Anil Kumble for support, really put the game out of Zimbabwe's reach.

There were several telling strokes. Kaif went down on his knee to sweep Sean Ervine fine twice for boundaries, pulled Grant Flower ferociously over midwicket for a six, and unleashed a series of strokes, both, along the ground, and lofted, through the cover area.

It was a match-winning knock from the 21-year-old Man of the Match. His maiden ODI hundred was indeed special.