After the series is lost, India posts a win

S. DINAKAR

Harbhajan Singh is hugging Zaheer Khan after the all-rounder had won the match for India.-N. BALAJI

John Wright had exhorted the side to play with passion and pride, the two qualities missing in India's campaign in New Zealand. Would things be different in Queenstown, an enchanting tourist resort town?

The Indians arrived in Queenstown as a battered and bruised side. It had forgotten the meaning of pride on the cricket field. Could the magic of this magical South Island town work on them?

The Indians faced a must win situation, having gone down in the first three games, the side could not allow the morale to drop further, with the World Cup only days away. A perform and perish situation it certainly was.

The Indians eventually turned in yet another meek display in Queenstown, lost the seven-match series with it, but did manage to salvage some pride, squeezing out a two- wicket victory in the fifth ODI at Wellington, youngsters Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan, unexpectedly with the bat, delivering at the crunch.

Shane Bond gets the treatment from Yuvraj Singh, who was instrumental in turning the match India's way.-N. BALAJI

However, the Indians had lost too much ground by then, and, following the setback in the Tests, the one-day series too had been lost. A lot of work needs to be done before the World Cup.

This also meant that the Indians now had lost two back-to-back ODI series, after being beaten 4-3 by the West Indians at home, and although Sachin Tendulkar missed all the eleven games, the Indian batting, it was believed, had the depth and the class to still win matches.

Tendulkar did return for the Wellington ODI and though the maestro did not open his account, falling to Shane Bond, who too returned after a side strain, in a debatable leg-before decision, his comeback at least saw India winning. Chris Cairns, another match-winner, journeyed back to big time cricket too, after 10 frustrating months away from the game, forced by a knee surgery. The Kiwi team-management is not quite willing to risk him in bowling, with the World Cup around the corner, but during his stroke-filled 25, Cairns did show glimpses of his class with the bat.

However, the Kiwis had other injury worries, promising all-rounder Jacob Oram dislocating his little finger before the Wellington match, and aggressive opener Nathan Astle having a recurrence of a nagging knee injury suffered during the fifth ODI.

The Kiwis are an efficient rather than a brilliant side, and they do thorough homework, studying the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, and the key to the victory for the host, both in the Tests and the ODIs, has been their ability to pitch the ball in the right areas.

Shane Bond the kiwi bowler celebrates after getting the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar. Many believed that the Indian batting maestro got a raw deal in Wellington.-N. BALAJI

Except in Queenstown where all-rounder Andre Adams (five for 22) got wickets with short balls, the Kiwi pacemen led by Daryl Tuffey and Jacob Oram have posed searching questions to the Indian batsmen getting the ball to seam and bounce from on or just around the off-stump.

And some brilliant fielding, with the Kiwis, just about catching everything that has come their way, has supported the bowling.

And the batsmen have been making enough to win the games. Like Stephen Fleming said: ''whatever they have been making, we have been making more.'' In Queenstown, Fleming himself scored 47, and when a side chases just 123, these are match-winning runs. In the first four games, the Kiwis did not score big, but found the right men for the occasion.

And it was clear from the duels that the Indians needed improvement in at least two aspects of the game, batting and fielding. Not to forget running between the wickets.

Batting has been a huge problem area for the Indians, in conditions where the ball seams, swings and bounces, as was the case in New Zealand.

There was just an element of assistance to the New Zealand pacemen in Queenstown, but that doesn't explain a total of 122. It was disappointing, even disgusting batting, where our batsmen failed to apply themselves to the job. Excluding Wellington, here too it was a close shave, the Indians failed to bat out the fifty overs, and there were quite a few supporters of the side, who were angry with the side. ''I did not go to watch here out of sheer disgust, but they managed to surprise us,'' said a cabbie of Indian origin from Fiji in Wellington.

Andre Adams (third from left) is greeted by his mates after the dismissal of Rahul Dravid. The New Zealander's five-wicket haul sealed India's fate.-N. BALAJI

``We have let everybody down, our coach, our physio, our trainer, the people back home, the people here,'' said Ganguly, but then, this was not a time for apologies.

There is no shame in losing and some of the better sides have had their moments of defeats, however what pained many was the total capitulation by the batsmen, at least in the first four games, and scores of 108, 219, 108 and 122 do reflect the absence of a fight-back.

This has been a tour, where the Indian batsmen have failed to learn from the mistakes, the prime example being skipper Sourav Ganguly, who either pushes at deliveries on or outside the off-stump without using his feet, or chases wide ones.

In Queenstown, when the situation demanded him to stay at the crease and show some character, Ganguly slashed at a short delivery from paceman Daryl Tuffey and unerringly found a fielder at third man. It was worse in Wellington, where he flung his bat at a wayward first delivery from Daryl Tuffey into the wicket-keepers gloves. Ganguly had some fine occasions as skipper last year, but in times of need, it becomes so important for him to lead by example.

In the end, Yuvraj Singh's well compiled 54, where he batted with maturity, and played straight, and Zaheer Khan's fighting 34, rescued India from a precarious 116 for seven at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, when a defeat appeared certain.

Javagal Srinath, as usual, bowled his heart-out and he was rewarded for his effort. Here he is in a happy mood after taking the wicket of Nathan Astle in the fourth one-dayer.-N. BALAJI

The left-hander from Punjab has been batting well in the tournament, displaying the resolve to stay at the crease. He is such a clean striker of the ball, that runs would eventually come if he stays at the crease.

Earlier, in the day-night game, Zaheer Khan had fired out three batsmen, including Nathan Astle in his first spell, to jolt the Kiwis, and later displayed much heart with the willow, and in this cricketer there is a lesson for the other members of the side. Virender Sehwag's 40-ball 45, opening the innings, was a vital effort in the fifth ODI, but the others disappointed.

With the ball, Srinath, when everything was appeared lost, bowled with much spirit in Queenstown, and in Wellington too, it was the Karnataka paceman who castled Cairns with a sharp off-cutter when the all-rounder was changing gears. It has been a rejuvenated Srinath that we have seen in New Zealand.

The Kiwis were shuffling the World Cup squad, and for the Queenstown game, Chris Harris, Andre Adams, and Scott Styris were in the side, and the all-rounders were bound to add depth to the side. Eventually, veteran Harris missed out, being named the 12th man, Styris had a quieter game, but Adams, back in the side after 10 months following a battle with the stress fracture of the back, changed the course of the match, his five wickets in Queenstown swinging the match New Zealand's way.

On a day when the Queenstown Events Centre had the ambience of a village fair, Adams, using his shoulder to hit the deck, dismissed five Indian batsmen. He did not achieve the rapid breakthroughs with good deliveries though.

A hustler rather than a genuine mover of the ball, Adams began with the scalp of Virender Sehwag, striking the ball well till then. Sehwag's attempt to steer only ended in the hands of Astle in the slip cordon. Sehwag can be dangerous in this form of the game once he gets over the initial phase and it was a crucial strike for New Zealand.

Adams then fired out Dravid, with a fuller length delivery that had the otherwise technically accomplished Indian playing over the top of the ball and a touch across the line. Then the short balls did the trick for Adams.

Mohammed Kaif hit straight into the hands of square-leg, and Dinesh Mongia, who was drafted in as the 17th member in New Zealand, following a request from the Indian team-management, since it wanted to give this left-hander, who is in the World Cup squad, a feel of the international battle before the Mega Event, perished to the pull shot. Adams had scalped four in his first spell.

This Auckland cricketer is considered crucial to the side, since he can bowl, bat and field with much zest, just the kind of player a captain would want in a one-day side. He is not really the accurate kind, but has the habit of picking up wickets with ordinary deliveries, as he showed once again in Queenstown.

But then, he received considerable help from the Indians. The win at Wellington halted India's disastrous run, but the victory came at a heavy cost.

Wellington, January 8

New Zealand: S. Fleming c Dravid b Nehra 19; N. Astle lbw b Zaheer 0; M. Sinclair b Zaheer 0; C. Harris lbw b Zaheer 1; C. Cairns b Srinath 25; S. Styris b Nehra 13; B. McCullum b Kumble 35; A. Adams c Kaif b Ganguly 35; D. Vettori (not out) 16; D. Tuffey b Srinath 4; S. Bond lbw b Kumble 0; Extras (nb-6, w-3, b-4, lb7) 20; Total (in 42.4 overs) 168.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-0, 3-3, 4-48, 5-51, 6-92, 7-140, 8-158, 9-167.

India: Srinath 10-2-24-2, Zaheer 8-0-30-3, Nehra 9-1-38-2, Ganguly 6-0-27-1, Kumble 9.4-0-38-2.

India: S. Ganguly c McCullum b Tuffey 0; V. Sehwag c Fleming b Styris 45; D. Mongia b Bond 2; S. Tendulkar lbw b Bond 0; R. Dravid c McCullum b Styris 7; Yuvraj c Harris b Vettori 54; M. Kaif c Fleming b Adams 1; A. Kumble hit wkt. b Adams 2; Zaheer Khan (not out) 34; J. Srinath (not out) 1; Extras (nb-2, w-16, lb-5) 23; Total (for eights wickets in 43.2 overs) 169.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-19, 3-25, 4-66, 5-91, 6-114, 7-116, 8-160.

New Zealand: Tuffey 10-2-40-1, Bond 10-0-34-2, Adams 9.2-0-47-2, Styris 9-1-29-2, Vettori 5-1-14-1.

Queenstown, January 4

India:V. Sehwag c Astle b Adams 23; R. Dravid b Adams 18; D. Mongia c Vettori b Adams 12; M. Kaif c McMillan b Adams 0; S. Ganguly c Mills b Tuffey 2; Y. Singh c Tuffey b Styris 25; P. Patel b Mills 13; A. Agarkar (run out) 0; Z. Khan c McMillan b Tuffey 1; J. Srinath (not out) 10; A. Nehra c McCullum b Adams 0; Extras (lb-1, nb-6, w-11) 18; Total (in 43.4 overs) 122.

Fall of wickets: 1-38, 2-55, 3-57, 4-67, 5-69, 6-94, 7-100, 8-107, 9-108.

New Zealand: Tuffey 10-0-36-2, Mills 10-2-28-1, Oram 10-1-28-0, Adams 8.4-1-22-5; Styris 3-1-5-1; Vettori 2-0-2-0.

New Zealand: S. Fleming c Sehwag b Srinath 47; N. Astle c Dravid b Srinath 15; M. Sinclair (not out) 32; C. McMillan b Srinath 0; S. Styris (not out) 8; Extras (b-1, lb-3, w-14, nb-3) 21; Total (for three wkts. in 25.4 overs) 123.

Fall of wickets: 1-28, 2-101, 3-103.

India: Srinath 9.4-1-35-3, Zaheer 2-0-21-0, Nehra 10-1-37-0, Agarkar 4-0-26-0.