An unlikely hero

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

IT was a tale of two captains. One who had the task of inspiring his mates and the other grappling with himself. If Nasser Hussain led from the front, Sourav Ganguly was a let-down. Hussain was an inspiration to his team, but Ganguly could not decide what role he had to play.

Man of the Match Paul Collingwood cracks Ajit Agarkar for a six.-V. V. KRISHNAN

After the win at Kolkata, the Indians had marked certain areas for improvement. The basics needed to be tightened and the team management too had a role to play here. But coach John Wright, in the one year that he has spent with the team, has not been able to sort out certain flaws which keep returning to haunt the side.

Three run outs, one an unusual happening involving Sachin Tendulkar, pushed India towards defeat even as a packed Barabati Stadium rooted for its heroes. The target was not tough, but then the Indians had no gameplan and it was hardly surprising to see them lose their way.

"A total of 270 would have been ideal," remarked England skipper Nasser Hussain, but confessed, "it was hard to get there." In hindsight, it would have meant an easy win for the Englishmen since the Indian batsmen were bent on a suicidal show.

England was far more disciplined and the manner in which each player responded to the challenge spoke of the team's resolve to give the Indians a run for their money. "We had our jobs marked," said Hussain as he praised Paul Collingwood for his all-round performance. It eventually paved the way for his team's victory.

Darren Gough dismisses Virender Sehwag, caught by Nick Knight. The England paceman picked up three wickets.-V. V. KRISHNAN

There were moments in the match when India seemed to hold the upper hand. Initially, the early dismissals of Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight gave the home team the advantage it had prayed for after electing to field, but Hussain played the guiding part even as Michael Vaughan and Collingwood shaped the revival.

The English batsmen had to take recourse to percentage play, but the Indians were slow in moving and conceded too many easy runs. The bowlers also did not stick to their field and then Ganguly allowed things to drift. He gave vent to his frustration by a repeated show of temper.

Hussain led by example. He scored runs at the right time and then marshalled his attack well. "I think our ground fielding was fine, but we need to work on our slip catching," said Hussain. But the man at second slip, Knight, did not miss the one chance that Ganguly offered.

In contrast, Ganguly allowed the English middle order to thrive and erred in bowling at a time when the opposition had to be choked of runs. His field placements too were out of place and did not support the bowlers, who were content to follow the captain's dictats.

Andrew Flintoff tries to hoick Harbhajan Singh, but is castled.-V. V. KRISHNAN

It was a win which England needed badly. The skipper hinted at poor umpiring at Kolkata denying them a win, but here he could have hardly faulted V. K. Ramaswamy and K. Parthasarathy, who did a commendable job under pressure. Hussain, however, may have been lucky at two when Srinath foxed him with a slower one.

The Indians did nothing right. The awful running between the wickets showed that the coach would need to work on their basics. He would also need to improve the team's fielding. A long list for the coach indeed.

The spectators had filled up the stadium well ahead of the scheduled start but accepted the defeat quite gracefully, unlike some other centres where the Indians are pelted with missiles from the stands. The home team's failure to gift their fans a win was not surprising as the inexperienced middle order caved in.

Umpire V. K. Ramaswamy asks for the third umpire's decision in the Sachin Tendulkar run-out incident.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Ganguly's cheap dismissal was in keeping with his dismal form even as Mongia batted to enhance his reputation. The Punjab left-hander, the replacement for Rahul Dravid, showed a lot of character in the company of Tendulkar, who could not finish the job because of his freak dismissal - backing up too far. Mongia may rue the straight drive he played but he would also be unhappy with the casual manner in which he ran between the wickets. V.V.S. Laxman too was guilty of lethargy in the middle, while Virender Sehwag played a poor shot.

The charge by the Indian lower half was a pleasant change from the past. Ajit Agarkar was willing to fight and in the company of Ajay Ratra and Anil Kumble raised visions of a win but the English held their nerve to stop the Indians from taking a 2-0 lead.

Anil Kumble breaches Ben Hollioake's defence.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Even as Hussain and Collingwood came to the press box for a post-match briefing, the Indian skipper chose not to face the media. In the absence of any official guidelines, the Indian skipper was able to get away without needing to explain his side of the defeat. As far as Hussain was concerned, it was a collective effort which lifted the spirits of the side. And he made his point in quite a delightful manner.

The scores:

England: Marcus Trescothick c Mongia b Agarkar 13; Nick Knight c Harbhajan b Srinath 14; Nasser Hussain c Agarkar b Ganguly 46; Michael Vaughan (run out) 63; Paul Collingwood (not out) 71; Andrew Flintoff b Harbhajan 5; Ben Hollioake b Kumble 0; Jeremy Snape (run out) 22; James Foster (not out) 3; Extras (lb-6, nb-6, w-1) 13. Total (for seven wkts in 50 overs) 250.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-45, 3-114, 4-176, 5-190, 6-193, 7-244.

India bowling: Srinath 9-0-41-1, Agarkar 8-1-46-1, Kumble 10-0-47-1, Harbhajan 10-0-35-1, Ganguly 5-0-29-1, Tendulkar 6-0-35-0, Sehwag 2-0-11-0.

India: Sourav Ganguly c Knight b Hoggard 14; Sachin Tendulkar (run out) 45; Dinesh Mongia (run out) 49; V. V. S. Laxman (run out) 3; Virender Sehwag c Knight b Gough 5; Hemang Badani c Flintoff b Hollioake 13; Ajay Ratra lbw b Flintoff 30; Ajit Agarkar c Foster b Gough 29; Harbhajan Singh lbw b Snape 6; Anil Kumble c Collingwood b Gough 20; Javagal Srinath (not out) 7; Extras (lb-3, nb-3, w-7) 13. Total (in 48.4 overs) 234.

Fall of wickets: 1-20, 2-99, 3-109, 4-121, 5-130, 6-147, 7-179, 8-186, 9-224.

England bowling: Gough 9.4-0-46-3, Hoggard 9-0-53-1, Flintoff 10-0-34-1, Hollioake 7-0-34-1, Snape 8-0-40-1, Collingwood 5-0-24-0.

FROM the cricket fields of Durham, the English seem to have discovered a player worth investing in. The first player ever from his county to represent England, Paul Collingwood was the cynosure of his team at Cuttack's Barabati Stadium.

He may have been an unlikely matchwinner, but not for those who have followed this 25-year-old's career. At Durham, he was always considered a quality cricketer and one who believed in himself. Pressure never worked on his young mind as Collingwood pursued his cricketing goals with a fierce resolve.

His baptism was tough - against Australia - but he recovered to make an impression on the tour to Zimbabwe last October. "It was tough for him but I'm happy he has come good," said skipper Nasser Hussain.

Collingwood may not qualify as an all-rounder, but he is working on making a place in the team as someone who could be relied upon to bat and bowl. The selectors back home would like to see him improve as a bowler even as Collingwood deserves a spot in the scheme of things on the basis of his batsmanship.

A batsman who knows his limitations, Collingwood likes to work the ball and grind the attack. He can develop into a very useful member of the team and in the opinion of the English media promises to serve long because of his excellent temperament.

Collingwood was given a chance to prove his mettle on the tour to India and he grabbed the chance at Cuttack with a neat innings. It came at a crucial stage and in the company of Michael Vaughan he built a total which his bowlers could defend.

"The ball was coming slowly off the pitch and it was difficult to hang on," said Collingwood, who hit an unbeaten 71. It was an innings of merit and one which should give the confidence to concentrate on his bowling too.

As England is looking for players who can make an impact, Collingwood promises to become a key member of the side in its build-up for the World Cup next year. The Man of the Match honour at Cuttack should go a long way in Collingwood's endeavour to become a matchwinner for England in more and more contests.