Ashish Nehra leaves an emphatic mark

SOURAV GANGULY did not have to bare his very manly torso at Kingsmead as he did at Lord's. The match was one-sided and lacked the excitement and the kind of finish that would have prompted the India skipper to indulge in any hysterical response to the victory.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

SOURAV GANGULY did not have to bare his very manly torso at Kingsmead as he did at Lord's. The match was one-sided and lacked the excitement and the kind of finish that would have prompted the India skipper to indulge in any hysterical response to the victory. On the eve of the match, former England seamer Derek Pringle had asked of Ganguly if he would repeat the Lord's performance. "Wait and watch tomorrow," had been Ganguly's retort. Well, in the end he just joined the football-like huddle in the middle with his mates after one of India's most emphatic wins against England.

Six-wicket man Ashish Nehra screams an appeal against Alec Stewart. England's wicket-keeper-batsman was declared out first ball. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The match was expected to produce a close contest after England's win against Pakistan, but it happened to be an ordinary one with India dominating, especially in the latter part. "We had prepared well for the match. I know the defeat against Australia had been a setback, but believe me we had played good cricket in South Africa and I was not surprised by the team's superior performance," said Ganguly.

The hero of the match could have been Sachin Tendulkar, for his classy innings; or Rahul Dravid for his committed effort; or the pair of Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan for rattling the English batsmen early in the innings. But it happened to be Ashish Nehra, who almost did not play because of an ankle injury sustained in the previous match against Namibia.

"I would thank Andrew (Leipus) for his help in making me fit for the match. It was painful but I was determined to play. I couldn't have watched the match from the sidelines, especially when I had a good chance of excelling on the Kingsmead pitch. I was most motivated to play," said Nehra, the Man of the Match for his sensational spell of six for 23, the third best in the history of World Cup cricket.

Nehra had been preparing himself for this kind of performance to cement his place in the side. He was not in the scheme of things initially since the captain had more faith in the abilities of Ajit Agarkar. Nehra may have been justified in feeling sad at being sidelined, but the match against Zimbabwe gave him a ray of hope.

Nehra latched on to the chance in Harare and impressed the skipper with a lively spell. Ganguly was convinced that Nehra had the potential to bowl at a consistent pace and that was important to maintain the pressure when the Delhi left-armer came in as a first change bowler.

Nehra did not mind the demotion because Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan were splendid. The start by Srinath and Zaheer was the key factor and all credit to Nehra for not letting his skipper down.

Nehra had been working on improving his accuracy. When he returned from England, a long stint with coach Tarak Sinha saw Nehra work hard on his fitness and his confidence. His coach told him to concentrate on his line and there was no stopping Nehra who worked on increasing his pace, aiming to bowl consistently at 140.

England skipper Nasser Hussain said of Nehra, "he nibbles the ball both the ways and he's a lot quicker than what he was in England." It was the pace that Nehra generated which shocked the Englishmen. As for Nehra, he just smiled, "I think I did what was expected of me. I was concentrating on taking wickets once I got the rhythm."

Nehra was notoriously injury-prone and it was one factor which always bothered the selectors. And the team management too, but Nehra was determined to shake off the jinx. He came close to missing the match but recovered in time to produce a dream spell, just when the team wanted him to.

"A coach and a physio can make you fit. A captain can ask you to play. But only the bowler has to go out and perform. Nehra showed real character and overcame the pain barrier," said Ganguly in praise of Nehra.

"I've not seen him bowl better. He was terrific tonight," praised Ganguly, who also had a word of appreciation for Tendulkar. "It was a very valuable knock for the team," said Ganguly, who looked mighty pleased with the overall show against England.

Tendulkar was a delight. He was convinced of the true bounce and played true to his reputation. His knock went a long way in establishing India's supremacy early in the game. His valuable contribution was cemented by an innings of tremendous character by Rahul Dravid. He gave the innings the right course in the company of Yuvraj Singh.

The association between Dravid and Yuvraj gave the bowlers the strength to go flat out. "The batsmen did their job and the bowlers responded splendidly," said Ganguly.

For England, it was a shocking decline in all areas after the inspiring show against Pakistan. From the time Nick Knight ran himself out the England innings lost direction and failed to recover. A defiant knock by Andrew Flintoff only delayed the inevitable, and there was not one moment when England looked likely to pull it off. Nehra's spell ensured that India was a winner by a comfortable margin.

The ease with which India finished the opposition may have come as a pleasant surprise for some but the team was on the right track. The plans were impeccably implemented and the result was an apt reflection on the difference between the teams on that particular day.

The scores:

India: V. Sehwag c & b Flintoff 23; S. Tendulkar c Collingwood b Flintoff 50; S. Ganguly c Trescothick b White 19; D. Mongia lbw b Collingwood 32; R. Dravid c Collingwood b Caddick 62; Yuvraj Singh c Hussain b Anderson 42; M. Kaif c Flintoff b Caddick 5; Harbhajan Singh (not out) 0; Z. Khan (run out) 0; J. Srinath c Trescothick b Caddick 0; Extras (b-1, lb-4, w-9, nb-3) 17; Total (for nine wickets in 50 overs) 250.

Fall of wickets: 1-60, 2-91, 3-107, 4-155, 5-217, 6-250, 7-250, 8-250, 9-250.

England bowling: Caddick 10-0-69-3, Anderson 10-0-61-1; Flintoff 10-2-15-2; White 10-0-57-1; Irani 6-0-28-0; Collingwood 4-0-15-1.

England: M. Trescothick c Tendulkar b Zaheer Khan 8; N. Knight (run out) 1; M. Vaughan c Dravid b Nehra 20; N. Hussain c Dravid b Nehra 15; A. Stewart lbw b Nehra 0; P. Collingwood c Sehwag b Nehra 18; A. Flintoff c Sehwag b Srinath 64; C. White c Dravid b Nehra 13; R. Irani c Sehwag b Nehra 0; A. Caddick (not out) 13; J. Anderson lbw b Zaheer Khan 2; Extras (lb-5, w-7, nb-2) 14; Total (all out in 45.3 overs) 168.

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-18, 3-52, 4-52, 5-62, 6-93, 7-107, 8-107, 9-162.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 9.3-1-29-2; Srinath 10-0-37-1; Nehra 10-2-23-6; Ganguly 6-0-34-0; Harbhajan Singh 10-0-40-0.