BESTED BY THE YUVRAJ BLITZ

IRFAN PATHAN revels after claiming Ian Blackwell.-PTI

England coped with the energy-sapping heat, but was blown off by a storm that came in the form of Yuvraj, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

Cricket and tourism can be an intoxicating experience in Goa. The Goans love sport, music, and their culture. The tourist-friendly audience at the Nehru Stadium in Margao entertained the English supporters all day with their music and dance from the overflowing stands. A pity the spectators did not get their money's worth in terms of quality cricket from the Englishmen.

Some of the fans, eager to occupy vantage positions in the stadium, spent the night outside the arena. "I can't wait to watch (Suresh) Raina," murmured an old lady, as she endured a four-kilometre long queue that took up 10 hours of her precious time before she made it to her seat.

Almost all the seats at the Nehru Stadium had been occupied a good two hours before the start of the match.

The beautiful state of Goa has not been fortunate enough to see any of its cricketers make it to the national team, but one of its sons gave Indian batting solidity when Sunil Gavaskar was making his mark in international cricket. Dilip Sardesai, now ailing, was born in Goa before shifting to Bombay in search of better opportunities.

The Goa Cricket Association had sullied its reputation five years ago when allegations of over-printing of tickets created mayhem outside the Nehru Stadium. The authorities were cautious this time, putting a very limited number of tickets up for sale. The majority of the spectators happened to be invitees and they contributed hugely to livening up the atmosphere.

The atmosphere was electric right from the time Rahul Dravid won the toss and opted to bat. There were apprehensions about the pitch. "No match has been played on this ground," a local fan said. The fears were unfounded, for the pitch did not deteriorate even though the bounce and pace were variable. The authorities obviously had taken care of all aspects after that ugly episode in 2001 when Goa came close to being blacklisted as an international venue.

It would have been tragic for the fantastic spirit of the spectators who came in from areas such as Kolhapur, Belgaum and Sangli. The Malvan region is not known to be cricket crazy, but it was well represented too.

Credit should go to the GCA for the good show. The reward for the association came in the shape of a classy innings from Man of the Match Yuvraj Singh, who showed that he could bat with authority under pressure. The graceful left-hander likes the ball to come on to the bat. He also appears to relish playing on a slow surface, as was evident during the course of his seventh one-day century in the company of the gifted Raina, who distinguished himself with a half-century that had class written all over it.

A slow pitch and furious strokes were a strange amalgam that one witnessed at Margao. Yuvraj dished out a scintillating show. It was a pleasant sight for the spectators here as his confident posture pushed the Englishmen on the defensive. It is a treat to watch Yuvraj taking up the challenge and beating the negative tactics of the opposition. Andrew Flintoff provoked him with a packed off side field and the Punjab left-hander repeatedly created gaps and picked boundaries, which spoke of his ability to innovate.

Though Raina was subdued, his effort proved beyond doubt that he is the batsman to be watched in the times to come.

It was a neat innings that he constructed in the company of a partner who loves to dominate. Raina, however, had his moments during the 142-run partnership that decided the fate of the contest.

The English may point to the heat factor that tested their endurance and strength. But they coped with it before being blown off by a storm that came in the form of Yuvraj.

The roll of the drums never lost its intensity in the stands as the spectators celebrated India's first ever win in four matches at the Nehru Stadium.

This one had come on expected lines as England was not up to it though there was a fighting partnership for the seventh wicket between Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones. The loss of Kevin Pietersen, down with a stomach ailment, was a big blow to England, but there was no doubt that India was the superior side in every department of the game.

As for the old lady in the stands, she got what she wanted. Raina played well even as Yuvraj batted impeccably.

THE SCORES

3rd ODI, India v England, Nehru Stadium, Goa, April 3, 2006.

India won by 49 runs

India: V. Sehwag b Anderson 15; R. Dravid b Collingwood 46; I. K. Pathan c Collingwood b Flintoff 36; Yuvraj Singh c Collingwood b Flintoff 103; M. Kaif c Jones b Plunkett 0; S. K. Raina b Flintoff 61; M. S. Dhoni (not out) 13; R. R. Powar (not out) 1; Extras (lb-3, w-14, nb-2) 19; Total (for 6 wkts, 50 overs) 294.

Fall of wickets: 1-27, 2-105, 3-130, 4-131, 5-273, 6-288.

England bowling: Anderson 9-1-40-1; Mahmood 8-0-66-0; Flintoff 9-0-56-3; Plunkett 6-0-39-1; Blackwell 10-1-42-0; Collingwood 5-0-31-1; Solanki 3-0-17-0.

England: A. J. Strauss c Dhoni b Pathan 7; M. J. Prior (run out) 37; I. D. Blackwell b Pathan 9; O. A. Shah c Yuvraj b Pathan 7; A. Flintoff c Sehwag b Powar 15; P. D. Collingwood c Raina b Harbhajan 93; V. S. Solanki c Yuvraj b Harbhajan 10; G. O. Jones c Sehwag b Pathan 32; L. E. Plunkett b Agarkar 18; S. I. Mahmood b Agarkar 8; J. M. Anderson (not out) 2; Extras (lb-2, w-3, nb-2) 7; Total (in 48.5 overs) 245.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-27, 3-47, 4-78, 5-83, 6-100, 7-205, 8-223, 9-242.

India bowling: Pathan 10-0-51-4; Patel 8-0-47-0; Agarkar 7.5-0-34-2; Harbhajan Singh 10-1-47-2; Powar 10-0-45-1; Yuvraj Singh 3-0-19-0.