Big guns opt out


THERE was not much time for celebrations after the famous victory over England in the final of the NatWest Trophy at Lord's. Yuveraj Singh left for home to mend the injured little finger of his right hand, but one of the architects of the two-wicket win against England, Mohammad Kaif, was allowed to stay back with the team in the company of Dinesh Mongia following a joint decision taken at home by the Board and the national selectors. Both Kaif and Mongia utilised the opportunity to make runs off the West Indies 'A' bowlers in the first, first-class match of the tour at the Arundel Castle Cricket Club ground. The match meandered to a draw after West Indies 'A' seamer Jermaine Lawson impressed with a six-wicket spell in the India second innings on the third day when Kaif saved India the blushes with a battling 77, while Mongia made a fine 87, though not blemishless, in the first innings. The two were in the playing XI because Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were given almost a weeklong rest from tour engagements. Legspinner Anil Kumble, who had just about recovered in time for the Natwest final from a calf muscle stress, spent more time in the gymnasium.

Venkat Sai Laxman and Dinesh Mongia scored 80s and were involved in a brisk stand.-N. SRIDHARAN

With the big players missing, the three-day match against West Indies 'A' was left for the lesser mortals. The Indians were facing a competitive opposition. But West Indies 'A', managed by Joel Garner and coach Gus Logie, had suffered more defeats than it had tasted success before this match against the Indians on its six-week tour of England. Captaincy is nothing new to Laxman, but he was probably leading India for the first time abroad, with both Ganguly and Dravid deciding to stay back in London. He made a good start by winning the toss and spending almost two hours at the crease, in the process making an attractive 85 with nine boundary hits.

The first hour of the match was also the worst, Wasim Jaffer and Shiv Sundar Das barely managing to get the ball off the square. Evidently, Das, with a limited range of shots and Jaffer did not want to take any risk and were keen on perfecting their defensive shots. Jaffer perished after making five runs in one hour. Das batted for an hour and a half to make a few more runs.

Ajit Agarkar traps Chris Gayle leg before. The Mumbai paceman bagged four wickets.-N. SRIDHARAN

The Indian innings became lively once Laxman joined Mongia in the middle. Runs began to come freely as the West Indies 'A' bowlers were put away to the midwicket and cover boundaries. The rival pacemen were Reon King, Marlon Black and Lawson. They were not formidable customers, but nevertheless were decent and skilful enough to beat the batsmen by pace.

One of the spinners seen in action was Ryan Hinds. He and Chris Gayle had joined the 'A' team after the series against New Zealand at home. While the Indians managed to make a respectable 253, their rivals made 13 runs more, thanks to many dropped catches that helped left-hander Devon Smith to score a half century. West Indies 'A' took the first innings honours because of smart and attacking batting by Hinds and Dwayne Bravo. This pair appeared to be bent upon having a go at offspinner Harbhajan Singh, who is likely to spend the 2003 summer at Old Trafford, with Lancashire County Cricket Club offering him a one-year professional contract. Hinds (62, 6x 4) and Bravo (55, 9x4, 1x6) helped West Indies 'A' take the lead.

Harbhajan Singh, who also picked up four wickets, gets Keith Hibbert leg before.-N. SRIDHARAN

Most West Indies batsmen believe that attack is the best form of defence. Hinds and Bravo were no exception casting away defensive batting temporarily.

The third and final day of the drawn match belonged to the Jamaican fast medium bowler Lawson. The West Indies have not been able to find anyone to replace Courtney Walsh or Curtly Amborse but Lawson is one of the many up and coming bowlers in the Caribbean. "His action is difficult to pick. He bowled well", said Jaffer who made a half-century with a few stylish straight hit shots in the second innings.

Parthiv Patel, who is just 17 and had already toured New Zealand (with the Under-19 team for the World Cup), South Africa and Sri Lanka this year, impressed with the bat and as a 'keeper in the second innings. It is good that someone is there to keep Ajay Ratra on his toes.

Jermaine Lawson sends Ajit Agarkar back to the pavilion. Lawson had a six-wicket haul in the second innings.-N. SRIDHARAN

But the young man who probably saved the Indians acute embarrassment was Kaif. He hit some explosive shots off either foot. Apart from Lawson's fine bowling, Kaif's classy batting evened out things before the two teams decided to call it off after the first mandatory over was bowled.

India 253 for seven decl. (Shiv Sundar Das 29, Venkat Sai Laxman 85, Dinesh Mongia 87) and 255 (Wasim Jaffer 52, Sanjay Bangar 27, Md. Kaif 77 not out, Mongia 27, Jermaine Lawson six for 76) drew with West Indies 'A' 266 (Devon Smith 69, Ryan Hinds 62, Dwayne Bravo 55, Ajit Agarkar four for 55, Harbhajan Singh four for 79) and 81 for four.