Confidence makes all the difference

The emphatic statement, scripted by Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif, was a fascinating tale of how confidence can make all the difference.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

PLAYING at the SuperSport Park in Centurion was the inspiration for India to anticipate a domination of the match against New Zealand. The emphatic statement, scripted by Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif, was a fascinating tale of how confidence can make all the difference.

Mohammad Kaif congratulates Rahul Dravid after their match-winning partnership for the fourth wicket. Both batsmen notched up half-centuries. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The Indian camp was a picture of excellent combination, the strength coming from a strong self-belief. The success attained by Zaheer and Kaif showed the progress made by the two young men in recent times. Everyone spoke of their potential to finish a contest but this was a glowing example of how much they had worked to justify the faith skipper Sourav Ganguly had in them. "I'd always backed them because I knew they had the talent. My intention was always to give them time to prove themselves and I'm so glad that they have managed to convince people that they deserve their spots in the team," said Ganguly.

Zaheer's lethal spell broke the back of the Kiwis and then Kaif arrived in a crisis situation to produce his first half-century of the World Cup. The stage was set for the duo to perform and it was to the credit of the team management that both Zaheer and Kaif had been made to understand their roles. The captain had convinced them they were match-winners and Zaheer and Kaif took decisive steps in that direction.

"This was just another World Cup win," said Ganguly but it had much more to offer in terms of the team's assessment. The Indians held no grudges against the Kiwis on surface but within the desire to whip the opposition was fierce. So, when Ganguly decided to bowl first he took a positive step after having read the pitch.

"The ball doesn't come on initially at Centurion and that prompted me to put them in. And then you had to remember that the New Zealand batsmen have shown a tendency to be susceptible against the moving ball. We were also aware that barring Shane (Bond) all other New Zealand bowlers relied on help from the pitch. So we had done the homework well," remarked Ganguly.

Zaheer was the `Man of the Match' but the star of the day was Kaif, who has come a long way from the time he made his debut against South Africa three years ago. "I felt very happy for Kaif. He kept up the trend at the World Cup of one individual taking on the responsibility of staying in the middle and finishing the job. It was Kaif's turn in this match and I must say he batted superbly by all standards," said Ganguly, who had been instrumental in promoting Kaif to number four. "He was hardly getting any opportunities at number seven so we thought it was ideal for him to go up. There never was any doubt about his potential and he has managed to convince many," Ganguly said.

The Indian skipper made some tactical changes with the bowling and was gracious enough to admit that he had been lucky. "I don't think any captain can say beforehand that a particular bowling change would effect a breakthrough. We all try and I too did the same."

New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming was candid in his remarks. "I think the Indian bowlers took the game away from us. They all bowled well but I thought Ashish (Nehra) kept the pressure on us all through. I must say that we never got into the stride," admitted the Kiwi captain.

India established an early grip on the match and did not relent at any point. "We played to a plan," remarked Ganguly. "I'm very happy with the way Zaheer bowled because it was a crucial factor in our plan. Zaheer had to go for the wickets."

And Zaheer had this to say on his performance. "I bowled my natural way but there were a few things I had concentrated on. For six months now, I had been training to bowl the in-swinging ball to the right-hander and I could get it going here. That to me was the most satisfying part of my bowling. I was not straining for pace but trying too many things in the past. I've learnt to bowl the right line and length from Sri (Srinath)."

In a wonderful gesture, which reflected on the team spirit, Zaheer gave credit to his mates Srinath and Nehra. "Nothing could have been possible without them. I had concentrated on bowling straight. I would give credit to Nehra for creating the pressure on the batsmen for me to exploit. I like to hit the deck and I'm happy with the way I got my wickets," said Zaheer.

The Kiwis were rattled by Zaheer's double strike in his opening over, and then, when he returned, he accounted for another wicket. The Kiwis never recovered from the blows and Fleming admitted that it was a tough task to recover from the dismissals.

When India began the job to scale the modest target, Shane Bond bowled like a champion. He removed Virender Sehwag and Ganguly in quick succession to set up a close contest but a dropped catch let the Indians off. Rahul Dravid was grassed by wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum and that proved the turning point of the match. Dravid ensured that he did not lose focus and also guided the talented Kaif to play a significant innings.

Kaif played the ball on merit and did not allow the situation to dictate his approach. The fact that he matched Dravid in the game of selecting the right ball to hit spoke for the confidence that he had gained during the course of this tournament. He may have been a revelation for many but not for those who had followed his career chart from the time he made an impact in the junior grade. Kaif, as Ganguly said, was just waiting for an opportunity to show his mettle and the chance came from the promotion in the batting order. "He justified the promotion," said Ganguly.

Kaif justified the promotion and Zaheer, the faith his captain had placed in him. The success of these two young men was the highlight of India's thumping win that enabled the team to maintain an unbeaten run in the Super Sixes stage.

The scores:

New Zealand: C. McMillan c Harbhajan b Zaheer 0; S. Fleming c Tendulkar b Srinath 30; N. Astle lbw b Zaheer 0; S. Styris c Dravid b Nehra 15; B. McCullum b Zaheer 4; C. Cairns c Zaheer b Harbhajan 20; C. Harris lbw b Zaheer 17; J. Oram b Sehwag 23; D. Vettori c Ganguly b Harbhajan 13; D. Tuffey c & b Mongia 11; S. Bond (not out) 0. Extras (lb-5, w-4, nb-4) 13. Total (in 45.1 overs) 146.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-0, 3-38, 4-47, 5-60, 6-88, 7-96, 8-129, 9-144.

India bowling: Zaheer 8-0-42-4, Srinath 8-0-20-1, Nehra 10-3-24-1, Harbhajan 10-2-28-2, Ganguly 2-0-4-0, Tendulkar 5-0-20-0, Sehwag 2-1-3-1, Mongia 0.1-0-0-1.

India: V. Sehwag c Styris b Bond 1; S. Tendulkar c Oram b Tuffey 15; S. Ganguly b Bond 3; M. Kaif (not out) 68; R. Dravid (not out) 53. Extras (w-8, nb-2) 10. Total (for three wkts. in 40.4 overs) 150.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-9, 3-21.

New Zealand bowling: Tuffey 10-1-41-1, Bond 8-2-23-2, Oram 5-0-20-0, Vettori 5-0-18-0, McMillan 2-1-4-0, Styris 6.4-0-29-0, Harris 4-1-15-0.