England halts India's winning streak

G. VISWANATH

AFTER a loss to Sri Lanka in the previous match, England bounced back and won by 64 runs against India in the NatWest Trophy III triseries.

England's good showing at the Oval against India could be due to Hussain's remarks at Manchester where England was beaten by 23 runs.

Ronnie Irani drives Anil Kumble. Irani scored at virtually a run a ball on his way to a half century.-N. SRIDHARAN

It was a convincing win for England in the six league matches, one of which could not be completed at Chester-Le-Street, Durham, because of rain. There was threat of rain at the Oval too, when England was looking forward to victory before the final at Lord's. When the teams reached Kennington Oval, they expected rain to stop the play.

Plastic sheets were used to protect the square area and the bowler's run up. Many predicted that the match would be washed out. But later, Ronnie Irani and Andrew Flintoff belted the ball around, especially Irani had a great time. All the threat of a downpour cleared in a few hours. Well, then, this was fickle English weather. But in the end, it was a dream run for Irani.

The match officials were confident that 25 overs would be played in order to provide entertainment to the spectators. Those who had tickets and did not make it to the venue missed a fine allround show by Irani.

Teams are not really comfortable playing a shortened game, because setting a target is tough. It happened to India once. One cannot fault Sourav Ganguly for asking England to bat. His decision was based on the outcome of the previous match his team played against Sri Lanka. Then the seamers played a major role and the batsmen struggled. But the pitch turned out to be different and was batsmen friendly with Irani, Flintoff and Michael Vaughan making merry.

The three English batsmen hit some stupendous shots and it must be said that the Indians wilted.

Virender Sehwag is caught behind and the successful bowler is Irani. Irani picked up five wickets in the match.-N. SRIDHARAN

Sri Lanka, with Sanath Jayasuriya in the forefront made 240 in 32 overs in the first shortened game of the triseries. England made eleven short of that. Yet, to make 229 off 192 deliveries was a feat of sorts. England could not have complained.

Hussain had sent five of his top batsmen, considered to be big hitters, to destroy the bowling. Except for Marcus Trescothick, the others did not fail.

"It was a difficult situation this morning to leave out Graham Thorpe and Jeremy Snape. But now we know that we will be going into the final with all 15 players available and all of them having contributed to the team," said the English captain.

With four wins in four matches, India's confidence level was at a high, but each and every England player on the field was prepared to do his best for a victory. Hussain was smart. After the fielding restriction was over, after the ninth over, he positioned five men protecting the boundary. This stopped Tendulkar hitting fours. The departure of India's captain to a ugly looking shot brought in Venkatsai Laxman for the first time in the competition. It was asking too much from Laxman to speed up the run rate.

England was an inspired lot with Darren Gough and Alex Tudor bowling good opening spells and Irani coming into the picture to bottle up things and take wickets.

Andrew Flintoff in a belligerent mood. He made a fine 51.-N. SRIDHARAN

Sehwag took his chances before Alec Stewart held the first of his three catches. "Ronnie is not a slow bowler. I have always felt that Alec is one of the three best specialist wicketkeepers in England, and I am not forgetting his batting," said the English skipper.

There was an element of doubt in the decision handed out to Yuveraj Singh, by third umpire Neil Mallender. The Indian was declared out, stumped by Stewart off Irani. But England was on top, thanks to the combined effort of Irani and Stewart.

India was out of reckoning after the exit of Sehwag and if there was some interest, it was only because of the presence of Tendulkar, who hit a few lovely shots, but while chancing his arm against Matthew Hoggard, he edged to Stewart. It was a day when England really fired the big shots and confronted India with all its might. Ganguly admitted that England played better cricket. Hussain said that this victory was important.

The scores:

England: M. Trescothick b Kumble 9; N. Knight c Kaif b Yuveraj 31; R. Irani b Kumble 53; A. Flintoff c Nehra b Agarkar 51; M. Vaughan c Yuveraj b Khan 30; N. Hussain c Kaif b Khan 6; P. Collingwood b Nehra 9; A. Stewart b Khan 0; A. Tudor (not out) 3; D. Gough (not out) 7; Extras (lb-6, nb-6, w-18) 30. Total (for eight wickets in 32 overs) 229.

Fall of wickets: 1-52, 2-72, 3-148, 4-196, 5-202, 6-219, 7-219, 8-219.

India bowling: Nehra 5-0-28-1, Khan 7-0-53-3, Kumble 7-0-39-2, Agarkar 4-0-38-1, Yuveraj 6-0-37-1, Sehwag 1-0-9-0, Ganguly 1-0-10-0, Tendulkar 1-0-9-0.

Kaif takes a brilliant catch to dismiss Nick Knight.-AP

India: S. Ganguly c Flintoff b Tudor 6; V. Sehwag c Stewart b Irani 46; V. V. S. Laxman c Hoggard b Collingwood 14; S. R. Tendulkar c Stewart b Hoggard 36; Yuveraj Singh st. Stewart b Irani 5; M. Kaif b Irani 1; A. Ratra c Stewart b Irani 2; A. B. Agarkar c Collingwood b Irani 0; A. Kumble (not out) 21; Z. Khan c Gough b Flintoff 2; A. Nehra c Irani b Tudor 24; Extras (lb-1, w-7) 8. Total (in 29.1 overs) 165.

Fall of wickets: 1-31, 2-62, 3-78, 4-100, 5-114, 6-118, 7-118, 8-120, 9-127.

England bowling: Gough 4-0-19-0, Tudor 4.1-0-30-2, Flintoff 4-0-33-1, Irani 7-1-26-5, Collingwood 5-0-31-1, Hoggard 5-0-25-0.

Irani has proved his worth

RONNIE IRANI is the trump card of England captain Nasser Hussain. Both play for the Essex. In fact, Irani is the captain of the county. Well, now Irani has proved more than useful to this English team. With his enthusiasm and display, he has also turned out to be a match-winner. Sent in to bat at No. 3, Irani made 53 off 55 balls, hit a six and two fours, and followed it up with a spell of 7-1-26-5 and finally held a catch as England outclassed India at the Oval on July 9.

He was considered just an ordinary county cricketer a few weeks ago. Irani named former England captain and opening batsman and Essex coach Graham Gooch as one of his prime supporters who took personal interest in his game in the last two years or so.

Ronnie Charles Irani made his debut against India at the Oval in a one-day international match in 1996. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble dismissed him for 11 runs then. He played three more matches against Pakistan that summer, but did not impress, apart from making a 45 at Edgbaston. The England selectors were probably right in not picking him after his scores of 0, 7, 5, 0, 0, 4, 0 between September 1996 and March 1997 against teams like Pakistan, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. All he had to show was an aggregate of 78 runs from 10 matches for an average of 9.75 and four wickets off 329 balls at 61.50.

Irani had played his last one-dayer against New Zealand at Auckland in March 1997. So when he was picked by the England selectors again after a period of 63 months, eyebrows were raised, naturally. But as some people say, David Graveney and Co. could not have ignored him. Irani was in such tremendous form then.

This is what Nasser Hussain said about him: "I see him day in day out at a slightly lower level and I see the enthusiasm. One thing the selectors have identified in the past couple of years is that you have to pick on a character and that is one thing Ronnie has in abundance. Every time I have ever played with him has been very important to him, every ball he bats, fields, bowls is very important and he's the kind of player I like to have in the battle with me. He has definitely progressed as a cricketer. He would be the first to admit that he is never going to be a classic batsman or bowler. But as we all know ability only gets you so far. In the end at this level it's the amount of bottle and character you have," said Hussain.

Irani refused to say anything about his World Cup prospects. "As a professional cricketer, I cannot make a statement on that. It's for the team and the selectors to decide. My focus will be on the final. I want to be very accurate and make players like Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly play different and unorthodox strokes. If I do that I have a chance to get their wicket. He acknowledged Alec Stewart's support, from behind the wicket. All said and done, it was a top notch performance by Irani for England. "I have been out of the scene for five or six years, but I have always wanted England to win every match. I also wanted to play for England. It is the ultimate goal to me", Irani said.