Fitting way to regain confidence

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

DALJIT SINGH takes immense pride in his job as a curator. Even as rain clouds hovered over Mohali and lightning in the distance served a chilling message to the ground staff, Daljit gathered his men and got down to business. It was well past eleven when he finished the work. He could now retire with an assurance that much of the threat from rain had been countered. "We have to have a good game of cricket," was his determined response.

Dinesh Mongia revelled in the role of an opener and made a compact 45.-V. V. KRISHNAN

This unsung performance on the eve of the match had to be recorded here to highlight the men who made it possible for the batsmen of both teams enjoy their time in the middle. The pitch was a beauty for a one-day match and the Indians grabbed the offering with some exceptionally good batting. True bounce and lot of carry meant that it was a lovely cricketing pitch and the audience at the PCA Stadium in Mohali was accorded a fine treat by their heroes as India won the match quite convincingly.

The victory had its anxious moments too. The Zimbabweans, set a target of 320, lost an early wicket but launched a dazzling assault through Alistair Campbell and Travis Friend. It could be said in hindsight that the aggressive batting was too good to last but there was a very distinct sign of panic among the Indians as runs came in a torrent for Zimbabwe and at one point it looked an even battle.

"No, no there was no panic and there was no complacency at any stage," remarked Sourav Ganguly but it was a weak effort to hide a few shortcomings in the team. The spirited response from the Zimbabweans had shown the Indians in a confused state of mind and the signs of the game slowly drifting away were alarming. Friend and Campbell were able to pick the gaps at will and they indeed set up a fight with their brave strokeplay. But then it was indeed too good to last and India gained control once Harbhajan Singh, the livewire of the Indian attack, stepped in to check the Zimbabwean progress.

Indian captain Sourav Ganguly played some effortless strokes and deservedly won the Man of the Match award.-V. V. KRISHNAN

In the end India won comfortably and gave coach John Wright a few areas to explore. Like Dinesh Mongia in the role of an opener and a left-arm spinner who can bowl five overs. "I'm very impressed with this lad. It's good to have cricketers like him because it gives you the option to experiment. Dinesh is a very intelligent cricketer. He's a thinking cricketer and he has much more potential in him. He's been a good gain," said Wright of this Punjab left-hander who had a neat knock and a three-wicket strike to justify his selection.

Another gain from the match was the confident batting of Rahul Dravid. It was nice to see this much-maligned batsman crack a few strokes which showed his class. It was his way of mocking at some ill-informed critics who showed their lack of knowledge of the game by comparing Dravid's class with some so-called talented youngsters.

Dravid played some vintage strokes, especially the pull which brought back memories of his aggressive style in the last World Cup. "I enjoyed the innings immensely," said Dravid, who ensured the target was stiff enough to give the Indian bowlers some cushion.

Dinesh Mongia is all smiles to see the back of Andy Flower. Mongia took three wickets for 31 runs.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The Indian innings, of course, was given the direction by in-form Sourav Ganguly, who slammed his second half century in succession. "It was a nice strip to bat on and good that we capitalised on it. I was happy for Dinesh (Mongia) and Rahul (Dravid). They batted very well," said the skipper underplaying his own crafty innings.

The match also saw V. V. S. Laxman consolidate his comeback to one-day cricket with another half century. This knock was an extension of his resolve to cement his place in the one-day side and the ease with which he collected his runs spoke of the gentle Hyderabadi's calibre.

Wright was very pleased with the victory even though the batsmen had ensured that Zimbabwe came under pressure even before it commenced the chase. "The batsmen did very well," said Wright.

Rahul Dravid pulls Grant Flower during his unbeaten knock of 66.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The Zimbabweans had problems on all fronts. "We were let down by the bowlers," lamented skipper Stuart Carlisle, who lost control once his bowlers erred in direction. "We gave away too many easy runs and too many extra deliveries," said Carlisle. It was indeed a shocking decline in the fielding standards and poor bowling meant that Zimbabwe was blown out of reckoning in the first half of the match itself.

The Indians recovered from the Faridabad defeat in style with this victory giving some encouraging signs regarding the potential of some youngsters. Mongia did well as an all-rounder and Ajay Ratra excelled as a wicket-keeper to establish himself firmly in the spot.

The scores:

Travis Friend, who top-scored with 63 is stumped by Ajay Ratra off Harbhajan Singh.-V. V. KRISHNAN

India: D. Mongia c Friend b Marillier 45; S. Ganguly (run out) 86; V. V. S. Laxman c Ebrahim b Friend 52; R. Dravid (not out) 66; M. Kaif b G. Flower 15; A. Agarkar c Marillier b Brent 6; S. Bangar c Wishart b Brent 0; Harbhajan Singh (not out) 15. Extras (b-2, lb-5, nb-2, w-25) 34. Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs) 319.

Fall of wickets: 1-109, 2-190, 3-243, 4-276, 5-290, 6-291.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 10-0-72-0, Friend 10-0-57-1, Brent 9-0-60-2, Marillier 10-0-51-1, G. Flower 9-0-56-1, Campbell 2-0-16-0.

Stuart Carlisle is caught by Ratra off Agarkar.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Zimbabwe: A. Campbell lbw b Harbhajan 62; D. Ebrahim c Laxman b Agarkar 1; T. Friend st. Ratra b Harbhajan 63; A. Flower b Mongia 29; G. Flower (run out) 9; S. Carlisle c Ratra b Agarkar 25; C. Wishart b Mongia 14; D. Marillier c Ratra b Mongia 2; H. Streak c Bangar b Kumble 14; T. Taibu (not out) 6; G. Brent lbw b Harbhajan 7. Extras (w-4, nb-1, lb-18) 23. Total (in 43.3 overs) 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-138, 3-143, 4-166, 5-204, 6-207, 7-219, 8-229, 9-245.

India bowling: Zaheer 7-0-41-0, Agarkar 8-0-44-2, Bangar 4-0-32-0, Kumble 10-0-49-1, Harbhajan 8.3-0-40-3, Mongia 6-0-31-3.

THE 'Man of the Match' award may have come as a big relief to the much-harrassed Sourav Ganguly. The effort deserved the distinction as the Indian skipper set an example with his innings.

After the defeat at Faridabad, the pressure on Ganguly had certainly grown manifold. "No pressure," maintained the skipper, but it was obvious in his action and speech. The defeat had been rankling Ganguly and his brilliant innings at Mohali was a fitting way to regain his confidence.

Even as Ganguly explored the possibility of demoting himself in the batting order, this was the best possible way to sort out his problems. He saw no merit in batting down the order. As a captain he had to lead by example and then there was this cushion of Rahul Dravid in the middle order to take charge if things went wrong.

Ganguly had made a decision on the eve of the match. "If we bat first, I'll open. If we chase a big target, I would prefer to bat down the order." It was a decision obviously aimed at giving the middle order solidity and of course the experience.

So, when Ganguly went about his job in the manner we have known to, it augured well for the team. The presence of Ganguly was a guiding factor for Dinesh Mongia and then the skipper prospered in the company of V.V.S. Laxman.

It was not the best of the knocks from Ganguly but it had the character of a batsman wanting to hit back with a strong message. "I've done well in the one-dayers and not so bad in the Tests," he had said sometime ago. Ganguly's contribution as an attacking opener in limited overs cricket has been a crucial factor and this innings was a reminder of the Indian skipper's fine form.

Ganguly enjoys playing his shots and the clinical performance at Mohali was a feature of the match. The ball came on nicely to the bat and it suited Ganguly's style as he played some effortless strokes on either side and clouted some over the ropes to the delight of the spectators.

A beaming Ganguly was a welcome change from the brooding skipper at Faridabad. The team welcomed it and coach John Wright was particularly pleased. "It was a quality knock," he said. It indeed was.