Huffing & puffing

The match was won, but then could Sourav Ganguly claim to be satisfied with the work of his team? A victory was expected, but not the manner in which it was achieved.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

It was four wickets each for the Karnataka duo. While Javagal Srinath gets rid of Kloppenburg for his 300th ODI wicket.-— Pic. REUTERS & V. V. KRISHNAN

THE ideal setting for a match, a weak opposition, a favourable pitch and history, could do little to set the team on the right course. Of course, the match was won, but then could Sourav Ganguly claim to be satisfied with the work of his team? A victory was expected, but not the manner in which it was achieved.

The Indians can rarely accomplish a mission without struggling. It was a familiar sight at the Boland Park in Paarl, a scenic town 56 kilometres from Cape Town, when India was compelled to give its best to tame the minnows of international cricket, the Netherlands. It was a contest which tested the Indians in every department. The pre-match assessment was based on the fact that the Indian team had undergone a professional preparation for the tournament and Ganguly was the first to admit that he had little to protest in this regard. "We couldn't have asked for more,'' was Ganguly's remark.

But the match showed that the Indians were far more inconsistent than one had imagined. The change in the batting order, effected at the instance of Sachin Tendulkar wanting to open, did not alter the course of the innings. Giving the opener's slot back to Tendulkar was the best thing that the team could think of on the eve of the tournament. The master had been wanting to regain his favourite batting position, but in the process Virender Sehwag was displaced from the slot he had come to excel in.

It was bound to create a debate once Tendulkar showed his keenness to revert to the opener's slot. He had the support of skipper Ganguly. "There are times when one must consider the player's record against a particular team. Sachin has always done well against Australia as an opener and that's the reason why he replaced Sehwag at the top,'' argued Ganguly in favour of the move. But it did disturb the pair which had been opening the innings for some time. It was part of the experiment being carried out even as the team prepared to meet Holland. The Indians could afford to give the innovations one more try mainly because of the standing of the opponent. But Holland caused really embarrassing moments for India on the field in front of a modest crowd.

By opting to play two spinners the team management gave an indication of its likely moves in the coming matches. It is well known that Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble complement each other well and it was a wise move to test them before the key matches. Kumble enjoyed his stint even though the `Man of the Match' award was rightly given to Tim de Leede, the seamer with a lot of experience. The Dutch won the hearts of everyone and earned praise from even the Indian team.

Coming back to Kumble, the leg-spinner looked at ease with himself. He could get the ball to land on the spot and his nagging line meant that Kumble was ready for the big matches. His spell was critical for the team because the Dutch could have pulled off an upset, if only one of their batsmen had been able to produce a miracle with the bat.

Even before the match Holland had made its intentions known when skipper Roland Lefebvre said his team would be happy to learn a few lessons from the Indians. The Dutch, in the process, exposed a few shortcomings in the Indian team and the margin of victory never reflected the tension the Indians experienced on the field.

It should have been a cakewalk for India, considering the respective strengths of the teams. But the Indians committed basic mistakes and gave a shoddy display. The running between the wickets left much to be desired and the shot selection was shockingly poor.

The shots to which Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif got out did not speak well for their talent. Both perished to full tosses and then the cross-batted slog that Harbhajan succumbed to was indisciplined to say the least. Harbhajan should have known the importance of hanging in because of his ability to score useful runs. If he was censured by the coach, the off-spinner deserved every bit of it.

Only Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Mongia showed the right way to bat on a pitch of variable bounce. They gained from the fact that the Dutch lacked the experience to apply the pressure and even a total of 204 looked defendable for India. Holland lacked the batting power to dominate the Indian attack and the result was not surprising because the Indians bowled much better than they batted. For Srinath it was a memorable match since it brought him his 300th wicket in one-day internationals. The joy on his face was a proof of his satisfaction at being able to contribute to the side when it counted. The veteran speedster had every reason to rejoice because he had worked hard to attain the status he now enjoys in world cricket. He and Kumble were outstanding in this match and Srinath made quite an impression with the innovations he brought in. He looks a complete bowler at the fag end of his career.

The match remained a mediocre affair all the way, but for De Leede it may have been a most memorable one. His bowling stood out for the discipline that went into it. "It was good to get my first wicket in international cricket. To get four on debut was memorable for me,'' said De Leede.

Ganguly summed up, "Sure we got 204 in this match but that wouldn't stop us from getting much more in the remaining matches.''

It was a bumpy start for India, but the victory did give the team the right boost to sort things out for the tournament ahead. If anything, the form of Tendulkar and Yuvraj was quite encouraging, not to forget the bowling of Srinath and Kumble.

The scores:

India: S. Ganguly c Smits b Lefebvre 8; S. Tendulkar c Smits b De Leede 52; V. Sehwag c Zuiderent b Kloppenburg 6; R. Dravid b De Leede 17; Yuvraj Singh c & b Raja 37; M. Kaif c Lefebvre b Raja 9; D. Mongia (run out) 42; Harbhajan Singh b De Leede 13; A. Kumble (run out) 9; Z. Khan lbw b De Leede 0; J. Srinath (not out) 0; Extras (w-8, nb-1, lb-2) 11; Total (in 48.5 overs) 204.

Fall of wickets: 1-30, 2-56, 3-81, 4-91, 5-114, 6-169, 7-186, 8-203, 9-204.

Netherlands bowling: Schiferli 10-2-49-0, Lefebvre 9-1-27-1, De Leede 9.5-0-35-4, Kloppenburg 10-0-40-1, Raja 9-0-47-2, Van Troost 1-0-4-0.

Netherlands: F. Kloppenburg c Sehwag b Srinath 0; D. Van Bunge b Srinath 62; H. Mol c Dravid b Srinath 2; B. Zuiderent c Sehwag b Zaheer Khan 0; T. De Leede c Dravid b Harbhajan Singh 0; L. Van Troost c Dravid b Kumble 1; R. Scholte lbw b Kumble 1; R. Lefebvre lbw b Kumble 3; E. Schiferli c Mongia b Kumble 13; J. Smits c Sehwag b Srinath 26; A. Raja (not out) 0; Extras (b-2, w-18, nb-2, lb-6) 28; Total (in 48.1 overs) 136.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-29, 3-31, 4-38, 5-42, 6-44, 7-54, 8-82, 9-131.

India bowling: Srinath 9.1-1-30-4, Khan 8-1-17-1, Harbhajan Singh 10-1-20-1, Kumble 10-1-32-4, Ganguly 4-0-14-0, Tendulkar 4-0-9-0, Sehwag 3-0-6-0.