In superb touch


IT was like walking through a maze - making it to the Eden Gardens on the Big Saturday. There were people - men and women, young and old - everywhere, so were the armed cops, and cutting in through the human barrier required both skill and patience.

Dinesh Mongia, who top-scored for India, hoists Jeremy Snape.-N. BALAJI

Yet, the effort was worth it, and once you entered the ground, the sight was spectacular. A great cricketing venue, buzzing with over one lakh spectators, waiting for the battle to commence, ready to cheer.

And Marcus Trescothick, the free-stroking English opener conjured a hundred of stunning brilliance, studded with strokes of both power and timing, opening the door of possibilities for England under the lights.

But the door was rudely shut on the Englishmen by S.K. Sharma's dubious umpiring decision. Sharma handed out a shocking leg-before verdict to Trescothick (121, 109b, 13x4, 2x6), when the ball from paceman Javagal Srinath clearly pitched outside the left-hander's leg-stump. And soon the fight went out of the English challenge.

Just consider the situation. In pursuit of India's 281 in 49 overs, England, fuelled by Trescothick's shot-making ability, was coasting at 224 for four in the 36th over when disaster struck, thanks to the trigger-happy Sharma.

Ajit Agarkar, who got among the tail-enders like a cat among pigeons, is being congratulated by Virender Sehwag after the dismissal of Darren Gough.-N. BALAJI

Earlier, England skipper Nasser Hussain, too, had reasons to feel done in, for he had stretched well forward, when the delivery from leg-spinner Anil Kumble struck him on the front pad. Interestingly, Hussain's 25 was the next highest individual score after Trescothick's 121.

An indisposed Graham Thorpe was missed even more, as England fell short by 22 runs, with six overs still remaining, running out of batsmen than time.

The result also betrays a distinct lack of depth in the English batting. There are far too many pretenders claiming all-rounder status, and England desperately requires somebody with the quality of Allan Lamb, a superb improviser, who invariably delivered at the crunch, in its ranks.

Andrew Flintoff nets the big fish, Sachin Tendulkar.-N. BALAJI

The Indians must indeed count themselves lucky to win in Kolkata. The fielding was tardy and the catching left much to be desired with the normally reliable V. V. S. Laxman putting down two difficult chances in the slips off Trescothick (when the batsman was on 2) and Hussain (19), pacemen Ajit Agarkar and Srinath being the bowlers to suffer.

Coach John Wright keeps stressing on the importance of the basics. However, this Indian side keeps falling short. Winning alone is not the criterion here, how the victories are achieved is probably as important.

On a pitch that was essentially flat, but for a hint of assistance to the spinners, none of the Indian bowlers made an impression, and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, under considerable pressure to retain his place, has to rediscover his rhythm fast.

In the Indian innings, the Big Guns got into the stride, but succumbed to ordinary shot selection. Sourav Ganguly (42), Sachin Tendulkar (36), V.V.S. Laxman (25), and Virender Sehwag (29) were all guilty of indiscreet strokes when they could have carried on to much bigger things.

In the event, it was left to the Young Guns to bail the side out, with some intelligent strokeplay, after the team opted to bat. Dinesh Mongia (71, 75b, 7x4, 1x6), on the comeback trail, and earning a promotion to the No. 3 slot, went about the job of keeping the bowling at bay while collecting runs with rare maturity.

The southpaw, revealing no sign of nerves, gathered his runs with clever batting - driving, cutting and flicking with panache - and striking the spinners - left-armer Ashley Giles and offie Jeremy Snape - straight and high down the ground, using his feet well.

There has always been an element of solidity about Mongia's ways at the crease, and what stood out in this knock was his positive approach apart from a calm head.

Virender Sehwag is bowled by Matthew Hoggard.-N. BALAJI

Hemang Badani's 32-ball 35 was vital too for he walked in at a difficult juncture, in the last quarter of the innings. Being his comeback ODI, Badani had to keep a careful eye on his tally of runs, yet the situation demanded him to take risks. The talented Tamil Nadu southpaw walked the tight-rope well, and provided the much-needed thrust to the innings during the end overs, in the company of a spunky Harbhajan.

In the English attack, key paceman Darren Gough struggled to find his rhythm following a long break from cricket and left-arm spinner Giles, forced to operate to a more positive line in limited overs cricket, found life unpleasant.

In the end, a score of 281 proved adequate for India. In no small measure due to umpire Sharma's generosity. Hussain has chosen to take up the matter of umpiring with the authorities. Which again is questionable given the ICC ruling that the umpiring decisions are beyond reproach.

The scores:

India: Sourav Ganguly c Hussain b Flintoff 42; Sachin Tendulkar b Flintoff 36; Dinesh Mongia b Snape 71; V.V.S. Laxman c Collingwood b Gough 25; Virender Sehwag b Hoggard 29; Hemang Badani (run out) 35; Ajit Agarkar st. Foster b Giles 2; Ajay Ratra (run out) 2; Harbhajan Singh (not out) 18; Anil Kumble (not out) 0; Extras (b-1, lb-9, nb-2, w-9) 21; Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 281.

Fall of wickets: 1-78, 2-95, 3-150, 4-193, 5-232, 6-236, 7-242, 8-280.

England bowling: Gough 10-1-48-1; Hoggard 10-2-48-1; Flintoff 10-0-51-2; Collingwood 3-0-22-0; Snape 10-0-53-1; Giles 6-0-41-1; Vaughan 1-0-8-0.

England: Marcus Trescothick lbw b Srinath 121; Nick Knight lbw b Srinath 0; Nasser Hussain lbw b Kumble 25; Michael Vaughan c Agarkar b Kumble 14; Paul Collingwood c Tendulkar b Ganguly 21; Andrew Flintoff (run out) 23; Jeremy Snape lbw b Harbhajan 4; James Foster c Ratra b Agarkar 2; Ashley Giles c Ganguly b Agarkar 18; Darren Gough c & b Agarkar 0; Matthew Hoggard (not out) 4; Extras (b-4, lb-10, nb-2, w-11) 27; Total (in 44 overs) 259.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-64, 3-123, 4-184, 5-224, 6-231, 7-233, 8-244, 9-246.

India bowling: Srinath 8-0-42-2; Agarkar 9-0-50-3; Kumble 9-1-54-2; Harbhajan 9-0-49-1; Tendulkar 4-0-23-0; Ganguly 5-0-27-1.

THE booming blows from the southpaw's swashbuckling blade were as thundering as the announcements made by scorer Rehman in the media box.

Marcus Trescothick receives the Man of the Match award from Mr. Jyoti Basu, the former Chief Minister of West Bengal. The BCCI President, Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya, applauds.-N. BALAJI

Well, Marcus Trescothick almost took the game away from India, before a horrendous umpiring decision robbed the English vice-captain and his team of greater glory.

It was an astonishing knock (121, 109b, 13x4, 2x6), under pressure, with England chasing 281 in 49 overs - it was docked an over for slow over-rate - for victory. To make matters worse, opener Nick Knight, a fine batsman in this format, departed without scoring, trapped leg-before by Javagal Srinath.

The early setback had little effect on Trescothick, who stroked the ball effortlessly, punishing the slightest error in length or direction in a flash. This was exhilarating stuff.

The Indians did not quite know what hit them as Trescothick blazed away, driving and cutting the pacemen to the distant corners of the ground and lofting the spinners with contempt.

Harbhajan Singh was dismissed ruthlessly over the mid-wicket fence and Kumble was sent soaring over long-on. The partisan crowd witnessed these missiles in stunned silence.

And to think that Trescothick was a doubtful starter for the contest, with skipper Hussain stating on the eve of the ODI that the opener had still not recovered fully from a stomach bug!

Well, whatever Trescothick had for medicine, it worked magic! The man was in an inspired mood, a soldier on a mission impossible.

It was indeed a wonderful moment when Trescothick swept Tendulkar past the ropes to reach his hundred in just 80 deliveries. He had made the most of a reprieve at 2, but then fortune favours the brave.

The Englishman raised his arms in triumph and none could grudge him his hour of glory at an awesome cricketing venue, packed to capacity. A century that would stay in memory for long.

The notable aspect of Trescothick's batting is that he backs his natural ability, takes the bowlers on, invariably producing remarkable shots in the process.

It's a refreshingly positive approach and reveals a streak of aggression that's all too rare in English batting. But then Trescothick is different from the mediocre batsmen who have served English cricket over the last few years.

Marcus Trescothick is a natural born winner, though his team does not always win...on occasions because of trigger-happy umpires.