Indian batsmen get their act right

G. VISWANATH

Marcus Trescothick seized the opportunity on a wonderful batting track to top-score with 86.-N. SRIDHARAN

LORD'S gets the best out of the practioners of the sport. It had a positive rub off on three Indian batsmen - Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Yuveraj Singh - who played spectacular cricket to turn the tables on England in the second league match of the NatWest Trophy. It was only India's third appearance at Lord's in a one-day international, the last of which was in the final of the Prudential World Cup against Clive Lloyd's West Indies. This NatWest series match generated as much interest as the pervious meeting between the two sides had at Edgbaston during the 1999 World Cup. Then, in a match the umpires were accused of being incompetent, India knocked out England from the second stage of the championship. These days England does not look upon the Ashes series alone to whip up passions of the home supporters. The Ashes will remain an important part of their cricketing activity, but in times when they have begun to recognise the calling of other traditional Test playing nations, there is always intense feelings among its cricketers. In this respect, its captain Nasser Hussain must be given credit for creating a right atmosphere on and off the field. He was responsible for a well fought series in India twice; during the Test series as well as the six match one-day international series. The results of that six match series that ended in a thriller at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium with Andrew Flintoff dancing bare chested just about reflected England's jubilation.

The Indians were a trifle disappointed that they allowed England to come back and share the honours after having taken a 3-1 lead before the fifth match at Ferozeshah Kotla. Things began well for England at Lord's. Hussain won the toss and without wasting time and loose deliveries, Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight got cracking. Though he had not faced Zaheer Khan before (the left arm seamer did not play the India-England series at home) - he was quite comfortable dealing with the pace and bounce generated by him. He simply cut loose against Khan and Ajit Agarkar. India's bowling looked out of sorts with Trescothick seizing the opportunity on a wonderful batting pitch. When the bowlers failed to impress and did not look like breaking the partnership, the alacrity of a man in the outfield produced one for India. Sachin Tendulkar's fielding, in which throwing accurately to one end of the wicket - this time it turned out to be at the bowler's end where Anil Kumble was in charge - did the trick.

Virender Sehwag punishes James Kirtley during his knock of 71.-N.SRIDHARAN

England's progress received a boost when Hussain joined Trescothick in the middle. Contrasts in batting style became immediately evident though. Trescothick went for the orthodox sweep, Hussain opted for the opposite in the reverse sweep against Harbhajan Singh. The left-hander succeeded many times, Hussain did not. Yet, they managed to keep the run rate above the six mark before Yuveraj Singh broke the England back taking the wickets of Nasser Hussain, Flintoff, who was promoted to sustain the tempo and another run getter, Graham Thorpe. It all happened in a matter of minutes and suddenly England was finding runs hard to come by. The departure of Trescothick (86, 110m, 76b, 9 x 4s, 1 x 6) was a big blow.

England, at one stage 150 for one wicket in 27 overs, came down like a thud. Both coach Duncan Fletcher and Hussain agreed that they were probably 25 or 30 runs short. England made only 121 in the last 23 overs, not a poor effort, but in the circumstances a not so satisfactory total having made a blazing start. India's opening bowlers - Khan and Agarkar - had gone for 97 runs in their 17 overs and Harbhajan picked because he had the experience to bowl against three top quality left handers in the England side, gave away 50 runs in his ten overs. But Yuveraj Singh's seven over spell - the second spell of six overs - did that much to put obstacles before the England batsmen. A target of 272 was always going to be a long haul. Ganguly and Sehwag showed their intentions. No way could India's opening pair think of blocking the initial overs to keep wickets in tact, though Ganguly and Sehwag might have decided that the right hander will go after the England bowling. The plan of action was right.

Yuveraj Singh played spectacular cricket and was named the Man of the Match.-N. SRIDHARAN

Sehwag has been a revelation ever since the contribution he made to India's win against Australia in Bangalore. His century against South Africa in his first Test at Bloemfontien only confirmed the talent in him. At Lord's he set his own terms and destroyed the England opening bowlers - Matthew Hoggard and James Kirtley. He did not even spare Flintoff, with his confidence levels high after the Man of the Match winning performance against Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge.

When teams are asked to chase huge totals, the number of runs the opening pair makes becomes a crucial factor. Sehwag and Ganguly made 109. Ashley Giles, who was used as a defensive bowler in the Test series in India and against Tendulkar, got the wickets of the opening batsmen, though it was as a result of the splendid catches Trescothick and James Kirtley took in a manner that would have made the top athletes envious.

Rahul Dravid with an unbeaten 73 proved to be a reliable hand in English conditions.-N. SRIDHARAN

England appeared to be on top having removed the top four batsmen for 141 runs. A lot of thought must have gone before the Indians decided to leave Venkatsai Laxman out and pick the batsmen for the match. Yuveraj, Dinesh Mongia and Mohammad Kaif had done well enough to stake their claims. The decision to opt for Dravid as a keeper also meant that India could afford to run its batting depth upto no.7. This might have been considered a luxury, but it worked as Dravid (73 not out, 111m, 86b, 7 x 4s), always a reliable hand in conditions that prevail in England and Yuveraj ( 64 not out, 92m, 65b, 7 x 4s) constructed a classic undefeated fifth wicket partnership of 131 runs to leave Hussain's team despairing at the end. Both rejoiced in the middle as the winning stroke was hit. Dravid and Yuveraj Singh gave a great feeling to the Indians in England.

England: M. Trescothick c Dravid b Ganguly 86; N. Knight (run out) 31; N. Hussain st. Dravid b Yuveraj 54; A. Flintoff c Mongia b Yuveraj 22; G. Thorpe c Sehwag b Yuveraj 12; A. Stewart (not out) 28; R. Irani (run out) 12; P. Collingwood c Dravid b Khan 6; A. Giles (not out) 2. Extras (b-2, lb-6, nb-2, w-8) 18. Total (for seven wkts. in 50 overs) 271.

Fall of wkts: 1-86, 2-153, 3-201, 4-217, 5-222, 6-256, 7-267.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 9-0-48-1, Agarkar 8-0-49-0, Harbhajan 10-0-50-0, Kumble 10-0-46-0, Ganguly 6-0-31-1, Yuveraj 7-0-39-3.

India: S. Ganguly c Kirtley b Giles 43; V. Sehwag c Trescothick b Giles 71; D. Mongia b Giles 1; S. Tendulkar lbw b Irani 1; R. Dravid (not out) 73; Yuveraj Singh (not out) 64. Extras (lb-12, nb-4, w-3) 19. Total (for four wkts. in 48.5 overs) 272.

Fall of wkts: 1-109, 2-111, 3-118, 4-141.

England bowling: Hoggard 8. 5-0-62-0, Kirtley 10-0-57-0, Flintoff 8-0-56-0, Giles 10-1-39-3, Irani 10-0-33-1, Collingwood 2-0-13-0.

A truly match-winning innings

His approach and attitude conveyed a lot that he has cut off all the risky shots and frills. A shot, hit down the ground in the end overs, also revealed what a keen observer he was. Hussain had positioned the fielders at long on and long off wide; Yuveraj hit a shot off James Kirtley, gun barrel straight. Both the fielders looked at each other.

As a bowler Yuveraj was not only able to provide variety, but also a real option for the captain to use him freely and with confidence on a slow pitch. He had taken 15 wickets before the match against England at 34.26. Normally it is a fine batting performance that rubs off on an allrounder to bowl well. It worked the other way for Yuveraj. There is reason for it.

The batsmen he dismissed were Hussain, Flintoff and Thorpe. It will be interesting to see how he shapes in the tournament. It is impossible to believe that Yuveraj will not remain in England for the Test series. With the World Cup only eight months away, the BCCI must aim to keep the team together. It has the money to maintain a big squad which was what the Pakistan Cricket Board has done many times. What Indian cricket is seeing is a Yuveraj Singh of strong will power and character.