More want to rest than play

The unpleasant conditions were bound to have an impact on the game. Many hands were raised when privately the team managements wanted to check on players seeking rest from the sixth match. The heat and the academic nature of the contest were hardly motivating for the players, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The scorching heat presented the greatest challenge to the players at the Keenan Stadium. It could not have been a pleasant experience for anyone present at the cauldron and it was hardly surprising to see many vacant seats at the venue. Spectator-comfort has always remained a low priority for the cricket authorities in India and it was evident during the sixth one-day match.

The Jharkhand Cricket Association had its reasons for not providing shade for the spectators. "The Board guidelines prevent us from putting up temporary shades," remarked one official. But then, in an earlier match, the Kerala Cricket Association had gone out of the way to ensure that the spectators had an adequate supply of water and overhead protection from the sun. At Keenan, overhead protection was a luxury.

The unpleasant conditions were bound to have an impact on the game. Many hands were raised when privately the team managements wanted to check on players seeking rest from the sixth match. The heat and the academic nature of the contest were hardly motivating for the players. The absence of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid did rankle as far as the paying public was concerned. The awful form of Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif was enough to put off the connoisseurs, who felt let down when Yuvraj Singh too failed to get going. Ample compensation, however, came in the shape of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who commands the biggest fan following in this team. "I am sometimes surprised by the adulation I receive but I guess it does speak for our passionate supporters. This support is the most significant gain for our team from this series," was Dhoni's observation. The English media unsuccessfully tried to provoke stand-in skipper Andrew Strauss to whip up the issue of playing conditions, especially the heat.

But Strauss was very sporting when he dismissed the suggestions by citing a valid point that the heat was the same for both the teams. In any case, the English have played in hotter conditions in South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka. It was churlish to rake up the heat issue since the England Cricket Board was aware of the playing conditions.

It must, however, be pointed out that the organisers could have avoided the deployment of a large number of policemen at the venue, giving the place the aura of a cantonment. "The administration and the police hijack the stadium a day before the match," lamented a JCA official. There were also whispers of a rift between the JCA and the Tatas, who have contributed immensely in the past. Even the Keenan Stadium is owned by the Tatas. The JCA and the Tatas fell out on the issue of complimentary tickets even though the former deserved credit for the proper conduct of the match. Efforts were made to keep a vigil on the troubled sections in the stands, but the manner in which the ticket-holders were made to watch the contest left a poor taste.

There was consolation for the crowd from Dhoni's superb knock. He adapted to the situation and produced a remarkably mature performance. Apart from the customary Dhoni fireworks, the innings also showed the other side of his batting — caution and discipline. He carried the innings on his shoulders and also guided Ramesh (Powar). "Their partnership gave us a chance to look at a victory but England played better cricket," conceded Sehwag.

England thrived upon the committed batting by Strauss. He was `Man of the Match' with an innings that revealed the aggressive aspect of his batting. He carted the Indian attack around with a flurry of attacking shots and in the company of Ian Bell gave the team a start from which it built its winning course. He could not finish the job due to cramps but it hardly mattered because the Indians had lost the motivation to win. When players seek avenues to rest it does reflect on the overload some of them have endured in this long season.

Like a true leader, Strauss gave the credit to his colleagues. "I thought our seamers — James Anderson, Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood — did a very good job. They were really hitting the deck hard in tough conditions; they bowled exceptionally well.

I would like to look positively and believe that it was good bowling rather than bad batting from India that kept them down to 227." Strauss showed great character when asked to comment on the so-called dangerous conditions. "I wouldn't call it dangerous. There were a few guys who were cramping up, but that's where the support staff comes in. You go on drips and you get high carb drinks. But I wouldn't call it dangerous. There were 22 players out on the park and at the end of the game, none of them was injured. That tells a tale in itself." To be fair to the players, they need to be complimented for giving their best despite the unpleasant conditions. Hats off to the paying public, too, for turning out and supporting both the teams. It was not as bad a venue as some of the British media made it out to be.

THE SCORES

6th ODI, India v England, Keenan Stadium, Jamshedpur, April 12, 2006. England won by five wickets.

India: V. Sehwag c Solanki b Anderson 4; M. Dhoni c Solanki b Mahmood 96; M. Kaif lbw b Mahmood 15; Yuvraj b Plunkett 4; S. Raina c Prior b Plunkett 2; Y. Venugopal Rao c Prior b Anderson 10; R. Powar c Hoggard b Collingwood 54; Harbhajan b Pietersen 4; R. P. Singh c Blackwell b Mahmood 7; V. R. Singh c Blackwell b Anderson 8; M. Patel (not out) 1; Extras (lb-4, w-14) 18; Total (in 48 overs) 223.

Fall of wkts: 1-4, 2-46, 3-58, 4-63, 5-79, 6-186, 7-196, 8-209, 9-216.

England bowling: Anderson 9-2-28-3; Hoggard 8-0-59-0; Mahmood 8-0-37-3; Plunkett 5-0-22-2; Blackwell 10-0-33-0; Solanki 4-0-25-0; Pietersen 1-0-4-1; Collingwood 3-0-11-1.

England: A. Strauss (retd. hurt) 74; I. Bell c Dhoni b Harbhajan 46; V. Solanki b Powar 7; K. Pietersen c & b Harbhajan 33; P. Collingwood (not out) 23; M. Prior c V. R. Singh b Harbhajan 3; L. Plunkett c Sehwag b Powar 0; I. Blackwell (not out) 14; Extras (lb-10, w-7, nb-10) 27; Total (for five wkts., in 42.4 overs) 227.

Fall of wkts: 1-107, 2-120, 3-198, 4-207, 5-209.

India bowling: R. P. Singh 8-1-48-0; Patel 7-0-37-0; V. R. Singh 5-0-33-0; Harbhajan 10-0-30-3; Powar 8.4-0-44-2; Yuvraj 4-0-25-0.