Ratra makes a point

G. VISWANATH

AFTER their authoritative win in the Headingley Test, the Indians came to Derby to play a tour match against Derbyshire. Strangely, Derby turned out to be a place where some people were uninformed about even Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara!

Derbyshire is a county which is familiar to Indians. In the 1970s Srinivas Venkataraghavan turned out for the County; then, in the early 1990s, Mohammed Azharuddin spent almost three years here. A charming lady at the County shop remembered the day when Azharuddin asked her to babysit young Abbas for 20 minutes. She ended up doing it for two hours telling customers that Abbas was Azhar's son.

The century-maker for India: Ajay Ratra in the first innings.-N. SRIDHARAN

The big guns had fired in the Headingley Test and hence decided to take rest from the three-day match against a Derbyshire team that was compelled to field its second string for many reasons. The tour selectors sought the permission of the Board to play Sunil Joshi, Dodda Ganesh and Sairaj Bahutule and also a couple of boys from the under-19 team. But the Board shot down the proposal.

In the event, Rahul Dravid led the side for the first time on the tour. Anil Kumble was also included in the XI. Dravid won the toss and did not have any hesitation in electing to bat. The Indians did not get cracking until Venkat Sai Laxman and Ajay Ratra appeared in the middle.

The first three batsmen - Sanjay Bangar, Virender Sehwag and Shiv Sundar Das - made 17, 15 and 18 runs respectively. Derbyshire's new ball bowlers - Neil Gunter and Paul Aldred - and the first change, Jason Kerr, bowled with purpose. But Laxman batted for three hours and six minutes to make 75 runs. Wasim Jaffer also chipped in with a useful 49, but it was Ratra who persevered to make the second first class century of his career.

Ratra had the motivation to play a long innings that lasted for nearly five hours. He had hurt his big toe minutes before the second Test and was replaced by Parthiv Patel. It goes without saying that Ratra was keen to regain his place. He was picked as the No. 1 wicketkeeper for the tour and was optimistic about coming back into the team.

Patel did not have a very good outing at Headingley. He even bruised his knee badly, when a delivery from Ajit Agarkar skidded through low. The chances of Ratra (101 not out, 292m, 207b, 14x4) coming back for the Oval Test became bright and his undefeated century was a timely effort. It not only helped his team put on board a good total of 445 runs, it also impressed the tour selectors.

Virender Sehwag played a breathtaking 104 in the second innings. He hit four sixes and 14 fours in his 97-ball tenure. Shiv Sundar Das helped himself to a half century. A decisive result had appeared remote even on the first day and a draw it was as the two sides decided to call off the match before the completion of the mandatory overs.

Virender Sehwag who scored century in the second innings.-N. SRIDHARAN

The match gave an opportunity for Ratra to prove that he is as good a batsman, if not a better one than Patel. He stuck to his task and his resolve was appreciated even by coach John Wright.

Then, of course, Sehwag gave proof of his ability to adapt as an opening batsman. The rival attack was, however, weak in the absence of Cork.

From the bowling point of view Kumble showed his class in the 12 overs he bowled. He took three wickets. It was also good to see Ashish Nehra bend his back and take four wickets. Dravid gave every bowler a good spell. Nehra bowled 23 overs, Tinu Yohannan 14, Bangar 12.5, Sehwag 18, Harbhajan 21 and Kumble 12.

A Derbyshire batsman who made a good impression was Rawait Khan. He made 91 runs in six minutes short of five hours with 16 hits to the fence. Opener Steve Stubbings and Dominic Hewson made 66 each. It was a match that had to be played because the Indians were committed to doing so. The man who made the most from the match was Ratra.

The scores:

India 445 (V.V.S. Laxman 75, W. Jaffer 49, A. Ratra 101 not out, R. Dravid 40 (retired), A. Kumble 47, Harbhajan Singh 44, J.I.D. Kerr three for 97) and 182 for three decl. (V. Sehwag 104, S. S. Das 52) drew with Derbyshire 358 (S. D. Stubbings 66, R. M. Khan 91, D. R. Hewson 66, J. P. Pyemont 43, A. Nehra four for 85, A. Kumble three for 25).