Taking players out of their comfort zones

SANJAY RAJAN

Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra and Virender Sehwag... penetrative spells.-

YOU realised that Team India was going through a phase of change when it stuck to the same side, that lost to Sri Lanka in the lung-opener, for the second match against the West Indies.

A defeat usually leads to a tinkering with the playing XI for the next match. Instead, the new team management, comprising coach Greg Chappell and skipper Rahul Dravid, retained faith in the same bunch, but came up with a different ploy.

The absence of V. V. S. Laxman, who missed a second straight game due to back spasms, meant that the opening combination was still not settled. The team management had him in mind as Sehwag's opening partner for the tour in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar (injury) and Sourav Ganguly, who joined the team only for the third game. Yuvraj had failed at No. 3 the previous match. It certainly was a surprise to see Md. Kaif walk out with the Najafgarh blaster, when the chase commenced.

Chappell explained the ideology behind this. "It is necessary to take out players from their comfort zone. That's the only way to get to the next level. We want the players to take up new challenges than what they had done in the past," the Australian said, after India scripted its first victory under the new management — a six-wicket win over a weak Caribbean line-up in the second match of the IndianOil Cup tri-series at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium here on July 31.

"Flexibility with options is what we need in the absence of the established players. The younger ones need to put their hands up and be counted," Dravid had said after the defeat in the lung-opener.

AP

Suresh Raina, the 18-year-old Uttar Pradesh all-rounder, pulled his weight in what was only his second one-dayer.

The target was only 179, but then low-scoring encounters can get difficult at times. The four-man Caribbean pace attack was aggressive, but wayward and the catching left a lot to be desired.

Moreover, India played back-to-back matches and that was tough. The team looked jaded, but picked itself up sufficiently to score its first points in the tournament.

"The victory was a satisfying one. We played good cricket, especially against the pacemen," said Dravid, who scored his second consecutive half-century in the tournament. "It's good to start the season well. We have had a bit of a break. There is a lot of cricket left, so I hope I can keep this going," said the Bangalorean about his own form.

One thought the decision to play M. S. Dhoni down the order was because the burly Jharkhand lad had kept wickets for 48 overs. But Dravid said, "I genuinely feel Dhoni has the game, approach and attitude to be a very good lower order player for us." About the shuffle in the order, Dravid said, "Some of the changes were forced on us. So we tried to be flexible about it. We thought we'd bat Raina and Kaif up the order and keep Yuvraj for later in the innings. Hats off to Kaif, who put his hand up and said he'd do the difficult job."

AP

Kaif, who was opening for the first time in his international career, and Raina dug in their heels for a 65-run stand off 62 deliveries for the second wicket after Sehwag was dismissed early for a second time in the tournament. "We knew that one good partnership would do it for us," said Dravid.

The left-handed Raina began tentatively, was rapped on the pads by paceman Jermaine Lawson off the very first ball and was dropped by Ricardo Powell at point when he slashed at Lawson two deliveries later.

The new-ball pair of Daren Powell and Lawson breathed fire, letting go the occasional short ball. Fast bowler Tino Best softened up Kaif with a couple of short deliveries, and then had him edge to slip playing tentatively outside the off-stump. The Barbadian nearly had Raina next, edging a yorker behind, but 'keeper Denesh Ramdin, who was making his debut, dropped a regulation catch.

Dravid, adjudged Man of the Match, and Yuvraj Singh (28) shifted gears at the right time to help the side secure its first points in the event, adding 61 runs off 100 deliveries for the fourth wicket. Lawson beat Yuvraj by sheer pace, and nearly had next man Dhoni first ball when the latter flicked away a full-toss. But Dwayne Smith dropped the straightforward chance at square leg. The undefeated fifth wicket pair raced to the target with a 37-run stand — Dhoni scoring the winning runs with a hooked six off Lawson.

Earlier, West Indies capped left-hander Narsingh Deonarine and Ramdin. Shivnarine Chanderpaul won the toss, but West Indies' brittle top-order collapsed.

Two cloud bursts — the first at the start of the innings and the other 10 overs later — freshened up the pitch, and the West Indies found the Indian new-ball pair of left-armers Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan too hot to handle.

Playing in his 100th ODI, Harbhajan took full advantage of the bounce the pitch offered. The Punjab off-spinner derived prodigious turn and the young Caribbean line-up had no answers.

Deonarine batted with tremendous focus, and along with his Guyana team-mate Chanderpaul, put on 52 for the fourth wicket. Deonarine stitched another useful partnership of 31 with Ramdin for the seventh wicket, while the latter took the total to 172 in the company of Best, when left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra struck in quick succession to dismiss Ramdin and Daren Powell.

Clearly India suffered for the want of a fifth regular bowler. Dravid said, "We have given a lot of runs in the fifth bowler position. It is an area that worries us. Earlier we had Tendulkar, Sehwag, Yuvraj and Ganguly. It's just the question of ensuring that Sehwag and, may be, Raina get enough bowling and get better and better at it which might give us more options."

The scores

West Indies: X. Marshall c Dravid b Harbhajan 26, R. Morton lbw b Pathan 1, S. Joseph (run out) 3, N. Deonarine lbw b Sehwag 41, S. Chanderpaul lbw b Raina 22, R. Powell b Sehwag 1, D. Smith c Dhoni b Harbhajan 20, D. Ramdin b Nehra 24, T. Best c Raina b Zaheer 24, D. Powell b Nehra 0, J. Lawson (not out) 3. Extras (b-2, lb-6, nb-1, w-4) 13. Total (in 47.4 overs) 178.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-22, 3-32, 4-84, 5-85, 6-109, 7-140, 8-172, 9-172.

India bowling: Pathan 9-3-29-1, Zaheer 9.4-2-32-1, Harbhajan 10-1-24-2, Nehra 9-2-23-2, Sehwag 6-0-39-2, Raina 4-0-23-1.

India: M. Kaif c Joseph b Best 24, V. Sehwag c Ramdin b Lawson 2, S. Raina c Marshall b Smith 35, R. Dravid (not out) 52, Yuvraj b Lawson 28, M. S. Dhoni (not out) 15. Extras (lb-5, nb-1, w-18) 24. Total (for four wkts. in 36 overs) 180.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-68, 3-82, 4- 143.

West Indies bowling: D. Powell 10-1-44-0, Lawson 10-0-66-2, Smith 10-0-37-1, Best 5-0-26-1, Morton 1-0-2-0.