Tendulkar, Ganguly make hay while the sun shines

IT was an encounter that was buried under heaps of individual distinctions. It was an apology for an international match, especially considering the significance attached to it.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

IT was an encounter that was buried under heaps of individual distinctions. It was an apology for an international match, especially considering the significance attached to it. It was part of the ICC Cricket World Cup and one thought that the runs came too easily for the Indians, so mediocre was the attack.

Sachin Tendulkar cracks Van Rooi on way to his superb 152. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The intention behind getting teams such as Canada, Namibia and Holland was obviously noble — to take the game to as many nations as possible. The globalisation programme of cricket was understandable but not the merit of having weak teams take on some of the best in the game.

Namibia was expected to give India some anxious moments, but it succumbed to the inexperience factor. For someone like Jan-Berry Burger it may have provided the stage to showcase his potential, but Namibia as a team lacked the substance to provide any competitive flavour to the contest.

Pietermaritzburg is a town with rich history and Sachin Tendulkar left his mark on the place with a century that highlighted his commitment. It was an innings that once again showed that the batsman was in a different league. He was playing a specific role and he played it to perfection.

The Namibians were excited at the prospect of getting to play one of the most exciting teams in the world. For the Namibians it was one grand opportunity to test their skills and also to learn a few things from close quarters. At the end of it they must have learnt quite a lot, especially the fact that consistency and discipline played the most important part in a team's progress.

Watching Namibia it was clear that the team was not ready for contests of such a big nature. The Namibian bowling did not belong to this level and the fielding plummeted to embarrassing depths. The Namibian batsmen also did not have the ability to cause any discomfort to the Indian attack. It was a match best forgotten because of its poor competitive element.

Whom did the match help more? India or Namibia? It gave the Indians four crucial points and Namibia the stage to test itself. But what about the spectators, who bought tickets, and watched a mediocre encounter? True, the India-Australia match too, had not produced any competitive spectacle, but the quality of cricket was not so poor.

The Indian batsmen used the match to bat themselves into form and here Tendulkar was outstanding. He had prepared for the occasion very well by telling himself that it was a golden opportunity. "I just wanted to spend time in the middle," he said.

Tendulkar did spend time in the middle and to a great extent entertained the crowd with strokes of quality. It was an innings which was well crafted in terms of shot selection and it left Namibia with no chance of backing itself. The Namibians came across an opportunity to snare the master, but the chance was put down by Jan-Berry Burger. Tendulkar was 32 then and prospered to compile his 34th one-day century.

For Tendulkar it was actually a routine matter to walk to the middle and take charge, but it was very different for Sourav Ganguly, who had been struggling to put bat to ball. The left-hander had been demoted from the opener's slot and he now chose to bat at number three, grabbing the position allotted to Dinesh Mongia.

Well, Ganguly hit his 20th one-day century but it was not all a matter of achieving personal honours. It was an innings that meant a lot for the team too. It provided relief to the team management after it had been concerned at Ganguly's loss of form. His 10 previous innings had fetched the captain just 90 runs and this century paved the way for some more flexibility in the batting order.

The smile on Ganguly's face was the biggest gain from this match. "I'm happy to have some runs against my name," he said, even as he reflected on an effort that spoke of his discipline.

The innings could be divided into two parts — cautious initially and aggressive once he had settled in. Just the kind you would associate him with. He was obviously delighted at striking form with a century.

Tendulkar and Ganguly showed the way with a big partnership and then the bowlers took over. Ganguly treated the match as the platform to groom the bowling skills of Dinesh Mongia and Yuvraj Singh. The aim was to give them confidence for the matches ahead.

The team may have had little complaints from this match but what stood out sorely was the inconsistency in matter of selection. The team management could have used the opportunity to give the reserves a chance to keep in tune, but it was not to be.

The skipper had indicated that there was room for Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar to figure in the playing XI, but he stuck to the same team where someone like Mohammad Kaif continued to enjoy the support of the captain despite a series of failures.

India's convincing win against Namibia was on expected lines and once again highlighted the difference between the teams. Namibia was swept off its feet and left the venue with quite a few lessons to learn. For India, the gains were the extension of Tendulkar's form and an encouraging innings for Ganguly. The match had few memorable moments and was an apology for a World Cup contest.

The scores:

India: V. Sehwag c Keulder b Van Vuuren 24; S. Tendulkar b Van Vuuren 152; S. Ganguly (not out) 112; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 7; Extras (lb-2, w-13, nb-1) 16; Total (for two wickets in 50 overs) 311.

Fall of wickets: 1-46, 2-290.

Namibia bowling: Snyman 10-0-57-0, Van Vuuren 10-1-53-2, L. Burger 6-0-49-0, Van Rooi 6-0-36-0, B. Kotze 10-0-64-0, D. Kotze 8-0-50-0.

Namibia: S. Swanepoel lbw b Zaheer Khan 9; A. Burger b Mongia 29; L. Burger lbw b Zaheer Khan 0; D. Keulder c Mongia b Harbhajan Singh 4; B. Murgatroyd lbw b Harbhajan Singh 0; D. B. Kotze c & b Mongia 27; M. Van Schoor c Dravid b Yuvraj Singh 24; B. Van Rooi c Mongia b Yuvraj Singh 17; B. Kotze c Dravid b Yuvraj Singh 3; G. Snyman c Srinath b Yuvraj Singh 5; R. Van Vuuren (not out) 0; Extras (lb-1, w-8, nb-3) 12; Total (in 42.3 overs) 130.

Fall of wickets: 1-19, 2-21, 3-43, 4-47, 5-47, 6-98, 7-99, 8-124, 9-124.

India bowling: Srinath 6-0-25-0, Nehra 0.1-0-0-0, Zaheer Khan 7.5-0-24-2, Harbhajan Singh 10-1-34-2, Mongia 10-1-24-2, Sehwag 4-0-16-0, Yuvraj Singh 4.3-2-6-4.