The day of the Young Turks

Yuvraj SIngh, Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Kaif after winning the Natwest Trophy final at Lord's.   -  N. Sridharan

India's stupendous resurgence, so brilliantly authored by Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, was the piece de resistance of the showpiece event at Lord's, writes G. VISWANATH


IT was one of the finest finals played at Lord's. Many felt that the game of cricket was the winner because the Cup final of the NatWest Triseries turned out to be a runfest producing 651 runs in 99.3 overs.

Sourav Ganguly proudly displays the NatWest Trophy.-N. SRIDHARAN

India's stupendous resurgence, so brilliantly authored by Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, was the piece de resistance of the showpiece event of the English summer at Lord's. People, including England's captain Nasser Hussain, said that there was no shame in losing to a side which had played out of its skin to win the competition. In short, the glorious uncertainties of the game once again came to the fore.

England was flying high when Marcus Trescothick and Hussain were making merry in the middle in the first session of the final. Then, when India was down in the dumps came the fightback by Yuverj and Kaif.

India's coach John Wright was delighted that his team had pulled it off on the big day at Lord's. He summed up the action-packed final and the significant part of the second session when Yuveraj and Kaif held centrestage, saying: "It was the youth of the side who showed the never say die spirit. The youth of the side showed the fighting qualities".

It took a long time for the celebrations to end at Lord's and other parts of England. At an earlier match Bob Willis had mentioned that Edgbaston appeared like Bombay or Calcutta because the stands were full of people of Indian origin who were waving the tricolour. It did not look any different at Lord's.

Mohammed Kaif gives vent to his emotions after his match-winning knock.-N. SRIDHARAN

Almost two decades ago Kapil Dev's Indians had turned the cricket world upside down defeating the West Indies in the third Prudential World Cup final. Now, India had won another final at Lord's.

As the winning run was being taken, the ninth wicket pair, Kaif and Zaheer Khan, took off in the air and pumped their fists in a show of exultation that might have raised the hackles of the traditionalists at the famous ground. But the Indians could not care less. They had scored a great victory and they wanted the cricketing world to know it.

There have been instances before of big targets being overhauled. The Indians themselves were involved in a successful run chase at the Bangabandhu Stadium, Dhaka, in 1998 when Pakistan set a 300 plus target in the final of the Bangladesh Cricket Board's silver jubilee tournament. On that occasion India won the final off the penultimate ball of the match with Hrishikesh Kanitkar thumping a four.

The Indian captain Sourav Ganguly summed it up in one word. "Fantastic," he said. He had himself put the team on the victory path with a belligerent 60 off 43 balls. "It was a big target and hence we needed to raise well over 100 runs in the first 15 overs. It's difficult to maintain a run rate of six in the last 35 overs," he said.

Ganguly's team managed to achieve its 15-over target, but by the 16th over both the openers had gone. The Indian captain had to take chances against England's bowlers spearheaded by Darren Gough and Alex Tudor. Together Ganguly and Virender Sehwag faced 92 balls and made 106 runs. When Tudor gave the breakthrough, dismissing the Indian captain, England was delighted. Ganguly had been in terrific touch.

Yuveraj Singh steers Ronnie Irani in the course of his explosive half-century. Kaif and Yuveraj made India's dramatic victory possible with a century partnership for the sixth wicket.-N. SRIDHARAN

The introduction of Andrew Flintoff did not stop the run flow, but that of left-arm spinner Ashley Giles did the trick.

The Indians themselves had picked two spinners, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, the offspinner coming in for seamer Ajit Agarkar. Logic dictated a third seamer, but Ganguly simply could not resist the temptation of playing two slow men. His motto was, "If it's England, it should be two spinners", although at Chester-Le-Street (in the second league match) he chose a bowling combination to the contrary. He had picked all the three seamers in Zaheer, Ashish Nehra and Agarkar.

India's bowling combination, however, did not make any impression on the England batsmen, Trescothick and Hussain in particular. The left-hander, Trescothick, was the more fluent of the two. He had so much time to pick the bowlers and place his shots. Some of the shots were out the top drawer.

Hussain swept both Kumble and Harbhajan and made his first century in 72 one-day internationals. His behaviour, immediately after he had reached the personal milestone, evoked mixed response from the critics, but a majority of them felt it was unbecoming of an England captain to gesture towards a section of the media. Hussain conveyed to his harsh critics such as Bob Willis and Ian Botham that he was indeed good enough to bat at No. 3 for England. The two former England captains had said that Hussain would be better off opening the innings for England in one-day internationals.

"It was not directed at the print media, but a couple of them whom you all know," clarified Hussain. But Wills said after the match: "His century, his first in 72 one-day internationals, has not changed my opinion about where he should bat for England."

Nasser Hussain, the England captain, points to the No. 3 on his shirt after scoring his maiden century. This gesture was to tell his critics that he was indeed competent to bat one drop.-N. SRIDHARAN

England began scoring briskly and was able to maintain a six plus run rate right through the innings. The bulk of its 325 came through the second-wicket partnership of 185 off 177 balls between Trescothick (109, 100b, 7x4, 2x6) and Hussain (115, 128b, 10x4).

The second useful stand of 80 off 60 balls was between Hussain and Flintoff whose contribution was 40 off 32 balls.

A good batting pitch was responsible for England making a NatWest Trophy best of 293 against Sri Lanka in the triseries opener at Trent Bridge. The previous high had been 290 for four by Zimbabwe at Chester-Le-Street, Durham. India bested England's 293, making 304 at Bristol. Trescothick and Hussain reserved their best for the final to carry England to a new high.

England's record score had given ample indications that it would be a batsman-dominated final. But after India's rollicking opening stand, England was happily placed when Giles bowled Sachin Tendulkar in the last ball of the 24th over. India then was 146 for five.The first wicket produced 106, followed by partnerships of 8, 12, 6 and 14.

But the resolve of Yuvraj and Kaif changed the course of the match in a span of 81 minutes, during which the sixth-wicket pair raised 121 runs and brought India within striking distance of England's 325. What impressed everybody was the manner in which Kaif took on the role of a senior batsman when his partners were Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan and led India to victory. He made some brilliant shots off both the fast and slow bowlers and made sure that he was there till the end. There was only one candidate for the 'Man of the Match' award after India had made it and that was Kaif. After England had made 325, scorer Ms. Wendy Wembush announced that it was the highest ever in a Lord's final. India went past it in style.

As Kaif and Zaheer Khan were taking the second and winning run, Flintoff literally squatted on the pitch and Giles walked towards him with his hands on his head. England was totally shattered in defeat.

Marcus Trescothick hoists Harbhajan Singh for a six on way to his hundred.-N. SRIDHARAN


Carving a niche for himself

THE much-maligned Indian cricket system received a big boost following the batting success of Kaif against England in the final of the NatWest Trophy. Languishing for long in the shadow of Punjab da Puttars, Yuvraj and Dinesh Mongia, Kaif was a big surprise packet for Indian cricket.

Kaif's calculated and spectacular assault on the England bowlers saw India upset the home team's apple cart and Kaif won his first 'Man of the Match' award in 18 one-day internationals. He grew and grew in stature as he began to take control of the proceedings after a rousing partnership with Yuvraj Singh, who batted with a chipped bone in the little finger of his right hand. Kaif saw Yuvraj leave at 267, in the fourth ball of the 42nd over. This meant that India required 59 runs off the remaining 50 balls.

But Kaif batted without a trace of nerves. This can be surmised from the fact of his having batted with Harbhajan Singh for 27 minutes and Zaheer Khan for eight minutes. He allowed Harbhajan to face 13 balls and Zaheer seven balls. This also showed that he was not going to let the opportunity of scoring a single pass by just for the sake of shielding the tail-enders from bowlers such as Flintoff and Darren Gough.

Thoughts are far from comforting when a batsman walks in to take guard at 146 for five with the target being 326. One can imagine Kaif's position, but he came out with flying colours. His 87 (off 75 balls in 110 minutes with two 6s and six 4s) was Kaif's highest in one-day internationals.

In his 11 matches before the start of the NatWest Trophy in the last week of June, Kaif had scored 278 runs with a not so good average of 34.75 with two fifties, both scored against Zimbabwe - in Kochi and Hyderabad - in March 2002.

Kaif had made his debut against England at his home ground in Kanpur in January this year. But, he did not get an opportunity to bat. However, in the next match at the Ferozeshah Kotla, New Delhi, he made 46 before left-arm spinner Ashley Giles had him caught by Graham Thorpe.

Though he showed he was good enough to play the game at the highest level, he had a long way to go and prove his worth. In the three matches against the West Indies recently he made 12 and 17 and did not bat in one match.

In the NatWest series he saw Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj finish a job at Lord's when India and England clashed on June 27. Thereafter, his scores were 38 not out, 7 and 41 against Sri Lanka and 1 against England for an aggregate of 87, which total was what he scored in the memorable innings in the final. This was Kaif's first big match for India at Lord's although he has batted there when he came with the under-15 team in 1997.

What Kaif's performance showed was that it is up to the player himself to challenge the opposition and the odds. Kaif had risen through the ranks in India's junior and senior tournaments and his greatest moment came when he played his part in winning a championship final for India.

The scores:

England: M. Trescothick b Kumble 109; N. Knight b Zaheer Khan 14; N. Hussain b Nehra 115; A. Flintoff b Zaheer Khan 40; M. Vaughan c Mongia b Zaheer Khan 3; P. Collingwood (not out) 3; R. Irani (not out) 10; Extras (b-2, lb-16, nb-6, w-7) 31. Total (for five wkts. in 50 overs) 325.

Fall of wickets: 1-42, 2-227, 3-307, 4-312, 5-312.

India bowling: Nehra 10-0-66-1, Zaheer Khan 10-1-62-3, Kumble 10-0-54-1, Harbhajan 10-0-53-0, Ganguly 3-0-28-0, Sehwag 4-0-26-0, Yuveraj 3-0-18-0.

India: S. Ganguly b Tudor 60; V. Sehwag b Giles 45; D. Mongia c Stewart b Irani 9; S. Tendulkar b Giles 14; R. Dravid c Knight b Irani 5; Yuveraj Singh c Tudor b Collingwood 69; M. Kaif (not out) 87; Harbhajan Singh b Flintoff 15; A. Kumble c Stewart b Flintoff 0; Zaheer Khan (not out) 4; Extras (b-3, lb-8, nb-1, w-6) 18. Total (for eight wkts. in 49.3 overs) 326.

Fall of wickets: 1-106, 2-114, 3-126, 4-132, 5-146, 6-267, 7-314, 8-314.

England bowling: Gough 10-1-63-0, Tudor 9-0-62-1, Flintoff 7.3-0-55-2, Irani 10-0-64-2, Giles 10-0-47-2, Collingwood 3-0-24-1.