The deja vu is shattering

deja vu S. RAM MAHESH

The victorious New Zealand team.-V. V. KRISHNAN

HIS head bowed, his voice a whisper, Sourav Ganguly looked in pain. "I don't know, I don't know what to say." He needn't have said anything. It was a simple conflict after all. One that has been with India for some time now. And again, the Law of Averages and Murphy's Law didn't see eye to eye. Fifteen losses in the last 20 finals meant India was overdue said the Law of Averages.

Murphy's Law countered saying as far as India and finals go, everything will go wrong.

It did. And New Zealand took full advantage courtesy a Nathan Astle (115 not out, 131b, 13x4, 1x6) century to win by six wickets and lift the Videocon Cup at the Harare Sports Club.

Nathan Astle... timely century.-V. V. KRISHNAN

After India had — in fits and starts — reached 276, the Black Caps chased it down with consummate ease.

"Perfect script really," said Stephen Fleming, who looked like someone had slipped him his favourite chess set. "We observed the games closely and saw there was a small advantage bowling first. The way they started, I thought we were staring down the barrel of 300, but we pulled things back with tenacity."

The thinking in the Indian camp was different. Encumbered by a poor record of chasing in finals, India chose to bat first. The Indian bowling, which had a bad day against Zimbabwe, had another. The disappointing aspect was this less-touted flank had looked potent in the league phase and the feeling was the batting needed to click for India's problems to disappear. "The first 10 overs," mumbled Ganguly, "that's what cost us the game. And from 155 for one in 25, we didn't get to 300. Any other side would have."

Got my man. Daniel Vettori appeals successfully after trapping Rahul Dravid in front.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Irfan Pathan, Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar had problems with their radars — straying on the legs or serving it up wide for variety. Fleming and Nathan Astle plundered and prospered as the run rate hovered close to 10 in the early stages. "We wanted to put pressure on their bowlers up front. Wanted to be aggressive and if Nathan and I can play well," Fleming trailed off.

The Kiwi skipper chose to explore the whole dial, hitting Pathan for five fours in the fifth over. Not to be outdone, best mate Astle picked Agarkar for three boundaries. Indian shoulders slumped as the pair galloped along. Lest someone think of this as an unaesthetic ambush, Fleming put elbows and torso together for an exquisite straight drive.

Virender Sehwag, who had matched the Kiwi pair earlier, stemmed the leak with two quick wickets. But Scott Styris displayed great nous in picking Power Play 3 and J. P. Yadav to engorge the gap between runs needed and balls remaining. Astle switched gears and did a Tendulkar to milk the bowling.

When in hitting distance, he uncorked a massive hit to reach his 15th ODI hundred and celebrated a little more boisterously than usual. Any hopes of a last-gasp turnaround slipped through substitute Suresh Raina's hands as Lou Vincent was dropped with 34 runs needed from 33 balls.

Earlier on, empty stands witnessed a classic confrontation. Bond vs Sehwag. The battle between these gladiators went to the Indian opener. He didn't quite hit the Kiwi paceman out of the attack, but — in between slaps past point — fended him off. Any thoughts of a carnage perished.

Well done, Viru. Sehwag dismisses Hamish Marshall and gets a word of praise from skipper Sourav Ganguly. But Sehwag's allround effort in the final (75 runs and three for 44) went in vain.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The Black Caps didn't get an early sighter of the middle order as Ganguly decided to wander down the wicket himself. From this advanced position, the Indian skipper carved a few delicacies off Mills. While Bond tried to tighten the straps, Mills slipped up.

After a conventional, `wear off the shine' beginning, the Indians decided to quicken the deterioration of the white ball. Seventy-two came before Ganguly kicked himself. Mohammad Kaif made strong claims for a Test spot, finessing the ball through the covers and wristing it through mid-wicket.

Sehwag went to his 18th ODI half-century, the first in 15 innings, with — what else — a six. But as India looked to tighten its vice, the man from Najafgarh (75, 65b, 12x4, 1x6) lobbed an easy catch and Vettori bamboozled Rahul Dravid with another of those armers. Sehwag's carelessness had frittered away carefully built up momentum. Vettori did beat him in flight though.

Shane Bond... Man of the Series.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Without Cairns (batting Super Sub) and Andre Adams, Fleming looked to get Astle's overs out of the way while India rebuilt. Vettori wheeled away from the Golf Course End, his lovely high-arm action placing the ball in different orbits. He bowled his 10 in one crafty spell for 35.

Yuvraj Singh couldn't repeat his heroics and fell to an intemperate hook shot, further eroding India's position. The Men in Blue scored just 28 from overs 29 to 38. Kaif continued, but wickets fell in a heap at the other end. All India's lower-order hitters left in the quest of quick runs, as Fleming wrested the initiative, shuffling his bowlers around.

Kaif was stranded on 93 (110b, 8x4). Two injections of urgency propelled India to 276. The first came predictably with Sehwag. The second happened when the ball was changed in the slog overs, negating the slowing down of the pitch. But neither could make up for the loss in momentum that short-changed the side. Three-hundred in a final is never easy.

For India, the heartbreak was crueller than usual. Despite the questionable move of using Harbhajan Singh as the Super Sub, India was in control till its batsmen and bowlers lost their heads.

"Every time we lose a final, it gets increasingly difficult," said Ganguly. "We definitely lack something, otherwise we wouldn't lose so many finals."

The scores

India: V. Sehwag c Vincent b Vettori 75; S. Ganguly c Marshall b Oram 31; M. Kaif (not out) 93; R. Dravid lbw b Vettori 0; Yuvraj Singh c Bond b Mills 20; Y. Venugopal Rao c McMillan b Oram 8; M. Dhoni lbw b Styris 11; Jai P. Yadav c McCullum b Oram 0; A. Agarkar c Mills b Bond 6; I. Pathan c Vincent b Oram 10; A. Nehra c Oram b Mills 0; Extras (lb-5, w-13, nb-4) 22. Total (in 49.3 overs) 276.

Fall of wickets: 1-72, 2-155, 3-155, 4-185, 5-203, 6-230, 7-231, 8-255, 9-272.

New Zealand bowling: Bond 9.3-0-44-1; Mills 9.3-3-45-2; Oram 8.3-0-58-4; Styris 8-0-56-1; Vettori 10-0-35-2; Astle 4-0-33-0.

New Zealand: S. Fleming c & b Sehwag 61; N. Astle (not out) 115; H. Marshall lbw b Sehwag 3; S. Styris st. Dhoni b Sehwag 37; C. McMillan c Dhoni b Yuvraj 13; L. Vincent (not out) 33; Extras (lb-9, w-6, nb-1) 16. Total (for four wkts. in 48.1 overs) 278.

Fall of wickets: 1-121, 2-125, 3-183, 4-206.

India bowling: Pathan 5-1-40-0; Nehra 6-0-40-0; Agarkar 6.1-0-43-0; Harbhajan 10-0-49-0; Sehwag 10-0-44-3; Yadav 1-0-14-0; Yuvraj 10-1-39-1.

India full substitute: Harbhajan Singh (Y. Venugopal Rao, New Zealand innings, 4.0 ov).

New Zealand full substitute: C. Cairns (S. Bond, New Zealand innings, 27.0 ov).