The power of positive thinking

Pathan pulled the pacemen, drove them down the ground and lofted the spinners. This showed the potential in him as an all-rounder.

S. DINAKAR

Sachin Tendulkar... twinkling footwork and stunning strokes.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

FORGET the numbers. It was the sheer confidence exhibited by the men in blue that screamed for attention. The Indian performance in Nagpur oozed positive energy. A perfect beginning to the home season it was for Team India.

The first ODI of the Videocon Series was a significant match for the host. In the aftermath of the Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly showdown, there were talks of a rift in the side. The team, some felt, was disintegrating.

Then there was uncertainty over Sachin Tendulkar's fitness. Could his elbow withstand the strains of an international match on return? And would Tendulkar open?

Challenges beckoned new captain Rahul Dravid. This Indian side is in the midst of a phase where changes need to be made. The selectors had gambled with young faces. Dravid had to guide the side with the same surety of purpose that accompanied his batting.

The Sri Lankans were a much stronger side on paper. Marvan Atapattu's men batted deep. In Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, the side also had bowlers who could hurt in most conditions. And the side had greater experience.

The lung-opener can be crucial. The side that draws first blood will have the momentum in its favour. And momentum brings with it confidence.

The Indians were not short of this essential commodity as they travelled to Mohali. It had been a perfect match for Dravid & Co. at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground. The Lankans were swamped by 152 runs. And the side got most things right. Tendulkar may have missed the three-figure mark by seven runs but the maestro might cherish his Nagpur effort more than several of his glittering hundreds.

It's astonishing how quickly gifted cricketers can rediscover touch. Tendulkar had last played an ODI six months back. In the present home season, he had an indifferent Challenger Trophy series. There were glimpses of the Tendulkar of old but the images were not lasting enough.

Harbhajan Singh... the pick of the Indian bowlers.-PTI

The international stage and the sight of the Sri Lankan bowlers must have got his competitive juices flowing. His feet movement was impeccable and the timing of his strokes stunning. Tendulkar was perfectly balanced as he waded into the bowling.

As the ball repeatedly streaked through the gaps, even the Lankan fielders would have been hard pressed to conceal a hint of admiration as a great cricketer displayed his wares.

Vaas was spanked through covers, Fernando was sent crashing past point, Maharoof was whipped over square-leg. When Muttiah Muralitharan came on, Tendulkar handled him with panache. Runs flowed in a cascade. The crowd lapped it up.

The Indians also revealed they were flexible tactically. Virender Sehwag's continuing lack of form in the ODIs must have worried the Indian camp, but the think tank got it right by promoting Irfan Pathan to the No. 3 slot. The role of a pinch hitter was new to Pathan, but he is not without ability.

When focussed he is secure in defense and impressive in offence.

Importantly, he does not bat with the mind-set of a bowler.

Pathan joining Tendulkar had the Lankans thinking. The Sri Lankans had entered the contest with a game-plan for the Indian line-up. Now they were grappling with a situation that was unexpected. The left-handed Baroda cricketer impressed. Pathan pulled the paceman, drove them down the ground and essayed lofted strokes against the spinners. His 70-ball 83 indicated the potential in him as an all-rounder.

The 164-run partnership consumed only 147 balls. Apart from surprising the Lankans with Pathan, the Indians also had a right-left combination in the middle. It was smart thinking by the Indians. Perhaps, the Lankans erred by taking their three Power Plays straight up.

With Mohammed Kaif injured and Sourav Ganguly not finding a place on account of form and injury, the Indian batting did not have enough meat in the middle-order. By sending Pathan upfront, the Indians were also extending their line-up of specialist batsmen.

Dravid's strokeful and innovative unbeaten 85 off 64 balls showed that the pressures of captaincy had not affected him... at least till now. The skipper's innings was beautifully paced. He accelerated in the end overs with strokes that sped through the open spaces.

Dravid's batting has evolved in the ODIs and these days he is among the finest batsmen in the closing overs. While he has the strokes, his cool head certainly helps. Mahendra Dhoni biffed a few runs in the company of Man of the Match Dravid and India's 350 was an awesome score.

It is never easy to chase 300 plus, even on a placid track, even against a bowling short of real experience. The Sri Lankans required a good start, but that didn't happen. Irfan Pathan castled Lankan captain Marvan Atapattu with a peach of a delivery that swung into the right-hander. Harbhajan, smartly inducted in the 11th over, snared Sanath Jayasuriya with a `set piece', Dravid accepting the catch at short covers. It was now Mission Impossible for Lanka.

Super Substitute Murali Kartick bowled quite beautifully. Dilshan Tillekeratne had little clue about a delivery that drifted into the right-hander and then spun away to disturb the woodwork.

Desperate situations evoke desperate responses and Mahela Jayawardene perished attempting an ill-advised reverse sweep off Kartik. The Lankans were staring down the barrel.

There was further good news for India. Rookie paceman S. Sreesanth worked up good speed in his second spell. One of his two tail-end wickets was achieved from a terrific reverse swinging yorker that crashed into stumps.

"It was a fantastic team performance," said Dravid.

Indeed, the Indians sizzled with the bat and were charged on the field. Team India came to the fore.

Scores

India v Sri Lanka: 1st One-Day International; Nagpur, Oct. 25. India won by 152 runs.

India: V. Sehwag c Sangakkara b Vaas 20; S. R. Tendulkar c Sangakkara b Maharoof 93; I. K. Pathan c Jayawardene b Dilshan 83; Yuvraj Singh lbw Dilshan 14; R. Dravid (not out) 85; M. S. Dhoni c Jayawardene b Fernando 38; A. B. Agarkar (run out) 1; J. P. Yadav (not out) 3; Extras (lb-5, w-4, nb-4) 13. Total (6 wkts, in 50 overs) 350.

Fall of wickets: 1-41, 2-205, 3-207, 4-247, 5-316, 6-319.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 9-0-67-1; Maharoof 10-0-82-1; Fernando 10-0-66-1; Muralitharan 10-0-49-0; Dilshan 6-0-40-2; Chandana 5-0-41-0.

Sri Lanka: S. T. Jayasuriya c Dravid b Harbhajan Singh 27; M. S. Atapattu b Pathan 1; K. C. Sangakkara c & b Sehwag 43; U. D. U. Chandana st Dhoni b Harbhajan Singh 3; D. P. M. D. Jayawardene b Kartik 17; R. P. Arnold b Harbhajan Singh 0; T. M. Dilshan b Kartik 23; M. F. Maharoof st Dhoni b Kartik 2; C. Vaas (not out) 37; L. H. D. Dilhara b Sreesanth 29; M. Muralitharan c Kartik b Sreesanth 6; Extras (lb-2, w-6, nb-2) 10. Total (in 35.4 overs) 198.

Fall of wickets: 1-10, 2-74, 3-76, 4-88, 5-88, 6-118, 7-121, 8-126, 9-189.

India bowling: Pathan 5-0-34-1; Sreesanth 5.4-0-39-2; Agarkar 3-0-20-0; Harbhajan Singh 10-0-35-3; Sehwag 3-1-20-1; Kartik 9-0-48-3.

India full substitute: M. Kartik (Y. Venugopal Rao, Sri Lanka innings, 12 ov).

Sri Lanka full substitute: L. H. D. Dilhara (C. R. D Fernando, Sri Lanka innings, 24 ov).