Uthappa explosive

This was Uthappa’s day. In the afternoon, he had scored a direct hit from mid-wicket to run out Luke Wright. It was the first such effort by an Indian resulting in a dismissal in the series. Then, Uthappa walked into the cauldron and displayed admirable temperament as a batsman. He also played intelligent cricket, writes S. Dinakar.

Only a few days ago, Robin Uthappa was carrying drinks. Now, he was the toast of his team-mates. The brave batsman had nailed a thriller for India at The Oval, striking down the ground, sweeping and edging the pacemen for boundaries.

When he thumped Stuart Broad past the long-off ropes — India required 10 runs at the start of the 50th over — the visitor, chasing 317, had won by two wickets with two balls remaining.

Against all odds, India had levelled the seven-match NatWest ODI series 3-3.

Uthappa’s 33-ball unbeaten 47 had been a terrific, if fortunate, effort. “He had never batted earlier at No. 7. It was a tremendous innings under pressure,” said skipper Rahul Dravid who welcomed Uthappa back to the pavilion with a hug.

India had needed 85 runs in the last 10 overs to stay in the series. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Uthappa took India to the doorstep. Uthappa proved the finisher.

This was his day. In the afternoon, he had scored a direct hit from mid-wicket to run out Luke Wright. It was the first such effort by an Indian resulting in a dismissal in the series.

Then, Uthappa walked into the cauldron and displayed admirable temperament as a batsman. He also played intelligent cricket. “I knew the fine-leg was up and they would attempt yorkers,” he said about scooping the ball fine after moving away to the off-side and creating the room. Earlier, Sachin Tendulkar had conjured an enchanting 81-ball 94. This was the Tendulkar of old with great purity of technique and a matching freedom of mind. The maestro was enjoying his cricket and it showed. During the latter stages of his innings, he was undone by cramps.

The Man of the Match’s stroke-play was sublime for the viewers, brutal for the bowlers.

The 150-run opening partnership between Tendulkar and Ganguly provided India a solid platform. The left-handed Ganguly wisely kept his end up. He also essayed some delightful boundaries square off the wicket.

India stuttered in the middle, but the absence of the injured Andrew Flintoff, he of the steep bounce and mean reverse swing, hurt the host in the end overs. James Anderson went for runs and England was a specialist paceman short.

The surface at The Oval encouraged strokeplay, and the fast outfield further assisted the batsmen. It was a day of leather hunt for the fielders.

England recovered after Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar had struck early after Paul Collingwood opted to bat under a cloud-cover.

The red-hot Ian Bell made a fluent near-half century before being foxed by a straighter one from leg-spinner Piyush Chawla.

And Kevin Pietersen applied himself well for his first half-century of the series before Owais Shah’s indecisiveness left him stranded. Shah, at least, made his stay count.

Shah’s career has been a start-stop-start one. He is not the most convincing of batsmen in terms of footwork and balance, but does not lack in enterprise. The wristy Shah is a good timer of the ball and his entertaining unbeaten 107, his maiden century in ODIs, could be a breakthrough innings for him.

The young Wright made a spanking half century on his debut. He displayed no sign of nerves and batted with footwork, flair and dash. The young cricketer oozes confidence with the willow, but England might want to see more of him with the ball, particularly with a shadow looming over Flintoff’s fitness.

Debutant umpire Peter Hartley’s decision to refer the verdict — he had initially negated the Indian appeal — to the third umpire after the big screen flashed the replay of Collingwood coming up short after substitute Dinesh Karthik and M. S. Dhoni combined effectively showed the advantages of technology and the reluctance of some umpires to use it. Collingwood left the field fuming, but the right decision had been made.

The Indians turned in an improved display on the field and there were three run outs in the England innings. There were fewer errors and the fielders were getting rid of the ball quicker. Fielding coach Robin Singh said later, “We put more pressure on them. We have been improving gradually.”

The host finished at the wrong end of the humdinger, but Dimitri Mascarenhas became the highest scorer in an over for England in an ODI, bettering Flintoff’s record.

Mascarenhas should be among the cleanest strikers of the ball. He had cleared the smaller Bristol ground with ease. The Oval was a much bigger arena, but there was no holding back Macarenhas or his big blows.

Dravid and Yuvraj watched helplessly as the ball soared over mid-wicket and long-on. The last five balls of the 50th over produced five sixes, all from Mascarenhas’ powerful blade.

Only South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs had struck more sixes in an ODI over, but that effort was against a non-Test playing side in Holland. “After the third six, I gave up hope,” admitted Dravid. The skipper had erred in relying on Yuvraj Singh’s part-time left-arm spin in the last over when off-spinner Ramesh Powar had an over remaining.

But then, Dravid’s decision also threw light on the lack of options for the skipper in the absence of an all-rounder. It also reflected on the absence of potent reverse swing in the Indian attack at the death.

The team-management had decided to play only four specialist bowlers, and with the inconsistent Agarkar among them, the move left the attack exposed.

It can be argued that the extra batsman eventually clinched the match for India. However, India might have chased about 25 runs lesser had a specialist fifth bowler been fielded. We will never know.

THE SCORES

NatWest Series, Sixth ODI, Kennington Oval, September 5, 2007. India won by two wickets.

England: A. Cook c Dhoni b Zaheer 0; M. Prior lbw b Agarkar 6; I. Bell b Chawla 49; K. Pietersen (run out) 53; P. Collingwood (run out) 1; O. Shah (not out) 107; L. Wright (run out) 50; A. Mascarenhas (not out) 36; Extras (b-1, lb-7, w -6) 14. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 316.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-20, 3-79, 4-83, 5-137, 6-243.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-0-43-1; Agarkar 8-0-63-1; Ganguly 7-0-43-0; Chawla 10-1-44-1; Powar 9-0-44-0; Yuvraj 5-0-59-0; Tendulkar 1-0-12-0.

India: S. Ganguly c Pietersen b Broad 53; S. Tendulkar c Collingwood b Panesar 94; G. Gambhir c Panesar b Mascarenhas 47; Yuvraj Singh c & b Mascarenhas 18; R. Dravid c Collingwood b Shah 4; M. Dhoni b Broad 35; R. Uthappa (not out ) 47; A. Agarkar (run out) 1; Zaheer Khan (run out) 0; R. Powar (not out) 0; Extras (lb-9, w-9) 18. Total (for eight wkts., in 49.4 overs) 317.

Fall of wickets: 1-150, 2-156, 3-209, 4-216, 5-234, 6-294, 7-307, 8-309.

England bowling: Broad 9.4-1-46-2; Anderson 8-0-79-0; Mascarenhas 10-0-55-2; Collingwood 8-0-54-0; Panesar 10-0-55-1; Shah 4-0-19-1.