When England turned turtle...

KABIR ALI'S inspired spell earlier in the day went in vain.-RAJEEV BHATT

It may sound so simple at the end of the contest, but there was a situation when India stared at defeat after having set England a very achievable target of 204, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The Ferozeshah Kotla, resplendent otherwise, was a bowl of chaos at the end of the match. The DDCA officials, keen to grab a vantage position at the presentation ceremony, presented a disgraceful sight with their failure to supervise the operations. To make it worse, the suave David Gower made no attempt to hide his displeasure as he introduced one official after another. "An awful lot of people have gathered here," he remarked sarcastically.

It must have been embarrassing for Arun Jaitley, the DDCA president and the man responsible for giving Delhiites a cricket stadium of international standard. The mismanagement that followed the presentation ceremony when hundreds of fans invaded the field clouded a wonderful contest.

India produced a win that showed the spirit that skipper Rahul Dravid had been talking of so fervently. "We are a young side, please be patient. The boys will deliver in time to come," had been his refrain. One could gather glimpses of it at the Ferozeshah Kotla as Dravid and his lads pulled off a 39-run victory on a bowler-friendly pitch. Actually, it was a perfect example of how not to lose. How else do you explain the debacle of a team that literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory?

"When Kevin (Pietersen) and I were batting we had them by the proverbials and we should have won," bemoaned Andrew Flintoff after the match. The England skipper was right. His team ought to have won. From 117 for three, with just 87 more needed from 180 balls, England was cruising. "But we both got out in consecutive overs and that put a lot of pressure on the lower order. One-day cricket is about managing risk and today we did not manage it too well... At half-time, we were pretty pleased. The defeat has hurt us, and so it should do. We know we have wasted a good opportunity," Flintoff summed up the debacle nicely.

The Englishmen paid dearly for their overindulgence in the sweep shot. "The sweep is an important shot against spin, but it is important as well to pick the right ball," said Flintoff who appeared to have learnt an important lesson as well.

How did Harbhajan Singh, the `Man of the Match', view the English debacle? "Sweeping gives you the option of getting the batsman leg before wicket or bowled if he doesn't pick the length of the ball. If the pitch is keeping low, like this one did, it becomes a bit of a risky shot. If I was a batsman I would not play that shot." Harbhajan picked up five wickets in an astonishing career-best spell. On the verge of losing his place in the side, he came back strongly to make a telling statement regarding his ability to deliver when under pressure. This was for his admirers and critics, a neat performance, packaged well in a cushion of victory. Harbhajan made runs when they counted, and then claimed wickets when they mattered a lot. If he expressed his emotions wildly on the field, it only confirmed that he was indeed under intense scrutiny. The Englishmen had the game wrapped up literally when Pietersen played a silly stroke that triggered off a collapse leading ultimately to defeat. Pietersen could not resist the temptation to smash part-time spinner Yuvraj Singh, but was caught off an innocuous full toss. "It was just the last throw of the dice," Dravid said. "We put pressure on them, got the breakthroughs and Harbhajan bowled brilliantly."

It may sound so simple at the end of the contest, but there was a situation when India stared at defeat after having set England a very achievable target of 204. Harbhajan indeed bowled to a plan but then credit ought to be given to Dravid for keeping his composure in testing times. With Pietersen and Flintoff smashing the bowling out of sight, the Indian skipper showed good tactic by delaying his `Power Plays'. The fielders were back to their positions around the bat once Pietersen and Flintoff succumbed to unwise aggression.

The Indians got the basics right. They fielded well and the bowlers, barring S. Sreesanth and R. P. Singh, responded well. "I just told them to keep the ball in line with the stumps. The bowlers bowled really well. Harbhajan was brilliant. In fact everyone contributed to the win - (Gautam) Gambhir took three catches, Kaif was superb, Yuvraj bowled well. I always say it is not just one player or one thing but a combination of factors," Dravid praised his colleagues.

England lost its last seven wickets for 47 runs, giving India a 1-0 lead in the seven-match series. There were lessons to be learnt for both the camps. Dravid was candid, "We did not play well. We need to get better. 200 was not the score we were looking at. It was definitely a 240-250-run wicket. Even the 200-odd was made possible due to contributions from the lower order. We need to look into it."

THE SCORES

First ODI, India v England, Ferozeshah Kotla, Delhi, March 28, 2006.

India: G. Gambhir c Jones b Ali 25; V. Sehwag c Plunkett b Anderson 7; R. Dravid b Plunkett 34; Yuvraj Singh b Ali 1; M. Kaif (run out) 4; S. Raina c Collingwood b Blackwell 24; I. Pathan c Plunkett b Anderson 28; M. Dhoni c Collingwood b Plunkett 20; Harbhajan Singh c Flintoff b Ali 37; R. P. Singh (not out) 2; S. Sreesanth c Pietersen b Ali 0; Extras (lb-3, w-15, nb-3) 21. Total (in 46.4 overs) 203.

Fall of wkts: 1-17, 2-56, 3-58, 4-68, 5-80, 6-138, 7-146, 8-201, 9-203.

England bowling: Anderson 10-1-41-2; Ali 8.4-1-45-4; Flintoff 8-0-31-0; Plunkett 8-2-42-2; Collingwood 2-0-17-0; Blackwell 10-0-24-1.

England: A. Strauss c Dhoni b Pathan 0; M. Prior c Gambhir b Harbhajan 22; O. Shah lbw b Pathan 4; K. Pietersen c Gambhir b Yuvraj 46; A. Flintoff lbw b Harbhajan 41; P. Collingwood c Kaif b Harbhajan 8; G. Jones b Harbhajan 0; I. Blackwell c Gambhir b Harbhajan 10; L. Plunkett c Dhoni b Pathan 14; K. Ali lbw b Yuvraj 0; J. Anderson (not out) 12; Extras (lb-4, w-1, nb-2) 7. Total (in 38.1 overs) 164.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-4, 3-57, 4-117, 5-117, 6-120, 7-137, 8-141, 9-142.

India bowling: Pathan 7.1-1-21-3; Sreesanth 5-0-39-0; R. P. Singh 4-0-32-0; Harbhajan 10-2-31-5; Yuvraj 10-2-32-2; Sehwag 2-0-5-0.