Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Is life all about being unemployed?

I don't think so, well, at least until I am alone with no one around me. There are people around me and so I am really upbeat. Let's see how long this lasts.

Going on to better business than the obvious lack of manufacturing jobs around Ohio, India won the last ODI by 40 runs and hence the series by a margin of 3 to 2. India rode piggy back on a superbly paced innings from Laxman and some awesome catching by Sachin, Kaif etc., not to mention 10 overs of tight bowling by young Pathan. Initially India seemed to have lost their way between the 20th and the 40th overs when the ever hinted acceleration in scoring rates never came. But some inspired cameos from Pathan and Balaji (who hit one of his now seemingly staple six over long on) who added 30 runs between them took India's score that was threatening to sputter to a stop somewhere around 270 to a respectable and yet easily gettable 293.

Sehwag threatened to get out every ball, but what did him in was a horrific cross-batted dab at a ball that was probably closer to his body than the edge of his helmet visor. Tendulkar decided that he was too bored to continue and edged a nothing ball from Shabbir. Ditto with Ganguly who was set up by Akthar to glide a outswinger straight to Moin. Laxman, at the other end was in Australia mode throughout this phase, but could only watch as Dravid and then Yuvraj fell. Laxman finally went in the 46th over trying to give some much needed impetus. But his abject inability to loft the ball over the infield, a handicap that actually serves him so well in the Tests, caused his downfall here. Pathan joined Kaif who, like Laxman, seemed to be better suited for ground strokes and started middling the ball hard from the word go. Later when Kaif fell, in walked Balaji and smote the fast bowlers around, with the usual six over long on, ending with 10 runs off 6 balls with Pathan scoring double those runs at exactly the same rate as Balaji with three boundaries. Quite a find these two are, and quite a anti-thesis to the bunny in Nehra.

When Pakistan batted, Balaji removed Yasir Hameed but his over proved kinda costly, with three boundaries being plundered by returning opener Taufiq Umar (who incidentally dropped two catches in the outfield, one proving costly with Laxman getting to his century). But Pathan showed how easy it is to bowl in these pitches if one stuck to the basics. He used the benefit of a dodgy decision to get rid of Youhana, but the next wicket - Younis Khan, was a classic. His full length ball pitched halfway between the edge of the pitch and the off stump and straightened just a bit and the resulting edge looped at knee height to Yuvraj at point who hung on to it as it died down on him. Inzy however was batting like god, calmly driving the bowlers mad with his drives (one of which temporarily got rid of perhaps India's worst fielder in the absence of Nehra, Ganguly). But the introduction of Kartik bottled Inzy's strokes up, just like the other day. He had to hit out and hit out he did, but there was God patrolling the long on boundary by then.

Last week, when Gilchrist was plummeling the Sri Lankan bowlers into submission at Kandy, ESPN Sportscenter (here in the US) had featured one of his towering sixes over deep midwicket (off Jayasuriya) on its "Top Ten Plays of the Day" section at number 4 (or was it No. 5). The feilder attempted to catch the hit, but failed to hold on to the ball which went over the line. But today, it was Sachin and he made no mistake. Inzy stepped out and hit Kartik from middle and leg towards long on. Tendulkar ran to his left and timed his jump to perfection. But what was significant (and he was completely aware too) was that he was just about one half a shoe length from the boundary and once he caught the ball, he balanced himself just right and continued running left, a couple of yards. One of the best ever catches I have seen. Well, according to me, this one ranks right there with Azhar's caught and bowled chance in front of his face (don't remember which match it was), Jadeja's tumbling catch in the 92 world cup, David Boon's catch at forward short leg off Azhar during the 1991-92 tour down under and Kaif's catch last week. Will be watching Sportscenter carefully tonight to see if this one is featured.

At that point, Pakistan was in dire straits at 87-5 and when Razaaq was pouched by Sehwag, a couple of balls into Balaji's second spell, it was almost over. But Moin Khan, in the company of Shoiab Malik and then Mohammed Sami threatened to turn the tables with some lusty hits and good running, a scenario compounded by the dew factor that left the fielders clutching at wet balls. But then Kaif took another good catch at midwicket to get rid of Shoiab Malik and then Sami's unguarded furniture was disturbed by a well directed yorker from Zaheer. Finally Balaji cleaned up Moin Khan and the match was over, leaving India victors by 40 runs.

For me, the turning points of the match, aside the good catches would be the 30 crucial runs from Balaji and Pathan. Let me tell you why. When the match ended in the 48th over, Balaji was bowling his last over and Zaheer had one over left. But the other regular bowlers, Pathan and Kartik had none left. So if the tailenders had not contributed, all Moin and Sami (who batted as well as Balaji and Pathan did) would have had to do was to rotate the strike and wait till Zaheer and Balaji had got done. So with a handful of runs required, Dravid (captaining in place of Ganguly) would have had to go to Sachin to help finish the quota of overs and that would have been potentially dangerous. Sachin has proved to be successful bowling the death a couple of times, but it might not last!

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