| Ashish Nehra celebrates after taking the wicket of Alec Stewart. (Reuters)
Durban, Feb. 26: Bowling fast and seaming the ball both ways, Ashish Nehra broke the back of England’s batting with a haul of six wickets, spearheading India to an 82-run victory.
Nehra, who bowled his quota of 10 overs straight through, ended with figures of 10-1-23-6, the best by an Indian in the World Cup.
Batting first after Sourav Ganguly won a vital toss, India scored 250 for nine. Will it be enough' That, indeed, was the common thread running across packed Kingsmead at the break. The answer — seemingly an emphatic “yes” for India — came as early as the second over of the England innings.
England lost Nick Knight — via a Jonty Rhodes-like effort from Mohammed Kaif — on the very seventh delivery. With the wicket having slowed somewhat, an already stiff ask quickly became tougher.
It didn’t help that Marcus Trescothick exited five overs later. Almost on cue, chants of “World Cup hamara hai” grew louder. While that surely won’t happen in the next few days, the expected Indian win should, for all practical purposes, assure a Super Six berth.
In the 31st over, England had slipped to 107 for eight, losing captain Nasser Hussain and senior pro Alec Stewart off successive balls from Nehra. Till last night, the left-armer wasn’t certain of playing. Less than 24 hours later, Nehra was unplayable. He added top gun Michael Vaughan’s wicket, too, and then Paul Collingwood, Craig White and Ronnie Irani.
For a change, even the Barmy Army got dwarfed. Chartered flights, private jets — liquor baron and MP Vijay Mallya came in one, bringing along fellow MP Rajiv Shukla and Shobhaa De... Whatever the transport, thousands of Indians made it to the amphitheatre. And, rarely have so many tricolours fluttered overseas.
“This support is double-edged: Pleasing and scary,” is how the team manager, the venerable Jyoti Bajpai, put it. Everything, of course, did point towards India opening their account at Kingsmead. Three of the four earlier ODIs ended in defeats, with the remaining game being abandoned.
Credit the ambience or whatever, but the Indians fielded like panthers, exhibiting the body language which had got lost somewhere between Wellington and Hamilton. The rediscovery couldn’t have been better occasioned.
The Indian innings produced a mix of despair and ecstasy. Sachin Tendulkar (50 off 52 deliveries) and Virender Sehwag lashed the Andy Caddicks to all corners till Andrew Flintoff induced a leading edge from Sehwag. The opening partnership was worth 60 in under 10 overs.
Sourav didn’t get going — despite the No. 24 shirt — and Dinesh Mongia (32 in 66 balls) just couldn’t accelerate. But Rahul Dravid (62 off 72 deliveries) and Yuvraj Singh, who authored a cameo in keeping with his pin-up boy image, pulled India out of a sticky corner.
The dramatic last over (by Caddick) did see a record four dismissals, but the Indians touched that pressure-creating 250 mark.
Chasing under lights, it was to be daunting for any side.