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Nehra developing in Akram mould

India unearthed a new hero Wednesday in Ashish Nehra. During his outstanding six for 23 against England in the World Cup, he reminded me of a young Wasim Akram with his pace and swing. If he is half as successful as Wasim has been for Pakistan, India will have made a golden discovery.

His performance was also reminiscent of Gary Gilmourís six for 14 at Leeds that blew England out of the 1975 World Cup. If this hasnít blown England away, it has seriously put the skids under their campaign for 2003.

On the evidence of their performance against England, confidence is returning to this Indian side. The batting was disciplined and key players are running into good form at the right time, while the fielding and bowling was high on intensity and enthusiasm.

India could yet have a big part to play in the business end of this campaign. While it is important to have the associate countries involved at the World Cup, there is something extra about the excitement generated when the big boys meet. Kingsmead stadium was buzzing and the tension palpable as the starting time approached.

This was going to be an important toss to win. Batting is always more difficult under lights but even more so in the humidity of Durban. As the sun sets, a heavy dew descends and the batting conditions are as different as night is to day.

India got the advantage at the toss and set about making the most of it. Sachin Tendulkar batted with his usual high intensity but, importantly, with a freedom seldom seen lately. He had a good look at the first few overs from Andy Caddick and James Anderson with the new ball.

Both sides tested each otherís resolve. The first hour was intriguing cricket. It was overs eight and nine before the Indian openers changed the complexion of the proceedings.

First Virender Sehwag picked Anderson off for three fours in the eighth over, then Sachin unleashed his pent-up fury on Caddick. First a four, then a six as Caddick adjusted his length and the Indian juggernaut seemed to switch up a gear or two.

The England bowlers were now put under pressure as the run rate accelerated. Anderson was struggling into the wind and Caddick was losing the psychological battle. Nasser Hussain was forced into his first bowling change and with Andrew Flintoff coming on to replace Anderson, a sudden change came over the game.

Flintoff instantly hit a beguiling line and length and Sehwag fell to a return catch from a leading edge. Sachin then flowed into top gear and in the 11th over he hit Caddick for three fours. The second of these was the shot of the day in my book.

Having just hit Caddick for four to the on side of the bowlerís stumps he was forced to adjust to a variation of pace around off stump. Sachin waited a fraction of a second as he walked into position then punched what was a good delivery straight back past the bowler.

Drinks came and went, closely followed by Sachin. Flintoff bowled a ball of excellent length, not too full but not quite short enough for the forcing shot attempted by Sachin. Sachin, looking to come forward, was forced back to attention and the extra bounce carried the ball from a thick edge to Paul Collingwood on a deep gully line.

Flintoff continued to bowl brilliantly. Dinesh Mongia struggled to make an impact but the captain showed signs of a resurrection in confidence. Sourav Ganguly seemed well aware that another wicket or two would expose a sizeable tail.

With Sourav and Mongia removed, Rahul Dravid became the pivotal player. He has been much maligned as a one-day player, but now that a role has been found for him as wicketkeeper, he needed to repay the faith. Wednesday he made a hefty deposit. Along with Yuvraj Singh, Dravid ensured that India set a reasonable target.

Initially it appeared that Flintoff may have done enough to set the foundation for a Man of the Match award and a win for a revitalised England.

Nehraís heroics and a brittle England batting line-up put paid to both of those hopes. (PTI)

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