| Sourav Ganguly plays a shot in Durban. (AP)
Durban, March 20: Sourav Ganguly knew the innings’ last ball was bowled and, so, didn’t look back. Instead, walking, he glanced at the snazzy scoreboard and the hint of a smile was evident. Clearly, the captain liked what he saw: India 270 for four, with his own contribution an unbeaten 111.
From then on, Kenya were reduced to completing numbers, in the World Cup’s second semi-final, as India became third time lucky. Indeed, the ghosts of Mumbai (1987) and Calcutta (1996) were exorcised with a vengeance at Kingsmead.
With Zaheer Khan returning pole-axing figures of three for 14, Kenya were stopped at 179 (47th over), giving India entry No.2 in a World Cup final. This latest victory, eighth in succession, prompted Sourav to say: “Now, it’s a question of firing in one game – the biggest in our career.… We’ve got to believe we can win this tournament."
Actually, Kenya coach Sandeep Patil’s worst fears (“India will hit hard”) came true quicker than even he was bracing for. First, Sachin Tendulkar (83) and Virender Sehwag added 74 for the first-wicket. Then, Sachin and Sourav creamed 103 for the next.
The runs never stopped on a wicket which, initially, somewhat prohibited strokeplay and on an outfield which, to begin with, was heavy. Yet, when class moves towards centrestage, everybody else is reduced to a prop of little worth. It wasn’t any different when Sourav took charge.
Few in contemporary cricket use their feet better to spinners and, if somebody still had a doubt, the captain cleared the air with four of his five sixes coming off the slower bowlers. The fifth was off medium-pacer Martin Suji.
That breathtaking six, struck with the panache of a Sir Viv Richards, took Sourav to his third century of the tournament and brought him on a par with Mark Waugh (three in 1996). Also, with four World Cup centuries, the captain is level with Mark and Sachin.
Incidentally, Sourav bagged back-to-back Man of the Match awards against Kenya – the earlier one being in the Super Six game at Newlands. Now, at least, the baiters have been fixed good and proper -- if this doesn’t qualify as leading from the front, what will'
“I’m desperate to win... That hunger is there,” is what Sourav told The Telegraph on the eve of India’s campaign. Under floodlights, that hunger devoured Kenya and set up a classic finale with holders Australia, at The Wanderers, on Sunday.
Besides the occasion being a semi-final, Sourav got his century in the presence of the greatest left-hander (and, arguably, the greatest cricketer) --- Sir Garfield Sobers -- who lifted the profile of the nearly 18,000 turnout. Predictably, India had 90 per cent support.
Throughout his career, Sir Gary epitomised positive cricket. Tonight, he got a taste of the present-day calculated, aggressive approach. After all, be it Sachin or Sourav, they were in the treat-on-merit mode and didn’t take that slam-bang route which is largely aimed at the galleries.
Back in 1996, Sachin broke the 500-barrier; today, he got past 600. With one match remaining, his tally stands at 669. Sourav, for his part, is on 441.
Now, of course, it’s time to look ahead. Nobody ranks Kenya as the most competitive of opponents but, then, India has been getting stronger by the day and the Ricky Ponting-John Buchanan duo will surely have to review strategy. This isn’t the India which took to the SuperSport Park on February 15.
Bob Woolmer, an excellent reader of men and tactics, believes it will take a “good team” to beat Australia. “India are definitely getting there, but I’m not sure whether they will get there Sunday,” he remarked teasingly.
With a billion and more egging Team India on, that distance is getting shorter by the minute.