| Yuvraj Singh (left) and Ashish Nehra celebrate India’s victory over Kenya in the World Cup semi-final in Durban Thursday
The smile was evident on the face of Sourav Ganguly on a number of occasions during India’s semi-final match against Kenya at Kingsmead Thursday. It first appeared on winning the toss and was on display often during the latter stages of match as he led his team from the front.
We have not seen the smile much in recent times, for obvious reasons, and it reflects the much better state of mind Sourav finds himself in now. He may well smile as his team has shown resilience, courage and poise and gone from strength to strength since the setback against Australia early in the tournament.
The most positive aspect of what has been achieved is that it has been a team effort. No doubt the senior players such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav, Rahul Dravid and Jawagal Srinath have played important roles, but the improvement shown by the young guns, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh has been the most exciting part of India’s campaign.
They were all on show in the predictable victory over Kenya, although the rain did add a little anxiety to what was not much more than a walk in the park for the powerful Indian team.
Having won the toss and electing to bat first on a wicket that a more experienced attack may have made more use of, the Indian top order embarked on a circumspect approach that, in the end, paid off handsomely. Virender Sehwag and Sacin proceeded with caution against the new ball before Sourav and Sachin laid a formidable foundation for the tidy total that was always going to be too much for Steve Tikolo’s happy band of men.
Sachin worked the ball beautifully as he displayed his surgeon’s touch. The bludgeon was put away for another day. Sourav was also cautious early on before growing in confidence and aggression. Some slight concerns about the weather no doubt pushed him to up the run rate in the latter stages. The smiles indicated the relaxed state of mind the captain is currently enjoying.
Why not' after all he has helped transform the sorry bunch that arrived in South Africa nearly six weeks ago into realistic championship contenders. Perhaps Sourav has finally relaxed into the leader that he is capable of being.
Personal form is another thing that will have allowed him to relax and having a bowling attack that can match it with anyone will have helped. Batsmen can set up wins for you, but it is the bowlers who win matches. Just look at what Australia has been able to achieve despite some indifferent batting.
The real test is still to come for India, but they have done everything necessary in their last eight games. They have shown commitment to the basic requirements for success and have shown a strong team spirit. A captain cannot do much more than that and it helps if he is able to lead from the front with the bat as Sourav has done.
The Kenyans have shown us what a team with a good attitude and a good spirit can achieve. They are not in the same class as the top nations, but they managed to get to the semi-final because they had a serious go, and because they wouldn’t believe what everyone else thought.
Tikolo and his team have been one of the real success stories of this World Cup and some of the other teams could learn something from their no-frills approach. The rest of the cricket world has sat up and taken notice, the ICC now needs to look at what else it can do to help Kenyan cricket build on this success as they endeavour to take their cricket to the next stage.
It has taken a seemingly interminable time to get to the stage we are now at. The two best teams in the tournament are preparing to shape up at Wanderer’s stadium Sunday. A lot of nervous energy has been spent, and, no doubt, more will be spent before then, but we are about to find out which of the two is the best ODI team in the world.