Jamshedpur: On March 12, 2000, Sourav Ganguly starred with an unbeaten 105 in India’s solitary victory at the Keenan. Since that six-wicket triumph over South Africa, the left-hander went on to become the country’s most successful captain ' putting a brake on Steve Waugh’s Australian juggernaut, reaching World Cup final and winning the Test and ODI series’ for the first time in Pakistan.
Six years down the line, cricket in India has seen quite a few dramatic changes, the most significant being the left-hander’s ouster from the team.
But Keenan still remains a jinx for India. England’s five-wicket win over the Virender Sehwag-led side here on Wednesday in the sixth ODI not only extended India’s run of woes at the ground, but left some disturbing thoughts in its trail.
“We are not too bothered about this defeat. For us, experimenting with new players and combinations is the key,” Sehwag said after the match. “Were you properly focused on this match' Yes we were, but our search for the right combination is top priority now.”
So a heavily-depleted England were allowed to pull one back, though the TVS Cup is already in the hosts’ kitty.
Andrew Strauss led from the front with a well-paced 74, eclipsing Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s blistering 96.
Harbhajan Singh (three for 30) did achieve a personal milestone of 150 wickets with the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen, but with Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth rested, the inexperienced Indian pace attack of Rudra Pratap Singh, Munaf Patel and debutant Vikram Rajvir Singh lacked sting.
What is more worrying is that much like the ongoing April sale, everything in the Indian top-order has become shamefully cheap now.
All throughout the series, with their profligacy, batsmen up the order have made it mandatory for someone down the order to shoulder extra responsibility.
So, we have noticed Harbhajan Singh playing the saviour in New Delhi, Suresh Raina in Faridabad and Yuvraj Singh in Margao, while the Sehwags and Mohammed Kaifs continue to struggle and stumble, disdainfully ignoring the basic need of delivering the goods.
The Keenan on Wednesday was no exception. And this time, Dhoni ' promoted to open the innings for the first time in his international career ' held one end up.
Sehwag started the innings with a boundary through point in the very first ball, but four balls later, James Anderson found his edge and Vikram Solanki snapped up a low catch at first slip.
Undaunted by the setback, Dhoni spanked Matthew Hoggard for three boundaries in the next over.
Kaif, too, joined the party by cover-driving Anderson twice in a row. Just when it looked promising, Paul Collingwood dropped Kaif at point off Anderson and next over, Kaif was dismissed, failing to read an in-cutter from Sajid Mahmood ' who replaced Hoggard at the pavilion end.
Man-in-form Yuvraj and promising youngster Raina didn’t fire and Yalaka Venugopal Rao, having been reduced to a mere presence in the dressing room since Ma-rch 28, looked awfully out of sorts when his service was finally required.
This is where Dhoni’s 96 and his sixth-wicket stand of 107 runs with Powar (54) assumed significance.
Dhoni’s transformation from the marauder to the matured as the innings wore on was a classic example of tuning himself to the need of the hour. With an unorthodox high back-lift and swivelling on back toe, the Indian wicketkeeper quenched the thirst of his home crowd.
Each of his three sixes smacked of power and precision and his towering presence in the middle was enough to inspire the off-spinner at the other end. The duo never panicked under pressure and slowly and steadily gave the team a platform.
But Strauss and Ian Bell ' who celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday ' had other ideas. For the first time in the series, England stitched a hundred-run opening partnership, and when Bell finally perished, to a Harbhajan doosra on 46, there was no doubt as to for whom the bell tolled.
Sehwag tried everything, making the bowlers switch ends at regular intervals, but Man-of-the-Match Strauss ensured the initial good work didn’t go unrewarded.