Jaipur: Rajasthan’s ambitious chief minister Vasundhara Raje wants cricket to boost the state’s tourism industry, but Team India will have to bat much better if its exploits are to serve as the hottest promotional.
The hosts did collect full points in the Champions Trophy opener versus England, Sunday, but the packed Sawai Man Singh Stadium — Shah Rukh Khan was among those who turned up, for a while — saw no on-field fireworks even as the first display just off the ampitheatre was terribly ill-timed and left captain Rahul Dravid, who’d walked in to replace Irfan Pathan, confused (“I had to figure out what was happening...”).
Excellent opening bursts from Pathan and Munaf Patel, who bagged his maiden MoM award, helped bowl out England for no more than 125 (lowest in bilateral face-offs). In fact, the visitors’ innings ended well before the scheduled break and, despite the up-and-down wicket, it was assumed the Indians would wrap it up quick after making the most of winning the toss.
That 48 were taken off the first five overs, for the loss of the mercurial Virender Sehwag, seemed to give the buzz credibility. The second session, however, found the Indians struggling. Later, Sachin Tendulkar (India’s top-scorer with 35) felt “175” would have been a “very good total.”
Given that we lost six wickets in reaching 126, it could have been a winning score.
“Losing four wickets would have been par for the course... You may look for negatives, but the boys should be proud of the way they played... This was (after all) the first match... We came into the tournament under pressure and responded well,” is what Dravid had to say.
He added: “We’re going to be under pressure against any team if we don’t bat well, but I don’t see it as a problem... Two-three key batsmen haven’t been getting runs, but this batting has class... I see a lot of quality in our batting... Veeru (Sehwag) hasn’t been scoring big but, when in form, he can help us win the World Cup...”
Such support must please the vice-captain, but it’s time he realised certain surfaces call for the building of an innings. Years in the business ought to have taught him that.
Dravid himself played another poor shot. Actually, he hasn’t even touched 30 (in ODIs) for months now. Yet, he’s not allowing that to prey on his mind. “Worrying about it won’t help me get past 30... I did have a very good Test series (in the West Indies) in between and I’m looking ahead positively...”
He accepted that keeping out Dinesh Mongia had been “difficult,” but explained a “frontline spinner (Ramesh Powar)” was given the nod. “I had to look at Powar’s record versus England (earlier in the year) and make a call on who would I like to bowl on the wicket here... Dinesh was unlucky...”
Dravid, incidentally, revealed that the decision to play Pathan had been “mulled” over. “I went with who I thought could make a difference... Irfan is a proven matchwinner and hasn’t let me down on the big occasions... He takes early wickets, is good in the field and bats well...”
Former India captain Ravi Shastri, of course, had praised the composition of the XI even before the first ball was bowled. Speaking to The Telegraph, he’d said: “It’s the right combination... You’ve got to play five bowlers (at home) and take advantage of Pathan and (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni’s batting... We should stick to this even if we lose a few matches.”
The defeat notwithstanding, England captain Andrew Flintoff insisted his team wasn’t despondent. “It was the first match and, as the games are spaced out, we’ve got time to reflect on what happened today and work hard for the next match (against Australia, Saturday)... We aren’t out of the competition and will learn from this defeat...”
Flintoff praised Pathan and Munaf: “They exploited the strange wicket and bowled in good areas... They kept asking questions all the time... About 170 runs would have... Still, that we got six batsmen shows the boys played with character... It’s only that we didn’t start well, both while batting (55 for five within 20 overs) and bowling...”
The Indians, who’ve got a Diwali break, are to assemble in Ahmedabad next Sunday. Match No.2, versus the West Indies, is on October 26.
Footnote: The rapidly-improving Munaf pointed out he’d been “concentrating” on line and length. “That’s more important than speed...” Overjoyed, he added that the “good partnership” with Pathan helped. Asked if he would now be under more pressure, Munaf replied grinning — “pressure is always there on all bowlers...”