At stumps on Day II of the (decisive) third and final Test at the SSC, Lanka had raced ahead by 89 runs with half their wickets intact. Recovering from two bad days in succession is a tall order for India and, realistically, Sourav Ganguly�s team can only aspire to save this Test. Unless...
Of course, as it so often happens, the script could easily have been different. Had the bowling been penetrative, the catching Test-class and the ground fielding worthy of a series-decider... It�s a painful list and the contrast with the Lankans� commitment is stark.
For one, substitute Dinesh Mongia (at point) muffed the chance to run out Maravan Atapattu when he was on 23 and Lanka 75 for one. Eventually, the vice-captain became Lanka�s fourth centurion of the series and scored a character-packed 108 (310 minutes, 228 balls, 11x4).
Few would have done the anchoring job better and, it is Atapattu�s ability to perfectly blend attack with defence, which made Sir Viv Richards (during a one-on-one in the 1999 World Cup) pick him as a batsman to watch in the 2000s.
Then, Kumar Sangakkara, who has emerged a dashing strokemaker, was given a life by Samir Dighe on 27 (Lanka 90 for one). The wicketkeeper, who was awful throughout the day, fumbled a regulation stumping.
Hardly amused was fellow-Mumbaikar Sairaj Bahutule, who would have got a wicket off the very third delivery. Sangakkara went on to score 47, but more damaging was his 71-run second-wicket stand with Atapattu.
Dighe made a hash of another opportunity, again off Bahutule, when he failed to hold a thin edge from the dangerous Mahela Jayawardene. At stumps, the classy batsman was five short of his second century (seventh overall) of the series.
What didn�t make much of a difference was Dave Orchard not giving Sanath Jayasuriya out on a personal score of 25 (the captain added five, before authoring another chopping act). Later, Russell Arnold didn�t add many after Dighe dropped catch No. 2, this time off Zaheer Khan with the second new ball which was taken at 273 for three.
Keeping Jayawardene (unbeaten 95 in 235 minutes and off 148 balls; 8x4, 1x5, 1x6) company is the struggling Hashan Tillekeratne. The latter was sought to be �protected�, with Dulip Liyanage being sent as nightwatchman at the fall of Arnold. As it turned out, Liyanage himself fell with two overs remaining and, so, Tillekeratne had to take guard.
For India, the biggest let-down was Harbhajan Singh, who managed little bite and didn�t sting. And this, after Muttiah Muralidharan returned figures of eight for 87 on the first day.
Clearly, Harbhajan has much to learn. For starters, he must be patient and not get affected by every boundary struck off him. Murali, aware of the mind-game factor, shows little or no emotion. Harbhajan, on the other hand, often behaves like a kid who has had his candy snatched. It�s a picture which doesn�t inspire.
Another disappointment was Zaheer. He bowled on both sides of the wicket and, when the top strike bowler is generous, the opposition is sure to milk the attack. Bahutule had his moments and, indeed, would have bowled better had the catches not been dropped. Only veteran Venkatesh Prasad read the (benign) wicket well and bowled to his field.
On a day when other frontline bowlers were sent to all corners of the park, Prasad�s figures alone do much of the talking: 20-6-54-3.
�Bottomline is we bowled badly and, when the catches came, they were put down... The one saving grace, however, is that the wicket is playing nicely and is unlikely to deteriorate in a hurry. If our batsmen can put their heads down (in the second innings), then...� remarked a worried Sourav, speaking to The Telegraph at the team hotel.
The Indian captain, understandably low after a poor day in the field, acknowledged that the advantage is very much Lanka�s.
Surprisingly, not so sure is Atapattu. Chatting exclusively, he opined: �We need a much bigger lead to really put India under pressure. The wicket played superbly today and won�t be a terror for the team batting third (India)...�
Talking of his own innings, Atapattu smiled and said: �Well, it was time I got a decent knock, isn�t it? After three scores of over 30 in the first two Tests, I was determined to build an innings. I�m happy I�ve made a contribution, though I must accept there was nothing in the wicket (for the bowlers).
�Where would I rate this century of mine? Pretty high because of the circumstances, specially the series being tied 1-1. My own favourite three-figure knock, however, remains the unbeaten 207 versus Pakistan in Kandy, last year.�
Lucky for India that Orchard blundered by declaring Atapattu out caught bat-pad when, in fact, the Harbhajan delivery only made contact with his front pad. After all, four of the Lankan vice-captain�s seven three-figure knocks have been 200-plus efforts.
A feature of the Lankan innings was tidy partnerships right down the line. Fortyeight for the first-wicket, 71 for the second, 133 for the third (Atapattu and Jayawardene) and 58 for the fourth. It all points to Lanka aiming to bat just once and bat big.
Significantly, Lanka�s runs came at a fast clip: 80 in the first session, 111 between lunch and tea and as many as 119 in the final session. That the last would be most productive became apparent when Jayawardene smashed the opening delivery, from Bahutule, for a straightfield six.
For the record, Sourav utilised six bowlers (including himself) in 20 spells � from a minimum of one over to a maximum of 11 (Harbhajan�s first of the day). Given the situation, there were numerous �conferences� between Sourav and vice-captain Rahul Dravid. The appropriate formula, though, never quite emerged.
Regarded as being mentally very tough and a hundred per cent committed Sri Lankan, Murali�s stature keeps growing. Yet, he himself remains down to earth. Murali spoke to The Telegraph last evening, hours after that superb eight-wicket haul on Day-I of the final Test.
Incidentally, Murali is also an outstanding fielder and is pretty competitive with the bat as well.
The following are excerpts
On what makes him such a phenomenal bowler
My ability to be uncompromising with the basics... I keep a tight line and length and wait for the batsmen to make mistakes. I really don�t have a special formula.
On the work he himself puts in
But, then, one has to practise hard... It�s at the nets that one attempts variations, one experiments. I believe in constantly learning and, if somebody looks good with something new, I don�t mind trying it out myself.
On the luck factor
Of course, some luck is needed...
On his preparations, specially before a big game
I treat every match the same way, don�t seek to put additional pressure on myself. Once the game begins, I make an on-the-field assessment of how I should be bowling.
On whether he �studies� a wicket before the big matches
In fact, I�m never too bothered about wickets because a bowler can�t choose the type he would like to bowl on. In that case, why bother?
On whether, thanks to a high success rate, he finds himself being weighed down by expectations
(Smiles) Actually, today, the pressure is less because we have other potential match-winners. As things stand, we have quite a few quicks capable of both effecting early breakthroughs and ending partnerships in the middle. Therefore, I don�t mind if the wicket has grass because, then, I will have less work to do! Distribution of the workload isn�t, after all, a bad idea.
On that hungry look he constantly wears
Well, the determination has to come through in some manner... It�s a big ask, concentrating on each ball over after over. Moreover, at this level, all the batsmen are world-class. If they weren�t, they wouldn�t be getting picked. Indeed, life is more tough for batsmen � one mistake and they are gone. Bowlers, on the other hand, can still make a comeback after being hit for much of the over. They can still end it with a wicket...
On the psychological element in contemporary cricket
It has more to do with capitalising on the opportunities... Depends on whether you can force a batsman into his shell or, on the other hand, whether the batsman can take multiple liberties with you. But, yes, cricket is today a mind game.
On the rare day that things don�t go his way
Try and forget it � the sooner the better. What is past is history... It�s the now and present which always counts. A degree of tension must be there, or else the level of performance won�t see an increase. Once the game has begun, though, one must stay as relaxed as possible.
On bowling in Tests and ODIs
The adjustment isn�t drastic, because the basics stay the same.
On his County experience (with Lancashire)
The experience isn�t only limited to cricket... As a person, too, one learns so many things. I would certainly recommend exposure to County cricket as a means for the all-round development of cricketers. It�s a challenge, yes, but one worth accepting.
On his relationship with coach Dav Whatmore, who also worked with him in Lancashire
Dav�s man-management is good and, so, we�ve never had a problem.
On whether he was confident of a future in cricket when he was �called� Down Under, in 1995-96
Frankly, I wasn�t sure... The thought that I could turn to leg-spin did, however, cross my mind... If I�m still around, as an off-spinner, it�s thanks entirely to Arjuna Ranatunga. (Emotionally) I�m grateful to Arjuna for the support (as captain) he then gave me. Even now, I�m in contact with him... Just the other day, over the telephone, he suggested certain field settings.
On the mental pressure he then had to undergo
Arjuna took most of it. He would keep saying: �Calm down... We are all with you... Leave the technicalities to me.�
On his own thoughts when he bowled for the first time after being �called�
Well, Arjuna switched ends so that if somebody had to �call�, it would be Dunne not Hair. Though I knew I was clean, the pressure still was there.
On whether, even now, he fears being �called�
Never. I know I�m in the clear... Also know there wasn�t ever anything wrong. In any case, I�m not the sort to fear anything.
On the difference between Ranatunga and Sanath Jayasuriya�s captaincy
Oh, there�s a big difference. For example, Arjuna would quickly take decisions on his own. Sanath prefers to consult others as well... With experience, it�s possible Sanath may eventually do things differently.
On the batsmen who play spinners well
It�s a tough question... Sachin, Inzamam, Mark Waugh, Thorpe, Andy Flower, Lara ... As you can see, it�s a long list and I haven�t talked of the Sri Lankan players.
(Laughs) But, do we have the time? With so much cricket, where�s the time for anything else? If I can, I channel surf and watch whatever sport is being shown. In soccer, I like the Brazilians besides, obviously, Manchester United... As for tennis, I simply hate Pete Sampras losing. I�m quite fond of rugby, too. I myself played it in school (St Anthony�s, Kandy).
On Harbhajan Singh
He�s good, otherwise he wouldn�t have got 32 wickets in that one series against Australia. However, he must himself learn and improve. He has to keep learning. Time alone will show just how good he actually is. For an off-spinner, variations hold the key to success.
Finally, on whether he has set a target
(Smiles again) Five hundred Test victims... I do set targets in every series. For example, a 15-wicket haul in a three-Test affair will quite satisfy me. Anything after that will make me happy.
[With one innings to go, Murali has already reached the 20-mark in the on-going Test series.]
�This acclimatisation-specific suggestion came from the coach (John Wright) during a discussion (chief selector) Chandu Borde and I had with him last evening,� Lele told The Telegraph. The proposed conditioning camp, then, will be scratched.
Sachin Tendulkar, according to Lele, will be available for selection.
The captain and the XV-strong squad (initially for the tri-series) will be picked in Mumbai either on September 5/6 or September 6/7, respectively. The squad, one learns, will comprise six specialist batsmen, four quicks, three allrounders, one spinner and a wicketkeeper.
After the tri-series (South Africa and Kenya being the other teams), India will stay back for three Tests.
Meanwhile, a five-member committee (Board president, chief selector, national coach and two distinguished former cricketers) will decide on which player fits into what category (A/B/C) when the contract system is introduced. The slotting, Lele stated, will be on Test experience only.
Apparently, the mood within the Board is to award the A category contract to only four players: Sachin, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble.
Speaking on other issues, Lele revealed the West Indies would undertake a full tour of India in the 2002-2003 season. The Windies will arrive next November for the five Tests and as many ODIs.
Once those engagements end, India travel to New Zealand for seven ODIs. That, of course, will be India�s final preparation for the February-March 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
Later, talking to mediapersons, Lele announced the Sri Lankans were �very keen� that India make a visit next year, too, but the Board�s position was that Lanka must first return this visit by India. In any case, the Indian calendar is already nearly full.
George today suspended coach Raghu Nandy and treasurer Bachhu Gupta for a year each for their involvement in the fracas Tuesday when the two and the players had beaten up linesman Dilip Samanta and heckled referee Partha Rout Roy before creating havoc at the Calcutta Referees� Association (CRA) tent and beating up a trainee referee.
While sounding rather imposing, George secretary Subrata Dutta, the chief of the IFA�s finance committee and a leader in the city�s soccer circles, also hinted that Nandy�s cerebrum possibly lacked relevant substance because the latter had come out against IFA�s Debu Mukherjee.
Debu is no �Dawood Ibrahim of the Maidan� � as Nandy had pointed out yesterday � said Dutta. Nandy�s loyalty to the club cannot be questioned, but then neither can Mukherjee�s to Dutta. �They (Mukherjee included) form part of my �suicide squad� and will never go against a club that was the Late Prodyut Dutta�s,� Dutta said. �Raghu knows zilch of Maidan politics�
So what happened to IFA ruling faction-referees� �unholy alliance� that Nandy had complained about? �Not the IFA,� said Dutta. �There is a clique that is influencing the referees. We have to find it.� That sounds mysterious, and means there is so much more to the Maidan than the sport, the players, the coaches and the officials!
And if that isn�t a simplistic enough, the referees believe it is all the doing of the IFA bosses and the club bosses because this year the CRA is handling its own posting programme. CRA secretary Kamal Sarkar believes it is possible that �somebody is firing from the CRA�s shoulders.� Only, the referees had not felt the weight of the rifle butt thus far.
The allegation by Dutta that it was all an �evil design� by the referees, at some mysterious instigation, isn�t being disallowed to gain currency when Sarkar says it isn�t always possible to have the best referees at all matches. Referees, seemingly, have been trying to duck all George Telegraph matches.
Dutta wants to try a three-stage cure � the club level, the sporting fraternity level (where all clubs are involved) and the IFA level where regulations can be tightened. This can spread all the problems out wafer thin, so none can be identified for specialised treatment. The issue will soon be lost in the murky climes.
Talking of the IFA, its joint secretary Ranjit Gupta seemed to have already passed the buck. �I have till the 18th to settle issues (that�s till when the IFA wants Nandy and Gupta off limits),� Gupta says. �Before that I hope to be able to place all issues to the league sub-committee and the disciplinary committee and they decide.� George�s �stiff� measures, might have the committee viewing it all in a kinder light.
Gupta rails at referee Rout Roy�s report. �Partha Rout Roy should not be allowed to supervise any more. He does not deserve to be a referee,� he says. The referee had failed to show spine in his report, where he not only has not mentioned anybody for special censure, but has even gone ahead and said that he was �scared� to show the red card. Incidentally Rout Roy had not even booked anybody in the incident.
Sarkar, Pradhan in final
Soumyajit Sarkar and Sourav Pradhan will meet in the boy� singles final of the Ballygunge Institute table tennis championships.
In the semi-finals today Soumyajit beat Jayanta Sarkar 11-7, 10-12, 12-10, 11-5, 11-4, while Pradhan beat Snehasis Bhattacharya 9-11, 7-11, 12-10, 11-8, 12-10, 11-9.
Chanda in joint lead
IM Sandipan Chanda of GNCA shares the lead with six players on 5 points after the sixth round of International Schlosspark Open at Wiesbaden in Germany according to reports reaching here today.
He got the better of Daniel Wichman and will meet GM Mihail Saltaev in the next round.
On the top board GM Mihail Saltaev was held to a draw by IM Viesturs Meijers.
In the West Bengal Chess Association�s Fide-rated meet here today unseeded Dilip Das upset 15th seed R.K. Mishra (3 points) of Madhya Pradesh. Das (4), after the fourth round, is in joint lead with G. Rohit of Andhra Pradesh and Jogesh Gore of Madhya Pradesh.
RESULTS � Shanker Roy (3.5) drew Souvik Palit (3); Dilip Das (4) bt RK Mishra (3); Rohit bt Amandeep Bartake (3, Maharashtra); Jogesh bt Rashmin Pulelekar (3, Maharashtra).
Shiv Prakash of Kanpur had 66, while Mukesh Kumar (Mhow) had 67 to tie for lead. At fourth was Zai Kipgen of Delhi (135). Overnight leader Amritinder Singh slipped to tied fifth with Rohtas Singh and S.S.P. Chowrasia at 136.
The cut was applied at seven-over 147 with 51 pros making it to money rounds.
2.45 pm: Beau Wonder 1. Survee�s Pet 2. Louis Cyphre 3.
3.15 pm: Dahana 1. Smart Warrior 2. Iron Mask 3.
3.45 pm: Midnight Escape 1. Royal Engagement 2. Alustar 3.
4.15 pm: Wagga Wagga 1. Stilleto Xpress 2. Colonel�s Dream 3.
4.45 pm: Grey Area 1. Saytarra 2. Among Men 3.
5.15 pm: Spirited Move 1. Silver Sand 2. Anacita 3.
5.45 pm: Lightning Arrow 1. Dreamcatcher 2. Philosopher 3.
Day�s Best: Spirited Move
Double: Dahana & Grey Area.
1. Somanathpur Plate, Div-II 1,400m: (2-1-8) Gudie (A. Imran) 1; Beautiful Bird 2; Make No Mistake 3. Won by: 8; 1-3/4; (1-31). Tote: Win Rs 17; Place: 12; 23; 21; Quinella: 60; Tanala: 509. Fav: Guide (2).
2. Talakadu Plate 1,200m: (4-10-7) Anonyme (Amit) 1; Dad�s Joy 2; Alto 3. Won by: 1-3/4; 4-3/4; (1-17.9). Tote: Win Rs 22; Place: 10; 34; 23; Quinella: 108; Tanala: 480. Fav: Anonyme (4).
3. Somanathpur Plate, Div-I 1,400m: (1-6-3) Goebbels (Rakesh) 1; Lake Baikal 2; Silver Touch 3. Won by: 3/4; 1/2; (1-31.9). Tote: Win Rs 103; Place: 30; 25; 12; Quinella: 333; Tanala: 3,083. Fav: Silver Touch (3).
4. Pune Plate, Div-II 1,600m: (1-2-4) Marcus Aurelius (Md Shafiq) 1; Fantasy Bay 2; Atlantic Star 3. Won by: Nk; Dist; (1-43.2). Tote: Win Rs 17; Place: 10; 16; 57; Quinella: 41; Tan-ala: 957. Fav: Marcus Aurelius (1).
5. Reliance Gold Trophy 1,400m: (3-1-6) Elusive Hero (Kader) 1; St. Lucinda 2; Indian Native 3. Won by: 8-1/2; Nk; (1-29.8). Tote: Win Rs 13; Place: 12; 17; 19; Quinella: 28; Tanala: 83. Fav: Elusive Hero (3). (Note: St. Lucinda survived objection lodged by the rider of Indian Native).
6. Hotel R R R Gold Trophy, Div-I 1,600m: (8-6-9) Pink Squirrel (C. Krishnan) 1; Argolis 2; Savage Heart 3. Won by: 1-1/4; 5-3/4; (1-43.1). Tote: Win Rs 34; Place: 13; 11; 34; Quinella: 34; Tanala: 513. Fav: Argolis (6).
7. A. V. Thomas Trophy 1,400m: (2-4-5) Acrobat (R. Marshall) 1; Allocated 2; Symphony of Fire 3. Won by: 2-1/4; 2-3/4; (1-28.5). Tote: Win Rs 46; Place: 16; 16; 23; Quinella: 139; Tanala: 1,040. Fav: Averoff (1).
8. Hotel R R R Gold Trophy, Div-II 1,600m: (2-3-4) Saffron Finch (R. Marshall) 1; Gypsie�s Wish 2; Arduous 3. Won by: SH; Hd; (1-42.7). Tote: Win Rs 23; Place: 15; 16; 17; Quinella: 60; Tanala: 212. Fav: Saffron Finch (2).
9. Pune Plate, Div-I 1,600m: (3-7-1) Dream Supreme (Srinath) 1; South Cove 2; Supreme Heights 3. Won by: 1-3/4; Nk; (1-44). Tote: Win Rs 24; Place: 10; 16; 18; Quinella: 35; Tanala: 177. Fav: Dream Supreme (3). (There was stewards� inquiry into the running of the race).
Jackpot: Rs 1,602; (C) Rs 199.
Treble: (i) Rs 248; (ii) Rs 60; (iii) Rs 259.