Pietermaritzburg, Feb. 23: The Namibians neither blew hot nor cold, they simply froze. For starters, Man of the Match Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly’s authority (and audacity) left them dazed and, then, the Harbhajan Singh-led spin attack.
The Indians needed to win big at The Oval, certainly among the more charming grounds, and did just that. In fact, they have taken to the World Cup’s biggest week on a high: A 181-run victory over the first-time qualifiers.
Ashish Nehra’s sprained (left) ankle notwithstanding, the Indians will take to Wednesday’s game against England, in Durban, with renewed confidence. A win there should confirm a Super Six slot.
Though scattered rain was forecast and conditions were gloomy till 45 minutes before today’s Pool A match, the sun made a dramatic appearance and reigned supreme till the Indians’ tally swelled to 12 points.
India’s NRR (net run rate) has also risen and, at 1.19, is an appreciable improvement on the pre-game 0.33. Of course, Namibia isn’t the most competitive team around but, then, the Indians had even struggled versus Holland.
“Given the opposition, it’s an expected result.… It was important to put some runs on the board and, as it turned out, we got over 300,” said Sourav, pleased that he himself returned among the runs.
The match, in fact, was over by the opening session when the Indians totalled a massive 311 for two. Their effort revolved around the current captain and his immediate predecessor, both of whom followed tradition to plant a (liquid amber) sapling each in the practice area.
[One wicket more and Yuvraj Singh, too, would have done the same: Besides every centurion, anybody with five wickets is accorded that honour.]
So emphatically paced was their 244-run partnership (off just 246 deliveries), for the second wicket, that somebody like Rudi van Vuuren, juggling between rugby and cricket, may eventually decide to focus on the fly-half position rather than keep steaming in with the new ball. The lesson was bitter and the Namibians will forever regret dropping Sachin on 32.
“We paid for giving the world’s best batsman a life... He was brilliant and ably suppo- rted by Sourav,” conceded Deon Kotze, Namibia’s captain. He added: “We went through a hard learning curve... With the benefit of hindsight, I should have batted but, then, the locals were unanimous about the wicket doing quite a bit in the first hour.”
While Sachin’s 152 (off only 151 deliveries) was his fourth World Cup century and 34th overall, Sourav posted his 20th to emerge the second highest century-maker in ODIs. More important, the captain scripted his first innings of substance — at any level — after last November’s one-dayer in Vadodara.
Sourav’s unbeaten 112 (off 119 balls) should do his cricket a world of good, though he himself hasn’t ever acknowledged a dip in self-belief. While he is the superstitious sort, Sourav dismissed a suggestion that a (temporary) change in his shirt number — 24 instead of the customary 99 — probably made all the difference.
However, knowing him, it wouldn’t surprise if he again wears No.24 at Kingsmead.
Sachin, India's top scorer in all four outings, had this to say: “I hope to continue with this form... A lot of things are on my mind, but that's the priority.” Team India’s mascot couldn’t have put it better.
Incidentally, Kotze gave India “a slight edge” over England. Having lost to both teams, he is eminently placed to pass judgement.