| KILLER KHAN: Zaheer Khan celebrates after dismissing Brendon McCullum in Centurion on Friday. (Reuters)
Centurion, March 14: Sourav Ganguly couldn’t dig out the express Shane Bond yorker but, to quote Rameez Raja, “everything he touches is turning gold”. In any case, the SuperSport Park has become a jeetnewala venue.
A hero of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup-winning XI, Rameez drew a parallel with Imran Khan. “Imran had much the same luck.... Anything he touched, turned gold. Imagine, he gave Ijaz Ahmed three overs in the final (against England) and even that worked.... Today, in the New Zealand innings, all Sourav’s moves clicked.... Looking ahead, India can take World Cup 2003 home”
Introducing Virender Sehwag worked. Bringing on Dinesh Mongia clicked.... Then, with Rahul Dravid (53 not out) and Mohammed Kaif (unbeaten on 68) regaining the initiative lost to early Bond blows, India finished the Super Six with an all-win record and 20 points, including the carried-over eight.
Except that Stephen Fleming scored 27 more than Sourav, he was outclassed in the battle of captains — one inspirational, the other generally astute. Sourav made a point at the toss itself, when he invited the Black Caps to set a target. In the war of minds, that was a masterstroke.
After all, is enough really enough' That’s a dilemma which confronts most teams under pressure. As it turned out, New Zealand cracked immediately, with Zaheer Khan (who often breathed fire) claiming two wickets in over No. 1. He added two, finishing on four for 42, and joining the 100-Club.
Zaheer picked up the Man of the Match award as well, though in the frame was Kaif, who featured in an unseparated 129-run partnership with Dravid — saluted as a “consistent performer” by the captain. New Zealand’s pitiable total of 146 was overhauled rather dramatically, with the sky opening up, in the 41st over (150 for three).
Modest as ever, Zaheer acknowledged the support from the other end. “There was no easing of pressure.... While Sri (Jawagal Srinath) stuck to line-length and Ashish Nehra relied on swing, I hit the deck.... In between, I did give some runs, but that was because of trying too much. Did the wicket have juice early on' Yes.”
While India extended its successful run to seven games, the Black Caps will head home unless Zimbabwe beats Sri Lanka in East London tomorrow. “In an all or nothing match, we were never there.... There wasn’t anything in the wicket, we just didn’t bat well enough,” conceded Fleming, finding it difficult to hide his disappointment.
As for Brendon McCullum, dropping Dravid on one (22 for three) will probably remain an albatross around his neck. Could New Zealand have pulled it off from there' Possibly. Equally, possibly not.
Sourav, for his part, accepted his team wanted to win for two reasons: To avenge the humiliating 2-5 loss in the last set of one-day games and, second, to give Lanka the chance of making the Port Elizabeth semifinal versus Australia.
With the St George’s Park wicket aiding the slower bowlers, Lanka may just put it across the holders. But, first, they must get past Zimbabwe. In fact, Sourav isn’t looking to the March 23 final right now. “Before that, even we must beat Kenya, in Durban (on March 20),” he reminded.
Asked if he had now proved a point to baiters such as Martin Crowe, Sourav bitingly answered: “I miss him in the commentary box.”
Probably, never before have so few words been so loaded.
Team India is firing, so is Sourav.