| A view of the rain-soaked M.A Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday evening. (Reuters)
Chennai: A bright, lush green ground, dark clouds overhead and raindrops sparkling like crystals against the halo of light around the floodlit stands. It made a breathtaking sight at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday evening.
Only, it was far from what would have pleased the nearly 40,000 who ignored the threat of rain and flocked to the TVS Cup tri-series opener between India and New Zealand. Having threatened to play spoilsport over the last few days, the weather gods had the last laugh and stopped the potentially absorbing contest after 26.5 overs into the Indian innings in the first session.
The home team was batting first after winning the toss and had proceeded to 141 for three with Sachin Tendulkar slowly getting into his groove. Even Yuvraj Singh was playing a cameo. But this exhibition of astute and bold batting was cut short with Sachin two short of his 63rd ODI fifty and Yuvraj on 29. The teams were awarded three points each.
The first spell of torrential shower stopped play at 4.47 pm. It abated after nearly an hour and the umpires and skippers made a brief inspection of the covered ground. A second burst of outpour drove the groundsmen off the turf and play was finally called off at 7.15 pm.
Before this, there was another 15-minute halt due to bad light. It was getting dark and the floodlights were not sufficient for cricket.
The match was promising to mature into a high-scoring affair, something people come to watch in one-dayers.
The pitch offered bounce initially, but was essentially genial to batsmen. And on such wickets, against bowlers not moving the ball in the air, Indian batsmen can be murderous. And they were threatening to do just that before at least two of them committed suicide.
Virender Sehwag and V.V.S. Laxman were in ominous touch, but the former paid the price of overconfidence and the second lost his wicket in a manner he would dread to repeat.
It was a strange combination of high quality batting and self destruction. Sehwag was his usual, adventurous self and Laxman class written all over. Yet, both returned to the pavilion thinking what might have been. Even Rahul Dravid got out to one from Daniel Vettori which he would normally caress past mid-wicket.
The start was just the kind spectators love to watch. Sehwag made his intentions clear by slashing at Jacob Oram in the second over and, buoyed by the sight of Chris Cairns grassing the tough chance at third-man, continued in the same vein. The show would frighten the purist, but its brutality and devil-may-care approach lit up the scene, even with dark clouds sending warning signals.
Another wild slash, off Darryl Tuffey in the seventh over, sailed over third-man and the next ball whistled past a diving Chris Harris at point.
With Tendulkar slowly but surely rediscovering his touch, the stage was set for a feast of boundaries, when Sehwag surrendered another good start. Having pulled Cairns for four in the bowler’s first over, Sehwag tried to force one through the covers off the backfoot without getting anywhere near the line of the ball. It took the inside edge and knocked back the off-stump. His 29-ball 31 contained five ferocious fours apart from that six.
If Sehwag’s stay was entertaining because of its explosive ingredients, Laxman’s brief outing was punctuated by some sublime shots. After edging Paul Hitchcock through the vacant slips cordon, the right-hander underlined his immense class with a square drive and an on-drive in the same over which produced 14 runs.
It was probably too good to last. Scott Styris presented Laxman a long hop in his first over, 15th of the innings, and instead of dispatching it behind the ropes, the batsman gifted the easiest of catches to substitute Kyle Mills at deep square-leg. Mills was the only fielder in the deep on the leg side and Laxman picked him with fatal precision.
Dravid also looked in good touch and started by working the ball behind square on the leg-side with characteristic finesse. The run-rate was still over six an over at 99 for two after 15 overs, and the team needed a consolidating partnership between Sachin and Dravid. But in Vettori’s first over, the stand-in captain drove uppishly a juicy, flighted half-volley and Styris at short-wicket took a sharp catch.
Even with things looking gloomy, Stephen Fleming left his mark on the match for the variety of things he tried. Every time things looked like swinging out of control, the New Zealand captain tried to pull it back by constantly making things different for the batsmen.
Starting with the conventional two-man ring at slips, Fleming showed he dares to be unorthodox by rotating the two mandatory close-in catchers in different combinations during the first 15 overs. He also made frequent bowling changes and incidentally, three bowlers justified the skipper’s moves by striking in their first overs.
Unfortunately, the crowd missed a lesson in how such tricks should be handled as was being demonstrated by Sachin. Having shown little of his mastery in the Test matches, the Little Master looked determined to get a big one. With others blazing away at the opposite end before being dismissed, Sachin was playing the classical anchor. A straight drive off Oram, a pull of the same bowler and a punch on the backfoot through covers against Darryl Tuffey suggested he is back in touch.
The Diwali in Chennai ended a dampener. Maybe Gwalior will witness the fireworks on Sunday.
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