The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dravid leads from front
- Sachin makes flowing comeback
- Pathan revels in new role

Nagpur: The post-mortem ran for well over an hour behind closed doors. When they trooped out of the dressing room, Tom Moody and Co. still seemed to be in a state of daze. So much so that none of the visitors turned up at the post-match press conference.

Not in their wildest dreams had the No. 2 side in the world foreseen a 152-run thrashing in their opening match of the Videocon Cup. The underdogs were suddenly calling the shots.

The allround team effort at the VCA Stadium is sure to make the task of the national selectors tougher when they assemble in Mohali to pick the side for games 3, 4 and 5. Unless thereís a dramatic reversal of fortunes, there will be pressure not to disturb the winning combination.

The events unfolded like a dream for Man-of-the-Match Rahul Dravid on Tuesday ' winning the toss, Sachin Tendulkar being on song, Irfan Pathan justifying his promotion up the order, the captain himself carrying on the good work with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and, finally, the spinning combination of Harbhajan Singh and super sub Murali Kartik hastening the Lankansí doom on a helpful track.

Playing an international match after 190 days, Sachin put to rest all lingering doubts about his fitness. Greg Chappell had been insisting for the past few days that the Master Blaster has regained his old touch and flair.

The coach had been excited seeing Sachinís approach at the nets. Chappell, in fact, had gone on record about redefining Sachinís role and he repaid the coachís faith.

Thereís no denying the fact that Sachin has been enjoying the new responsibility thrust on him, on and off the field. Chappell was aware the return of Sachin could do a lot to revive the teamís morale after the recent happenings. One has to credit Chappell for managing his resources well and the results are starting to show.

Sachin (93 off 96 balls, 9x4, 2x6) did not show any inhibitions following the lay-off. Starting off with a cover drive off Fervez Maharoof, he charged down to Chaminda Vaas and saw the inside edge just eluding Kumar Sangakkara.

But once he settled down to the pace and bounce of the wicket, the strokes flowed ' a straight drive off Dilhara Fernando signalled the master was back at his best.

Sachinís battle with Muttiah Muralidharan was engrossing. The sweeps had even the crafty offie smiling ruefully. There was never any fitness problem, though, for a while he had received the physioís attention for a strained hamstring.

Pathanís promotion to No. 3 proved to be a masterstroke. The coach has been talking of no stereotype role for anyone and Pathanís batting showed that Chappellís thinking is rubbing off on the players.

Pathanís attacking style ' 83 off 70 balls, 8x4, 4x6 ' may not always produce the desired results, but his intent will keep the opposition on tenterhooks. The desire to experiment with new gameplans will also help India throw up challenges.

For most part of their 164-run second wicket stand (off 147 balls), Sachin and Pathan were eager to take the risks ' running sharp singles, lifting the ball over the infield and, in the process, leaving the Lankans frustrated.

The team has often spurned such bright starts, but Dravid was determined not to make it one such day. The India captain showed the eagerness to improvise during his unbeaten 85 off 64 balls (8x4, 1x6).

Dravid, with Dhoni, put on 69 for the fifth wicket in 51 balls. The Jharkhand wicketkeeper is tailormade for such situations and he did not disappoint. His 38 came off 28 balls with three fours and two sixes.

None imagined that the Lankan challenge (in pursuit of 351) would vanish so quickly. Sanath Jayasuriya and Sangakkara threatened to cut loose, but Dravid put paid to their hopes with the quick introduction of spin.

Harbhajan exploited the bounce and turn intelligently, forcing the Lankan strokeplayers into mistakes. Kartik, too, joined in the party as the Lankans were left flummoxed.

Towards the end, S. Sreesanth also picked up two wickets after having overcome the pressures of his debut spell. Itís early days yet and the youngster has a long way to go to make a real impact.

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