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Smiles back after sorry start

cricket Updated: Jun 24, 2007 14:03 IST
Rohit Mahajan
Rohit Mahajan
Hindustan Times
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Two hours in the rain they waited, the Indian fans in Belfast, sheltering under the stinging rain and a biting wind.

They kept their spirits up with shouts of "jeetega India, India jeetega", and then warmed their blood by freely imbibing from bottles that contained a magic potion that was not water.

Then debutant Roger Whelan came in and, in the very first over, delivered the blow that chilled Indian hearts.

On Saturday against Ireland, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly joined hands at the top of the batting order for the first time since December 2004. With good reason --- the D/L Method, India's regular horror, had shaved off just 23 runs from India's target, but as many as 11 overs.

A target of 194 from 50 overs seemed quite gettable; 171 off 39, after a two-hour spell of rain, biting cold and wind, was a far different proposition.

Whelan gifted a few runs to begin with before Tendulkar got the strike. First ball from Whelan, Tendulkar let go without any attempt, the second he blasted through the covers for four. That was all for the day.

Whelan got his man when Tendulkar tried to hit one across the line to the legside, missed and Whelan danced for joy on getting his first international wicket in his first over --- Sachin Tendulkar.

Still, after that, the southpaw combination of Ganguly and Gautam Gambhir steadied ship and nervous hearts with what was an unbroken 50 partnership (51 off 68 balls) at the time of going to print.

It had been a bad two-hour wait for the Indians --- it rained a bit, stopped for a while, the covers came off and had to be used again. The Irish, impervious to rain and cold, moved about freely in thin T-shirts, the Indians tried to keep warm in the pavilion.

Fear of rain had actually dogged the Irish innings as well --- the sun finally shone bright on the Stormont green on in the 36th over of the innings, but by that time, in conditions kind to the seamers, considerable damage had been done.

It was India Day in Belfast, not just on the field. Outside the ground, groups of spectators made their way to the ground, most of them Indian, some displaying their preference with the flags they carried.

The stands were only partially occupied, but the cheers were hardest when India took a wicket or saved runs. Cheers for the home team were primarily raised from the press box and sundry spectators.

The Indian fans did have much to cheer about, though the absence of MS Dhoni (fever) and Zaheer Khan (a groin niggle) did cast a dampener. The pitch was heavy with dew, the air equally so, and a cold, stiff breeze made the ball wobble a bit.

The pacemen were the lead actors, S. Sreesanth coming up with the first two strikes. Ajit Agarkar removed Porterfield for 16 before leg-spinner Piyush Chawla struck to take the next three wickets.

The Irish hit back. Niall O'Brien was joined by captain Trent Johnston, and the two set about putting up the batting show of the innings. Though O'Brien got his half-century, it was Johnston who set the tone for some brisk scoring, relatively.

The captain hit the two sixers of the innings, both off Sreesanth. The first was almost a replica of the match-winning six he hit off Azhar Mahmood to send Pakistan out of the World Cup, the second in the 49th over.

O'Brien made the best of a difficult day's work — he got his half-century, but after hitting the four that took him to that mark, he tried to turn RP Singh down the leg-side and only managed to get an edge and Rohit Sharma snapped the ball to get his name on an international scorecard for the first time.