In Goa, India didn’t slip up the way they did in Rajkot and they must thank their skipper for it. As I have shouted many times from the rooftops before, Rahul Dravid is best seen at number five where his experience is an insurance against panic and disaster. He made sure Lanka never quite closed their grip on India.
Sourav Ganguly deserves praise and criticism in equal measure for yet again an excellent innings which never quite fulfilled its promise. He launched India strongly but let it down at a critical juncture before the solidity of Dravid and Dhoni came to rescue. Well, old heads count a lot in the heat of battle.
Indians have thus been able to park themselves alongside Sri Lanka but let them not fool themselves of the enormity of task that awaits them in the West Indies. This Sri Lanka side even now requires intense focus to be subdued. They would be formidable when Vaas and Murali return, as also Lasith Malinga, who took a break in Goa.
The way Sri Lanka recover points towards the spirit which runs through the side. They bat well in pairs and essentially most players know their roles. It’s also a vastly experienced side. It was experience which stood Russel Arnold in good stead in their innings. Arnold came in to bat lower down the order and this in itself conveys the depth which the Lankans command. Arnold is not unused to such situations and underlined the value of experience in the lower half.
That’s why I keep advocating for Dravid’s presence at number five in the line-up.
He has the ability to bat in different gears. He can play big shots but he never sacrifices the virtue of carefully placed singles. He had asked for more responsibility from the seniors before the game and has now provided the blueprint with his knock. He also went past 10,000 runs in ODIs, which only the stoutest and keenest can manage. That he was once unsuited to one-day cricket only highlights his unshakable resolve.
Unfortunately, no such signal is emanating from Virender Sehwag. He has the entire nation on tenterhooks, not to speak his own mates, as the date with the World Cup draws close. It’s wrong to assume that he isn’t trying his darnest but now even his most faithful fans must be getting exasperated. I am still prepared to be patient and am confident he will come through this lean patch with flying colours.
It was heartening to see Indian medium-pacers bowl the way they did in the morning. Zaheer Khan thoroughly deserved his best-ever figures in one-day cricket. He surely now is the spearhead of this attack. Munaf Patel and Ajit Agarkar were similarly impressive and varied their pace and angle to good effect.
Munaf has gone from strength to strength in the last one week and was difficult to get away for batsmen. Agarkar started poorly but came back well. Sachin Tendulkar and Sehwag too shared the fifth bowler’s role adequately.
The series clincher is just a couple of days away and no doubt both teams would try to score a point in it. It would be a pity if India are not able to have another look at Irfan Pathan, as well as on Yuvraj Singh and Sehwag. They are seen as key figures in India’s campaign but their form and fitness are anything but reassuring at the moment. Things can change in a flash, though, such is their talent.