On a blustery Sunday at Headingley, Indian fans were warmed by a sight at once familiar and encouraging, writes Amol Karhadkar.Best opening pairs in ODIsUpdated: Sep 04, 2007, 13:52 IST
These days are not as rare as people thought they would be, yet, they are not as oft as they once were either.
On a blustery Sunday at Headingley, a day that saw chilly winds and intermittent rain, Indian fans were warmed by a sight at once familiar and encouraging. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were on song: the master was blasting the ball with almost feverish haste, while his favourite companion at the top was racking up the runs with elegant ease at the other end, watching world cricket's top-rated performer from the best seat in the house. It made a difference.
Even in this series itself, Tendulkar and Ganguly, the world's most successful opening combine, had a 100-plus partnership at Bristol, India's only other win in the NatWest series.
But Sunday was special. Not only did they add 116 runs at almost a run a ball, the manner in which they cut loose after a cautious start changed the equation of the game.
The duo had scraped just seven off the first five overs, but Tendulkar cut loose in the sixth, scoring 18 off Jon Lewis. From seven for no loss after five, the scoreboard read 57 for zilch after 10.
Skipper Rahul Dravid agreed that when the veteran duo took off, the dressing room relaxed and watched the fun. "That kind of start does make a difference," said a smiling Dravid.
He also pointed out that what helped was that the strike was shared equally, something strikingly different from Edgbaston. When Tendulkar got out off the last ball of the 10th over there, he had faced just 19 balls of the 60 bowled. "Both timed the ball beautifully and looked in great touch, complemented each other well," said Dravid.
For India, after that initial salvo, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh, batting at Nos. 3 and 4 respectively, also scored half-centuries as India piled up 324 for eight. That kind of score is always intimidating, however good the wicket is.
Zak is back
Having said that however, because the wicket was that good, it wasn't enough for India to think that the game was theirs. They needed a fiery new ball spell and got that from Zaheer, who put his sore ankle behind him to emerge the hero.
While figures of 8-0-44-1 cannot be called exceptional by any yardstick, stats, as they say, hide as much as they reveal. The number of times Zaheer fooled the batsmen outside the off stump was remarkable. And both he and Agarkar suffered yet again by the lack of support in the field as the slip cordon dropped a catch off each.
Zaheer was pumped up and it showed. When an edge off Ian Bell's bat flew to the boundary between wicketkeeper Dhoni and Ganguly at first slip, and neither made an attempt to latch on to the ball, Zaheer was visibly furious. The next ball saw another edge flying through the vacant second slip area to the fence. He was so frustrated that he kicked the last ball of the over in frustration, conceding an additional run.
But his next over was one of the best he's bowled on the tour so far, one where he first squared Kevin Pietersen up and then, forced him to nick one to Dhoni off the next ball.
Dravid called him "terrific". "He was bit unfortunate to not to end up with a lot more wickets," said Dravid. "He bowled beautifully, beat the bat and put the balls in the right areas. He constantly asked questions to the batsmen."