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Ghosts Of New Zealand Tour Dead

This was a match that wasn't too far behind the Pakistan game in terms of emotional relevance.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2003 16:40 IST

This was a match that wasn't too far behind the Pakistan game in terms of emotional relevance. Ganguly hadn't made any secrets about the way he looked at this match -- it was all grudge, and fury of 15 players and half a billion supporters that had to be released.

Fleming and his team had to be punished for the miseries they had inflicted in an unsporting way upon the Indian team on green under prepared wickets a couple of months back.

Miseries that were caused by a rather tame looking 2-0 test match and 5-2 ODI loss on those green minefields that were mistakenly used as pitches, resulting in loss of form, fame, reputation and faith of followers. And what a punishment was meted out by Ganguly's team -- knocked them out of this World Cup effectively by demolishing New Zealand batting for 146 odd runs and scored the required with 10 overs and 7 wickets to spare, a brief early quiver by "Bond express" running at 155kph notwithstanding.

Blow-by-blow account of New Zealand's punishment

Ganguly won the toss and put New Zealand in, the commentators thought it was batting paradise and said that it was a defensive move, scars of New Zealand series, signs of fear and weakness etc., were showing up. Ganguly thought otherwise and when New Zealand collapsed for 146, his decision stood vindicated.

The third member of the Indian pace bowling troika, Zaheer Khan who has had relatively low profile outings compared to his colleagues Nehra and Srinath started the collapse -- consecutive wickets with his second and third deliveries to send an out-of-form McMillan and an ever dangerous Astle packing their things for an early flight back.

Thereafter excess adrenalin and his crave for pace saw him hit around in the next two overs. But Ganguly had his adrenalin levels under control and brought about the first of his many "Midas changes" -- got in Nehra who bowled fast, controlled, left arm seam and had Styris edging one to Dravid whose keeping these days would put Boucher and McCullum to shame. McCullum sent in to shield Cairns against the swinging ball, didn't last long and fell to another change of bowling as his pads came in the way of a Zaheer yorker...neither did Fleming when he failed attempting to pull a Srinath long hop over mid wicket.

Five down for 60-odd and their semifinal hope was now dependent on Cairns -- hero of a few solo efforts against India in the past notably the ICC trophy finals in Kenya a couple of years ago. But Cairns in the World Cup doesn't bowl and that puts pressure on his batting as Harbhajan deceived him with a rather wide "doosra". Cairns much like Harris and Styris now are at best utility players and are batting a couple of positions too high... New Zealand would have done well to have some more specialist batsmen in their fifteen. Harbhajan is a classical spinner who revels when he attacks and did exactly that with a couple of close catch in fielders almost entirely through his spell and most others in the ring... finished with 2 for 28 and nearly the same were the figures from the fifth bowler which was a mix of Ganguly, Sehwag, Tendulkar and Mongia.

When India batted, all that they had to ensure was that they saw through the Bond missiles at 155 kph at the start...they didn't quite as Sehwag's big mouthing on Badla(revenge) failed to show in his batting, and he fell once again to his characteristic high risk flash outside the off stump which he had very carefully curbed in the previous match. Ganguly found a scorching yorker from Bond too fast for him; and when Tendulkar fell in the next Tuffey over after hitting 3 consecutive boundaries, memories of the disasters in New Zealand were looming large again at 20-odd for 3. Noticeable was the mode of Tendulkar dismissal -- caught at point trying to play an uppish cut, identical to the ones against England and Pakistan.

Bond's next over saw the knockout punch self delivered by New Zealand in the form of McCullam, the wicketkeeper grassing a simple caught behind of Dravid -- the Indian dressing room sighed in relief, Bond in disgust, McCullum in anguish and Fleming had tears in his eyes (as he said later in the press conference). Thereafter, Kaif and Dravid came over a few anxious moments, Bond ran out of steam and the New Zealand team gave the impression of having resigned themselves to the inevitable. The mediocrity of New Zealand bowling fattened on green under prepared pitches and the true worth of Indian batting became evident (as predicted by yours truly in his column "Unfinished business remains in New Zealand on Sulekha 2 months back). Giant killers in New Zealand conditions, Oram and Tuffey looked no better than being fifth bowlers in any decent side, Vettori didn't have enough runs to bowl with, McMillan did little with the ball and a lot more with his mouth to upset Kaif.

But Kaif aged 22 has seen this, done this before as he was rising up the ranks of under 15, 19, India A ...his maturity in handling such situations cannot be matched by any other 22-year-old except for his own mate Yuvraj. Dravid and Kaif got fifties, played safe professional cricket to get to the target without any hassles with 10 overs to spare.

The ghosts of the New Zealand tour were exorcised and buried by an Indian team which is playing the best cricket ever; with the best pace attack ever and probably under the best captain ever. New Zealand's world cup endeavors for the year 2003 now are out of their hands and depend on the Zimbabweans beating Sri Lanka. India meanwhile can rest assured of a place in the final, as at this point any level of possible inspirational show from their semifinal opponent Kenya doesn't seem sufficient to stop them.

First Published: Mar 18, 2003 16:40 IST