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Yuvraj now a mature match-winner

Amidst the huffing and puffing, you could detect the occasional sigh of defeat from India. It was that close. Had the Kenyan cricketers been as adept as their athletes are at finishing a race, they would have been, deservedly, in the semi-final.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2003 01:07 IST

Amidst the huffing and puffing, you could detect the occasional sigh of defeat from India. It was that close. Had the Kenyan cricketers been as adept as their athletes are at finishing a race, they would have been, deservedly, in the semi-final. Indeed, if they had played more games since the 1999 World Cup, they might have too. Winning needs to be a habit, not an acquaintance.

It was the ball that did it. Till the 34th over, when India were struggling at 116 for 4, it was Kenya's game. A soft ball and a slow pitch, honest bowlers and predatory fielders, it was all too much for India.

Then the ball was changed, Ganguly charged Collins Obuya, who in two years will be one of the top leg spinners in the game, and the shackles were broken. Soon, heads were dropping, shoulders were sagging and India had won the game about 50 runs before they actually did. If only Obuya had the googly….

It was a good scare for India for they gave the impression that they were merely turning up. Their catching in the first few overs was shocking and a stern schoolmaster would have penalised smaller fielding offences with stronger rebuke. It took Ashish Nehra to provide the spark on a day when Srinath and Zaheer Khan were running their engines on reserve.

He charged in, he hit the deck hard and he was the best bowler. These are slow tracks now, unrecognisable from the fiery decks of the early summer and the bowlers will have to put in more from here on. Nehra showed that.

Clearly Kenya had set themselves a target of 230 on winning the toss. It was a modest target, the kind an unsure schoolboy would aim for. But it ensured that they did not lose too many wickets. At this World Cup, wickets have proved to be an invaluable resource, but Kenya hoarded it for far too long. They should have made 240 and that might have been enough. Odoyo at No.4 might have pressed for more for he is a fine striker.

225 was a challenging score and to their credit, Kenya made it look like much more. Martin Suji and Odoyo, and briefly Ongondo, bowled the right pace for the track. They bowled just short of a driving length and made the batsmen wait for the ball. Neither Sehwag nor Tendulkar like that too much and both had to get out of their comfort zones to search for runs and were scalped.

But India will take much out of this too and the form, and composure, of the captain must rank high. It was an innings to feel proud of but he will owe much to Yuvraj Singh who is fast becoming a favourite to bat alongside, for he takes so much of the pressure off. He is now a mature match-winner, the indiscretions of youth having given way to more focussed adulthood.

It was a good win for it kept India on its toes. Now, they must finish second behind Australia in the Super Six. But let us not look there yet.

First Published: Mar 09, 2003 01:07 IST