With eight days and 17 matches to go in the first stage of the World Cup, the final places for the Super Six section are still wide open and the Indian cause is still on track as it completed an expected and efficient victory against the under-manned but valiant Namibian team in Pietermaritzburg. The tournament is delicately poised and India's matches in the next week with England and Pakistan will test its resolve, and game plan, more than this fixture did. Namibian skipper Deon Kotze had his only victory of the day in winning the toss and asking India to bat on a wicket containing some early moisture.
Gerrie Snyman and Rudi van Vuuren, not to mention the skipper, would have been hoping for some early wickets against the star-studded top order. But as the missed chance of Tendulkar showed, it was going to take more luck than good judgment to bowl India out cheaply. It takes more than hope and some willing backs to take wickets at this level. Especially when the Indians bat with the confidence, and freedom, of knowing they should win. No doubt this is the advantage the Australians have over most opposition at present.
In this confident frame of mind the Indians set about working their game plan. Apart from a brief flurry from Sehwag that brought 24 from 24 balls, Tendulkar and Ganguly went methodically about the business of setting a total that Namibia could only dream about achieving. There are some lessons to be learnt for the remainder of this campaign from the way they went about their work. They were patient and they played very straight, especially early. OK, so the Namibian attack doesn't compare with the pace, bounce and venom of the Australian or Pakistan attack but these are tried and proven methods. It might be worth trying the same simple plan against the better bowling teams. Tendulkar's innings was as precise as it was predictable and, once he began to flow, it came as no surprise when he brought up his record equalling fourth World Cup century. Ganguly will probably take more out of his 119-ball stay than Tendulkar will out of having batted for a touch over three hours.
There is nothing to beat time in the middle and this was excellent match practice for two of the titans of this Indian line-up. Ganguly's batting has not been firing on all cylinders for some time now, but this innings may be seen in time as the grease and oil change that he needed. The innings should at least be the catalyst to clearing his mind and for him to start afresh. By the end of this innings the trade mark fluency had returned to this most elegant of batting machines. Having set such an imposing total the only hiccup for the Indian bowlers was the unfortunate injury to Nehra.
That mishap aside the Indian attack was efficient as it set about restricting the Namibian line-up before Harbhajan put it into a dizzying spin. Jan-Berrie Burger was again the best of an honest though modest bunch of cricket enthusiasts as he top scored, this time with 29 from 30 balls, before the spinners battered the inexperienced tail. As the Shane Warne hearing came to its seemingly, inevitable decision, we were able to focus back on the bigger issues of the World Cup. Much discussion has gone on about the value of the minnow countries to the cricket World Cup.
I for one think there are at least two good reasons for them to be there. Firstly, the World Cup is, first and foremost, a celebration of this great game and all countries should have a chance to be there. Secondly, the development of the game in the associate countries will be assisted by the opportunities afforded by playing on the larger stage. Sri Lanka played in the first ever World Cup in England in 1975 and, despite its inexperience, learnt much to build upon for the future. Over the past 28 years it has proven that it is a formidable opponent in either form of the game.
Maybe, Namibia, Holland, Kenya and the Netherlands do not have the same base of cricket that Sri Lanka had to build upon, but the game will not develop in these countries without the exposure that World Cup cricket offers. It is to be hoped that efforts to develop the game in these countries, and others, will one day unearth a major cricket force for the future. The future prosperity of the game depends upon it.