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WC 2003 - Columns - Did I just hear Ponting laugh?

Published: Thursday, March 6, 2003, 0:18 [IST]
 
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Pre-tournament talk was all about what position he should bat at. Debates raged endlessly on whether he should bat at number one or four. Those in favor of his opening the batting repeated ad nauseum, "the best batsman in the team should bat as many overs as possible".

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Those against his opening the batting, including yours truly, produced statistics to show that recently, India had performed much better with him batting at number 4, including a title win in the Natwest Trophy. The little master made no bones of the fact that he wanted to open, stating laconically, "I want to dominate." He eventually had his way, and boy, has he dominated this World Cup so far! Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has plundered runs by the bucketful so far in this World Cup, but it's not the quantity but quality of the runs scored that shine through. The murderous cut over point, the effortless straight drive, the breathtaking pull to anything short, the full repertoire has been on display, and it's been fascinating to watch. The big question is, will the genius carry India to a World Cup victory? On the other side of the spectrum is an unassuming, gangly fast bowler from the southern state of Karnataka.

Shorn of opportunities in the early part of his career and over-bowled by a demanding captain later on, he always stopped just short of greatness.Plagued as much by his inconsistency as the lack of quality support bowling throughout his career, Javagal Srinath retired from Test cricket last year stating that he wanted to concentrate on One-day cricket and one last shot at a World Cup. The selectors at the time decided they were having none of it, and kept him out of the One-day squad. Keen to prove a point, Srinath signed up to play for Leicestershire and while he was busy displaying his wares in county cricket, his teammates were scripting an incredible triumph in the Natwest Trophy. It looked like for all intents and purposes, Javagal Srinath had played his last for India. Things changed dramatically soon after. Brijesh Patel took over as chairman of selectors, Saurav Ganguly was worried about the fitness and inexperience of his faster bowlers and Srinath made a comeback. And what a comeback it's been! Bowling immaculate line and length and drawing on his vast reserves of experience, Srinath has bowled brilliantly in this World Cup so far, arguably better than he ever has in his checkered One-day career. He could also not have asked for better support from Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, who have been stars in their own right. Who ever thought India would be intimidating teams and bowling them out cheaply on the basis of their pace attack? Finally, India has three fast men who can counter fire with fire.

While one always knew what Zaheer was capable of, Ashish Nehra has been a huge revelation. He has shown what a world of difference an additional yard or two of pace can make, when allied with controlled seam and swing. All talk of transformation is incomplete without mentioning a certain Rahul Dravid. Ever since he has donned the gloves for India, he has been a totally different player. A player who hitherto could not rotate the strike now does so with ease. He remains unfazed by any situation a la Michael Bevan, and he, along with the awesome twosome, Yuvraj and Kaif, provide immense solidity to the middle-order. Gone are the days when the Indian team lived and died with Tendulkar.

Sachin himself knows that and that's what has allowed him to bat the way he has, so far in this tournament. If there is one worrying aspect in this Indian team, it's the persistence with Dravid as keeper. Throughout this World Cup, we have seen how costly wicket-keeping lapses can be. Boucher dropping Fleming, Mccullum dropping Dravid, Sangakkara muffing an easy stumping of Andrew Symonds, at least two of those three cost their respective teams advancement in the Cup. With Dinesh Mongia looking totally out of depth in the international arena, wouldn't it make sense to include the young keeper Parthiv Patel in his place? Imagine Dravid dropping a Gilchrist or a Hayden in full flow in the final!

That could be the World Cup right there!! All in all, things look really good for India at this stage. They have looked like the only team capable of upsetting the Aussie applecart. Of course, first they have got to beat Kenya, but honestly, for all their heart, the Kenyans simply don't have the wherewithal to stop India. If things go according to script, we could be in for a riveting finale on the 23rd of March. Don't be surprised if it's a Mr. Saurav Ganguly holding the trophy aloft as the sun sets on the 23rd in Johannesburg! Did I just hear Ricky Ponting laugh?

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