Monday, March 7, 2011

From above the sight screen - India vs. Ireland

A nerve cracking tie between India and England followed by Kevin O’ Brien’s fastest cup century contributing to a record chase, fiery fast bowling by Kemar Roach and then a pulsating thriller between England and South Africa in Chennai arguably makes the eight day period between 27th February and 6th March 2011 as one of the most fascinating windows of one day international cricket ever witnessed and there was no way for the contest between India and Ireland scheduled within this timeline to fall out of the radar. Ever since Ireland’s heroic deeds against their ‘big brother’, the momentum had picked up rapid pace for the Sunday encounter at M. Chinnaswamy, Bangalore and at the end of the day the expectations lived up to the standards as the day produced some good cricket all round.

The stands were packed with a capacity crowd an hour before the toss and the energy around surely had the voltage to supply electricity to half of the city. The usual habit of winning the toss and take first strike on a Bangalore track and use their strength to better their last batting performance would have been a temptation for the Indian team management but MS Dhoni’s decision to field first put things in place from a larger perspective of the tournament. If the team needed anything at this point then it was to test their ability to bundle out oppositions in order to enhance the overall confidence level before entering the knock out stages and this was a perfect opportunity for the bowlers to silent the critics who had been filling up the print space murdering the country’s thin line of attack. Zaheer Khan’s double blow in his first two overs vindicated the skipper’s trust in his bowling unit. Watching the left arm seamer from above the sight screen was a treat as the white ball was behaving the way a snake adheres to the charmer’s flute.

Just when an early finish was being predicted, the notions was proven wrong by William Porterfield and Niall O’ Brien who consolidated the innings with a 113 runs partnership. After the initial jitters it seemed as if the Irish have found an access into India’s weak link and it needed a special piece of field work by Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni to break the monotony of the duo as the senior O’ Brien was run out. Immediately the occasion demanded for some smart captainship by the Indian skipper and soon there was enough display of reasons for which he is considered as one of the shrewdest brains of contemporary cricket. Every time a bowler looked a bit wayward, he was replaced by another and by mixing up his bowlers he unsettled Ireland’s strategies and did not allow them to pick the pattern of the innings. 34 overs of spin bowling produced only 148 runs at the rate of 4.35 runs per over and it managed to hide the ordinary individual figures of Piyush Chawala which read as 8-0-56-0.

The move of throwing Yuvraj Singh’s pie chucking bait worked for India as one after the other Irish batsman failed to pick up the ball from the air. They were easily deceived by the spin and the slow nature of the deliveries and the magic of Yuvi bamboozled them hence giving him his first five wicket haul in international cricket. For quite some time he has been India’s answer to an all rounder but his first fiver signifies his importance in the bowling line up beyond that of a part timer. It is a hint of how much more is there to be derived out of his capabilities and at a time when the team’s bowling has been questioned his skills come as a luxury. Since he can do the same job as that of Piyush Chawala of taking the ball away from the batsman it opens up a spot in the eleven and gives the team an option to play either Ashish Nehra (subject to fitness) or Ravichandran Ashwin depending on the pitches and opposition. India finally managed to go to bed with DRS when Alex Cussack’s not out decision was reversed after being referred and it might be a significant moment in the scheme of things as BCCI may soon agree with the usage of technology in decision making on a regular basis.

As the lights took full effect, in walked the Indian openers and one had to be there in the galleries to experience the buzz that prevailed at that point. One more time the legend that India walks into bat with Sachin Tendulkar came alive and the roars enchanting his name rhythmically was the moment that captured the 22 years journey of an entire nation. Specialists have grown grey hair researching and writing about the phenomenon of how billion hearts skip a beat when Sachin takes guard and it still holds true as the fear of his dismissal is what differentiated the paying spectator from a free pass holder as he got ready in his customary style to start his 436th one day international innings. Virender Sehwag kick started the Indian innings for the third consecutive time with a boundary but soon the score card read 24/2 and that brought Virat Kohli to the centre. With a solid technique and smooth wrist play he was down to business from the word go and along with Sachin was on course to the target but on a day that belonged to left arm spinners across two cricket matches, George Dockrell got the better of a Tendulkar attempted sweep shot and it looked plumb in front of the wicket to the naked eyes. The little master’s consultation with Kohli and subsequently deciding to not challenge the umpire’s original decision was a transitional moment in Indian cricket as the Delhite looks to be in shape to be the next cricketer to enthrall the new generation of Indians once Sachin Tendulkar bows out. As the master started walking back towards the pavilion for an individual score of 38 runs, the crowd looked stunned for a moment but spotting the significance of the occasion every soul in the stadium stood up to clap and salute. Bangaloreans might just have witnessed the country’s favourite son for the last time in a blue jersey, though secretly the wish would be to proven wrong.

Smelling a chance, Ireland upped their game by few notches and their magnificent fielding sent Kohli back. For a moment it looked like as if there were more than 11 men inside the field and by no means would it be an exaggeration to draw comparison of their fielding standards with a certain Jonathan Rhodes. Every single that the bleed blue boys ran was cheered because for a phase in the match ticking the score board had become a game of cat and mouse. There lies a thin line of difference between an attitude of nothing to loose and something to prove and the Irish stood as an example for the later and the best of it was on display when in a particular over from BEML end, Boyd Rankin squared and bounced Yuvraj Singh for six consecutive deliveries. If there are still doubters after last night about the Irish reputation as a cricket team then it is time to do a reality check as they have not only won the hearts of many but have put forward a strong case for themselves. Here is a team that can be the link to ICC’s global vision of making cricket a truly world sport and that is exactly the reason for ICC’s role from now on in ensuring that Ireland plays more limited overs international cricket with top opponents both on home and away basis.

A 67 runs partnership between Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni settled the nerves and just when it looked like the match was in India’s kitty, Dockrell struck again to give Ireland a glimmer of hope. Intensity levels around the ground rose again and the anticipation of a close finish was speculated but in came Yousuf Pathan and with three mighty blows assured the country a good night’s sleep; richer with two points. Yuvraj Singh’s labored half century made him the first cricketer to have a double of fiver and fifty in the world cup’s history. The southpaw is slowly getting back to his best and if the first half of his career was marked by flamboyancy then his last leg as a cricketer has all the ingredients to be remembered for his contribution as an all rounder and that will be a telling point in the bigger picture of world cup dreams and topping ICC rankings.

Outside the cricket field if it was encouraging to see the presence of a lot of kids in the galleries then one had reasons to be flabbergasted observing the disrespectful and arrogant behavior of the police staff on ‘duty’ of watching a cricket match for free. If what was seen is to be believed then cricket still excites the school kids and it is a good sign but from an administrative point of view, these kids need to be preserved and moulded because in them lies the pulse of the game’s future in the country.

To sum it up the day was filled with small but significant instances that define the life of a cricket follower but if asked to pick up the best moment of the day then it has to be reserved for that minute when 35000+ Indians stood up to sing the country’s national anthem. The current that flew as the voices echoed the lyrics formed a chain of sentiment that made the experience hair rising and the thought of it many years from now is sure to be supplemented by goose bumps.

Link to the match score card -

Sidhanta Patnaik

7th March 2011, 4.00pm

Marthahalli, Bangalore

P.S – For records Debanta Patnaik, Siddhartha Dasgupta, (A stand), Sourav Majumder, Sudip Dhar and Sidhanta Patnaik (N stand) were there at M. Chinnaswamy, Bangalore on 6th March 2011

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