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September 23, 2002
Is there still any doubt that the Indian batting line-up is the most explosive, the most attractive in world cricket today? Any doubts on this score would have been erased after Sunday's performance at the Premadasa stadium.
But then when Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly are on song, who needs Tendulkar and company? Whatever his technical limitations in Test cricket, Sehwag is God sent for the Indian team in one day cricket. A lot has already been said and written about his physical resemblance to Tendulkar, how he plays his shots very much in the manner of the great man, how his approach to the game too is the same. And on Sunday, he took another step in matching Tendulkar in strokeplay and in tearing the bowling apart.
What I have particularly liked about Sehwag is his temperament. No big match nerves for him. He may have a healthy respect for the opposition but he is not one to be overawed by their lofty reputation. He treats the bowling on merit but only just. He has this happy knack of converting even the seemingly good balls into half volleys and launches into a ferocious onslaught. He plays all the shots in the book and then adds some of his own.
The England bowlers on Sunday looked helpless but then Sehwag has this ability to dictate terms. He hits them so hard and high, he smashes the ball to all parts of the field in such a manner that the bowler soon becomes demoralised. And while I was of course reminded of Tendulkar during his tenure at the crease on Sunday, my mind also went back to the mid-90s when a certain Sanath Jayasuriya had bowlers pleading for mercy and captains running out of ideas while placing a field.
Even Krish Srikkanth, no slouch with the bat himself and a pioneer of innovative strokes, was moved to admit in his postmatch comments that he would have been hard pressed to bat like Sehwag did on Sunday. The most encouraging aspect from the Indian point of view is that Sehwag's success has taken a lot of pressure away from Tendulkar.
It was natural that in the context of Sehwag's amazing knock, Ganguly's innings would emerge as only the second best. But he too played his part admirably. With Sehwag setting the stadium alight, it was imperative for Ganguly to play the anchor role. It was a pretty selfless gesture, for it is well known that Ganguly too is second to none when it comes to 'murdering' the bowling.
With an asking rate of 5.4 runs an over, a good start was a must and Ganguly curbed his natural instincts to play a supporting role to Sehwag on the latter's great day. But once the match was in the bag, Ganguly leapt like the veritable tiger on his prey and finished the match in double quick time with a series of enthralling strokes and big hits.
For all the pounding that the bowlers took from Blackwell and company late in the innings, the outstanding work done initially by Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, when placed in proper perspective, was one of the factors behind the emphatic victory. Again, the four main bowlers did what was expected from them but the 66 runs conceded in 11 overs by the nonregular bowlers is something to cause concern.
Also of some concern was Dravid's showing behind the stumps. Are the pressures of keeping wickets and also being one of the main batsmen in the side finally telling on him? It is a question the team management would do well not to just brush under the carpet.
On Sunday's showing, the Indians must be termed favourites against South Africa. Sure, the opposition will be stronger but then the Indian batsmen's confidence will be sky high, though, the bowlers will again have to rise to the occasion for India to make their second successive entry into the ICC Champions Trophy final. They did defeat South Africa, then the reigning champions, in 2000. A repeat performance cannot be ruled out.
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