February 12, 2003

India too strong for the Netherlands at Paarl

India completed an excruciating 68-run win over minnows Netherlands in their opening game of the 2003 World Cup. While the batting was patchy and left much to be desired, the bowling more than made up for it. Accurate, penetrative and far too difficult for the inexperienced Dutch batsmen, India's bowlers were shown in a good light as they bowled out the Netherlands for 136. The caveat, though, was that the bowlers could not deliver the knock-out punch, taking more than 20 overs to dismiss the last two batsmen.

Veteran medium-pacer Javagal Srinath (four for 30) continued his good form from the New Zealand tour, removing Jan Kloppenburg and Jan Mol with just 29 on the board. Both batsmen edged well-pitched-up deliveries to the men behind the bat. Zaheer Khan then got in the act after an initial erratic spell, having Bas Zuiderent well caught by Virender Sehwag in the slips.

The pacemen gave way to the spin duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, and this exacerbated the Netherlands' problems. The spin, coupled with bounce and variation, were just too hot for the Dutch batsmen to handle. Tim de Leede feathered a Harbhajan doosra to 'keeper Dravid, and that signaled the beginning of the end.

Kumble settled into a probing line and length, scalping three wickets in quick succession and adding another late in the innings to end with figures of 10-1-32-4. The Netherlands slipped to 54 for seven and from there limped to 136 all out. They would not have even gotten this far without the calm batting of Daan van Bunge.

The 21-year old batsman was easily the most comfortable of the Dutch batsmen. While he hardly attempted any dramatic shots, he fought hard to keep his wicket intact. Helping himself to a sedate half-century, van Bunge kept the inevitable at bay far longer than anyone imagined - over three hours in all for his 62.

Earlier, the Indian batting failed once more, struggling to 204 all out against a Dutch bowling line-up that could hardly be called dangerous. After winning the toss and electing to bat, Ganguly would have been surprised by the manner in which the Dutch seamers approached the task on hand. Despite the absence of any genuinely quick bowlers in the line-up, a tight line and length was fervently maintained.

That discipline paid rich dividends, beginning with the wicket of the Indian captain. Ganguly (8) tickled Roland Lefebvre through to the 'keeper and walked off as the Indian contingent at the ground fell silent.

Virender Sehwag, coming in at number three rather than his usual opening position, played one scintillating shot, sending the ball racing to the fence before attempting an expansive drive against Jan Kloppenburg, only to be well caught by Bas Zuiderent at cover. Sehwag made six.

Tendulkar in the meantime seemed to be building his innings with great care. Although a couple of spanking cuts and drives raced to the fence, he seemed in no hurry and placed value on running ones and twos. Against the grain of play, however, Tendulkar (52, 72 balls, six fours) was dismissed trying to cut Tim de Leede away. The ball bobbed up straight to the keeper and India were in all sorts of trouble at 81 for three. In the course of his innings, Tendulkar went past Javed Miandad's tally of 1,083 runs in World Cup cricket.

Soon after the half-way mark, India's hopes were dealt a serious blow when de Leede, bowling his wicket-to-wicket seamers, sneaked one through the defences of Rahul Dravid. A delivery that kept a touch low pegged back the stumps and Dravid (17) returned to the pavilion with the score on 91 for four.

Mohammad Kaif joined Yuvraj Singh out in the middle and the pair attempted to stem the rot. Kaif (9) however flicked a catch to midwicket off the 21st ball he faced, giving Lahore-born offie Adeel Raja his first wicket of the game.

Dinesh Mongia walked out as India's seventh batsman in this game, and for a while it looked like they might have needed an eighth. After a watchful beginning, the tall left-hander began nudging the ball into the gaps for ones and twos. One delivery on the legs was tickled fine for a boundary, but the rest of Mongia's runs had to be made in ones, twos and the odd three.

Yuvraj Singh, going well for his part, grew impatient as the overs wore down. Attempting to come down the wicket and hit Raja for a big one, Yuvraj Singh sent a fierce drive back to the bowler. After initially palming and fumbling the ball, Raja somehow held onto it, ending Yuvraj's 56-ball stay at the wicket. Yuvraj's 37 included three boundaries.

After the fall of Yuvraj's wicket, Harbhajan Singh, in his forthright manner, swatted one clean six over midwicket. The tail-ender could not last long, though, being bowled by de Leede for 13.

The rest of the tail packed up soon after, and only Mongia, run out for 42 from 49 balls, showed any application. Coach John Wright could not have been happy that his side did not see out the entire complement of 50 overs, being all out in 48.5 overs. De Leede, with four for 35 from 9.5 overs, was easily the pick of the bowlers and walked away with the Man of the Match award for his effort.

While this is hardly the kind of start India would have wanted in their 2003 World Cup campaign, they'll certainly settle for it after their eminently forgettable showing during their tour of New Zealand.

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