Well-oiled Indian machine steamrolls Namibia

Anand Vasu

February 23, 2003

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"Have a good time while you're at it. Don't do anything silly and above all, drive carefully."

No, this is not the advice of a doting father to his errant son. It would have been the gist of coach John Wright's words to the Indian side before they took on Namibia at the City Oval, Pietermaritzburg.

The instructions were carried out to the letter, as India first piled up a mammoth score - 311/2 - and then used spin to tighten the screws on an inexperienced Namibian side, skittling them for 130 and winning easily by 181 runs.

When Deon Kotze won the toss and elected to field, he could hardly been prepared for the kind of aggression the Indians inflicted on his side. On the day it was not the carefree devil-may-care thrashing of the ball that Virender Sehwag has made famous the world around, which dominated. Nor did the free-stroking, silky Sourav Ganguly six-fest, or the Sachin Tendulkar every-stroke-in-the-book master class hold sway. Well, at least not for a while anyway.

On a wicket that had just a touch of moisture under the surface, Sehwag torched four boundaries in his customary fashion before being dismissed for a run-a-ball 24, pulling Rudie van Vuuren to Danie Keulder at short midwicket. Ganguly decided this was the time to walk out at number three and spend some quality time out in the middle.

Tendulkar (152) did the team's cause and his average no harm as he led the charge with his 34th one-day century, the first by an Indian this World Cup. Ganguly was not far behind, helping himself to an unbeaten 112.

India, using this relatively easy fixture to warm up for sterner tests ahead - against England and Pakistan - played to their strengths, working the Namibian bowlers for all the runs they were worth.

There was none of the loose strokes, the ambitious slashes or the confused batting that has plagued Indian cricket in recent times. The batsmen, led by their captain, have maintained all along that it would take only one good performance to reverse fortunes.

When Tendulkar carefully nudged a full delivery to leg to bring up his fourth World Cup century, he also achieved the distinction of notching up one-day hundreds against ten different countries. It was yet another record for Tendulkar that no other batsman could boast.

Until Ganguly reached three figures, that is. He too has centuries against ten countries, only missing out against West Indies of the major teams. Mark Waugh, Herschelle Gibbs and Brian Lara are the three batsmen that come close.

But it was not the records that will warm the heart of coach John Wright. The manner in which India kept the scoreboard ticking over with ones and twos would have heartened him too. Until Ganguly decided the time was right for acceleration, and Tendulkar was well past his hundred, hardly any big hits were attempted. Even then, though, the pair concentrated on hitting in the `V' back down the wicket.

It was not until the 40th over that Tendulkar was dismissed, playing an ungainly across-the-line heave against a ball that kept low from Rudie van Vuuren after making a masterly 152 (151 balls, 18 fours).

When van Vuuren presented Ganguly with a wide full toss in the 46th over, the left-hander slapped a crisp boundary to move within one stroke of the three-figure mark. Soon after, he reached his 20th ODI century, before forging a last-minute charge, reaching 112 (119 balls, 6 fours, 4 sixes).

Amid the runfest, Yuvraj Singh chipped in with an unnoticeable seven from as many balls to seal the innings on 311/2.

By the time the Namibians came out to bat, India would have been more worried about the weather than the opposition, but the rain stayed away, and India sailed to a comprehensive win.

Just as the Sehwag dismissal was a blot in the Indian batting card, Ashish Nehra provided the blemish in the bowling effort. Nehra slipped in his bowling stride while attempting to deliver his second ball. Limping off, he left it to Zaheer Khan to finish the over.

But from then on there were no mistakes. Bowling full and straight - something he should consider more often - Khan trapped Stephan Swanepoel and Louis Burger in front of the stumps.

Keulder then provided one of those moments that seem to be tailor-made for highlights reels. Keen to get on, he attempted to heave Harbhajan Singh over midwicket and almost succeeded. The ball sailed towards the ropes as Dinesh Mongia lurched, caught, fumbled, then caught again before sliding to a stop just inches in front of the ropes.

The television umpire was pressed into service and a reluctant Keulder (4) had to be on his way.

Having pulled off a freakishly good catch, Mongia was given a bowl soon after.

Jan-Berrie Burger, who gave England a fright with a big-hitting 83, once again proved his worth, top scoring with 29 (30 balls, 4 fours, 1 six) before he was cleaned up by a straight one from Mongia.

The spinners then ran through the overs quickly and Namibia, hardly used to playing this much spin, lost wickets in quick succession. Mongia picked up 2/24 from 10 overs, Harbhajan enhanced his career statistics to the tune of 2/34 and Yuvraj bullied the tail-enders to end with figures of 4.3-2-6-4.

As the triumphant Indians walked off the field with four more points in the bag, they will know that sterner tests lie ahead in the shape of England and Pakistan.

John Wright will smile as he claps his wards into the dressing room. The Indians had a plan, and unfalteringly followed it to the end. With the talent in this side, and some confidence, that is all this team really needs to do.

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Series/Tournaments: ICC World Cup
Teams: India
Grounds: City Oval
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