March 20, 2003

India set up dream final after brushing Kenya aside

India set up a much awaited final against Australia in the 2003 World Cup as it ended the Kenyan dream, brushing aside the minnows in a comprehensive 91-run semi final triumph at Kingsmead, Durban. It was a strong Indian contingent at Durban that held its breath willing away the rain as India scored 271/5 on a wicket that was far from ideal for batting and then dismissed the Kenyans for 179 in 46.2 overs.

It was probably not the tough semi-final that the Indian think tank would have liked in the lead up to the big game against the Australians, who are so far unbeaten in this tournament. Sourav Ganguly can however take heart from the fact that the Indian side played strongly as a unit, stuck to the basics and made sure they controlled the flow of play right from the outset.

The wide grin on Ganguly's face when he won the toss was enough indication of the fact that the side winning the toss had an advantage. Quickly electing to bat first, Ganguly's Indians made sure that they kept the Kenyan opening bowlers at bay.

Moisture under the surface and clouds hovering menacingly around the ground meant that conditions did not make for big hitting. Realising this, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag tweaked their style of play. Sehwag left several deliveries alone that he would normally drive at, Tendulkar put his booming drives back in the cup board and the Indian openers put caution ahead of aggression.

While the Kenyans did well enough to extract what life they could from the wicket, they still supplied Tendulkar and Sehwag with just enough loose deliveries to keep the run rate from dipping to an alarming low. An opening partnership of 74 ensured that India had the start they wanted. Even the fall of Sehwag (33) did not deter the Indians in undue fashion.

Having got a good measure of the wicket, Tendulkar proceeded to milk the bowling, striking the loose balls to the fence, being especially severe on anything short of a length. With the ball not really coming onto the bat, Tendulkar checked his trademark booming drives and concentrated on low risk shots.

The fact that he struck just four boundaries and one six in his 83 tells you how hard it was to go after the bowling. When he finally did fall, it was with a century well in his sights, pulling the off-spin off Steve Tikolo straight down the throat of the man on the leg side fence.

Ganguly too began in most circumspect fashion. Once he got set however, there were few problems for the Indian captain. The advantage of being able to come down the wicket and loft the ball effortlessly helped Ganguly keep the run rate up at a healthy level.

In his unbeaten knock of 111 (114 balls) Ganguly smote five boundaries and five cracking sixes - one of which went clean out of the ground. The spinners and pacemen alike came in for the treatment as the smile re-appeared on Ganguly's face. The left-hander's shot selection was spot on, with the exception of one across the line heave to a Collins Obuya googly.

That blip apart, Ganguly's innings was one that flowed well, peaking at the right time. When he walked down the wicket and launched Martin Suji into the stands at long on to reach three figures Ganguly brought up his third century of this World Cup, the 22nd of his career.

Mohammad Kaif bustled about for 15 before he was run out and Yuvraj Singh (16) provided the impetus at the end of the innings to take the Indian total on to 270/4.

The total was just too much for the Kenyans.

With an eye on the clouds and a Duckworth/Lewis print out in his pocket, the Indian skipper urged his troops to get through the overs quickly. It seemed as though the Indians had a clear game plan as they used seam to knock out early wickets and supplemented it with plenty of spin from Harbhajan Singh and part time bowlers to save time.

To kick things off the Indian seamers did a great job at the top, removing the first four Kenyan wickets with just 36 runs on the board.

Bowling a probing line and length Zaheer Khan trapped Ravindu Shah plumb in front when the opener had scored a painful solitary run off 17 balls.

Peter Ongondo, sent in as a pinch hitter hit Ashish Nehra straight to Zaheer Khan for a duck.

Kennedy Otieno looked all at sea opening the innings and was struck on the helmet and body more than once as he handled the short stuff very awkwardly. He was finally put out of his misery in the 14th over, caught behind for 15 off a perfectly pitched Javagal Srinath delivery.

Thomas Odoyo (7) and Maurice Odumbe (20) also fell as the Indians ran through over after over, reaching the all important 25-over mark with Kenya reeling on 82/5.

The rain that was forecast failed to show up, apart from one slight drizzle and India made sure that there were no surprises as they qualified for their first World Cup final since 1983, where they beat the West Indies.

Only Steve Tikolo (56) stayed at the wicket long enough to make a sizable score, but his was a case of too little too late. With no one to partner him, Tikolo's runs bolster his average, but did nothing to change the result of the game.

One over off Yuvraj Singh in particular got the Kenyan supporters to their feet as Tikolo smacked two sixes and a boundary in an over that yielded 21 runs.

With the bulk of the job done early on however, Ganguly did not want to risk injury to any of his key bowlers and used his part time bowlers generously. While this extended the Kenyan innings to 46.2 overs, it did not get in the way of India registering an easy win.

Zaheer Khan with (3/14) and Ashish Nehra (2/11) were the pick of the Indian bowlers.

Australia are yet to lose a match this tournament, India have failed just once, against the Aussies. A country of a billion will be hoping that old scores will be settled as India lift the cup at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on the 23rd.

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