A historic meaningless match
Rohan Gavaskar: Sunny genes are here again
© Getty Images
It's been 5920 days since this last happened: India had a Gavaskar turning out for them but not a Tendulkar. The fact itself is gratuitious, frivolous trivia - but then, so much media coverage around this game, and the last, has been of just that nature, focussed on Rohan Gavaskar for the reason of his surname alone. People talk of the burden Sachin Tendulkar carries when he goes in to bat; why, then, encumber young Rohan with the weight of his father's name? He should have had no more spotlight on him than any 27-year-old playing his second ODI would have had - but he was the cynosure of many eyes, almost as if the match did not matter. (It didn't, but that's another story.)
In the event, Gavaskar batted well. He played a sensible run-a-ball innings of 22 in the slog overs, keeping his head and running quick singles to get Rahul Dravid on strike, and getting boundaries - a four and a six - when the opportunities presented themselves. It was mystifying that, as in the last match, he came out to bat ahead of Hemang Badani, who has much more experience in tense situations. But having said that, he did not let his captain down.
This was just that time of the tournament when upsets happen. The weakest team in the triangular out of it, for all practical purposes; the other two already looking ahead to the final, focussing on their bilateral battle; and whoof, the weak team strikes from the flank, putting in a committed performance while the stronger team relaxes. Well, Zimbabwe did battle valiantly, but India did not relax. Sourav Ganguly aspires to the kind of unrelenting intensity that so characterises Australia, and while the Indians had a few hiccups while batting, they stayed focussed on the task at hand. There was no complacency.
Rahul Dravid's innings was impressive, but what's new about that? He made 84 in 106 balls, rebuilding the innings from 74 for 3, staying at the crease till almost the end. Some years ago, it had seemed that the only apt spot for him in the batting order was No. 3, and that too, only just. But this builder can also be a destroyer, and Dravid can milk and hustle and adapt and bustle with the best of them. He gives the Indian middle order immense strength at No. 5 - or No. 4, as here, where the order shifted one place up when Ganguly opened.
And who opened with Ganguly? Parthiv Patel did, which brings us to another piece of historical trivia: for the second time in 17,290 days, a Gujarati opened the batting with a Bengali for India in an international game. (That many days ago, Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy opened for India in a Test. Debang Gandhi and Ganguly had also opened in an ODI in 1999.) That is a fact of absolutely no significance. So, moving on, why was Patel in the team at all? If the idea was to give Dravid a break from wicketkeeping, then why not give him a proper break and rest him from the (inconsequential) game altogether? And if the idea was to evaluate Patel as a one-day batsmen, then why ask him to open, when the position he is effectively being auditioned for is really the No. 7 spot? In the event, Patel batted well before he threw his wicket away, but that proves nothing - even Dinesh Mongia did well as opener, but look what happened. (And Patel did take a delightful catch with his pads - how many wicketkeepers can do that?)
On to the bowling, and more trivia. Two left-arm fast bowlers opened the bowling for India after, erm, two days. (And after two left-hand batsmen opened the batting.) Ashish Nehra was slightly out of sorts, but once again, Irfan Pathan and L Balaji (shock, horror, a right-hander) bowled well. Pathan got the ball to curve in to the right-hand batsmen beautifully, while Balaji got the ball to move away, bowling with the same accuracy and control he had shown two days ago against Australia. Both these men were not first-choice bowlers before this series, and the way they've come on is excellent. It means that no fast bowler in the Indian side - be it Zaheer Khan or Ajit Agarkar, when fit - can take his place for granted. Like the battle for the lower-middle-order positions, it will ensure a constant striving for excellence. If you keep reaching for the stars, as they say, at least you'll be outdoors. Yes, whatever.
One big positive for India was that Yuvraj Singh got some time in the middle. India's first-choice first-five for the finals, the Sehwag-Tendulkar-Ganguly-Laxman-Dravid quintet, have already plenty of match practice in Australian conditions through the Test series. Yuvraj needed some practice as well, and he got some, in a tense situation, with India three down and in a spot of bother. On January 24, when India take on Zimbabwe again, expect some of the one-day specialists to be promoted up the order for practice - namely Yuvraj, Badani and Gavaskar. We will see some more of young Rohan yet, and so it should be - regardless of his surname, he is a promising player, and must be given a chance to deliver. Now, when was the last time a Gavaskar delivered? When Rohan was born, silly.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.