March 23, 2000

Indian middle order is strong, but can be brittle at times

The psychological advantage the Indians had over the South Africans was annulled ruthlessly by the Springboks in the lung opener of the Coca-Cola Championship at Sharjah. The only positive thing for the Indians was Ganguly winning the toss. After that it was a sort of a nightmare with wickets falling like nine pins on a placid pitch. The South Africans never let go of the initiative after breaking through early in the innings.

Pollock beat Tendulkar with an inswinger to castle the little master and not many would have thought that that was beginning of the end for the Indians. Ganguly started off well before Kallis accounted for him and with Dravid perishing early, the Indians were straight away looking down the barrel. The idea of once again promoting Joshi is debatable but he did what he was sent out for by smashing a few quick runs. The Indian middle order is strong, yet at the same time can be brittle at times.

The middle collapse started with the dismissal of the most experienced campaigner Azharuddin, who played a loose shot. Elworthy and Ntini, sensing that there was a good chance of running through the Indian line-up, bowled with magnificent discipline. Ntini stuck to a line just outside the off stump while Elworthy bowled straight to pick up his wickets. Elworthy trapped Robin Singh and shortly after that Karim chopped one on to his stumps. Jadeja was left to bat with the lower order batsman and he tried his best to achieve some respectability to the Indian total.

He looked well and truly in control throughout his innings and finally it was Srinath who spent some time with him at the crease. The last wicket partnership took the Indians past the 150 mark and in the end the Indians were a million runs short to make a match out of it. Cronje would have hardly expected the Indians to crumble as they did and quite naturally he would not complain about it either. His bowlers did a fantastic job under trying conditions and the reputed Indian batsmen have only themselves to blame.

Gibbs and Kirsten might fancy their chances against the Indian attack at their worst since they have been feasting themselves in the last few weeks. Srinath once again gives the impression that he is not enjoying the one-dayers as much as he should with the end result being that his reputation is gradually being dented. Agarkar bowled well within himself and none of the bowlers were able to get a wicket against their names but that would have hardly mattered. At one stage the only interest left was to see which of the openers would gallop towards the century mark. Eventually neither of them got anywhere close to it and the Indians left their supporters in Sharjah to go home after witnessing a lacklustre performance.

The Indians take on their arch rivals Pakistan in their next encounter and it will be a high-powered needle game. Needless to say, Ganguly and his boys have to win this game to feel reasonably good about their chances in the tournament. It will not be impossible to beat the Pakistanis as their morale is also at low ebb, but the Indians have to raise their game by at least a few notches.