April 1, 2001

Ganguly should have opened the innings

The officials of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association were keeping their fingers crossed about five months ago as they were uncertain whether Indore would be given a chance to host a one-day international. The last time Indore hosted a match, the MPCA had to face the wrath of the entire fraternity because the game was abandoned. That incident rankled badly in the minds of the officials as also the followers of the game. Eventually the MPCA must have convinced the Board of Control for Cricket in India that Indore had learnt from its past mistakes and was ready in all aspects to stage a big international game.

The stage was set with both the teams having won a game apiece and Tendulkar on the threshold of creating history. Yet the officials of MPCA would have had butterflies in their stomach, as another black mark would have crossed out Indore as a staging centre in the future.

The minor skirmish at the toss between the rival captains suggested the pressure situation both the captains were under. With the match referee ruling in favour of Steve Waugh, the Australian captain inserted the Indians on what appeared to be a hollow pitch. Nothing much has gone the Aussie way after the gamble to insert the Indians at Mumbai paid off. If Waugh sprung a surprise with his decision, Ganguly did not lag behind by sending Dravid to open along with Tendulkar. Ganguly is at the moment struggling with his form and one would have thought his best chance to play himself into form was to stick to his regular slot, as he would then get enough opportunities to build his innings. Moreover, Ganguly should not lose sight of the fact that all his success has come as an opener in the one-dayers.

It will be stating the obvious to say that the day belonged to Tendulkar. He got off to authoritative starts in the last couple of games but somehow could not continue to make substantial scores. The need to convert a good start into a big score would have been his top priority rather than the 10,000 run mark. To create history in the process of making a century would have appealed very much to Tendulkar. Tendulkar saw Dravid getting out fairly cheaply but he found a very good partner in Laxman who is batting as well as any top batsman in the world. Tendulkar as a batsman is very shrewd in reading the situation of the game and also the nature of the pitch. The public in Indore had the chance of seeing a sort of Jekyll and Hyde innings from Tendulkar. He started off with shots through the line like a thoroughbred and as the pitch started getting slower, he tormented the Australians with some incredible innovative dabs on either side of the wicket. It was entertainment par excellence and it was fitting that he crossed the 10,000 mark in Indore, which takes great pride in its own cricketing history.

It was obvious from the way the Australians batted that Tendulkar psychologically battered them as the visitors just crumbled without any resistance. Gilchrist did threaten with his customary aggression at the top of the order but the scorecard would have disappointed the World Cup champions. Ganguly must be given credit for the way in which he handled his bowlers. Agarkar and Harbhajan bowled incisively in the middle overs and they ran through the middle order to seal the game in India's favour. Even Steve Waugh who is normally at his best when the chips are down found the going too tough and his dismissal drove the final nail into the coffin. The Australians have to accept that they are unable to cope with the low bounce pitches in India and that their rotation policy is also adding to their woes. The time is running out for the visitors and they have to somehow get their bearings right at Vizag to keep the series alive.