Uthappa's 'cool' makes Dravid smile
Swap one captain for another and you had scenes from Old Trafford all over again. Then, after another close match, Paul Collingwood couldn't stop gushing about the two young English allrounders who had pulled off a fine win while Rahul Dravid appeared spent. The roles were neatly reversed at The Oval after a dramatic Indian run-chase had tied the series at 3-3.
Where England had toasted Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad at Manchester, India celebrated the emergence of their latest finisher, Robin Uthappa. He walked in with 83 needed in 9.4 overs but guided the chase with an audacious 33-ball 47. "I have never seen him batting at No. 7," said Dravid, who has watched his development for Karnataka and India. "He's always had power and a good cricketing brain.
"He has been with the team for the last one year and half and developing his cricket all the time. The way he bats in the nets is something like he's begging to be selected. Credit to him because he might not have batted at No. 7 in his life, but here he managed to control the chase."
Uthappa said he has been practising the paddle sweeps and the other innovative shots for the Twenty-20 World Cup. "I have been practising different shots for the Twenty-20 World Cup, and they came out perfectly. The fine leg was up, so I knew they were going to bowl mainly yorkers. So I decided that I was either going to hit straight down the ground or take it on the full and hit it over fine leg."
It was the first time England had encountered him this series, a fact that might have put their plans off somewhat. "He played well in the pressure situation," Collingwood said. "He stayed calm and it's good for India. He seems a cool customer, knew his areas to score, and had a little bit of luck along the way."
Uthappa settled the issue but it was the rollicking 150-run stand between Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, their third century partnership of the series, that set the tone. "It was the key to the chase," Dravid said. "Chasing a total near 320, we need to get off to a good start. Sachin and Sourav made 150, and that makes a big difference on slow wicket, especially because the run making can be difficult as the match goes on."
Their opening partnership followed one of the most sensational overs in one-dayers, one where Dimitri Mascarenhas launched Yuvraj Singh for five successive sixes. Dravid could afford to smile about it at the end of the day but what was the reasoning behind bowling Yuvraj at that stage? "I have never seen somebody hitting quite a bit," said Dravid.
"It looked like a bad decision [to bowl Yuvraj]. Our fast bowlers were going for 14-15 runs an over. I thought Yuvi bowled a good 48th for us. I just took a gamble with him. Credit for Dimi he cleared everything. After the first second one I thought there might be a top edge but I gave up after the third one."
An expectedly downbeat Mascarenhas, who broke Andrew Flintoff's record for the most runs scored in an over by an England player, said he wasn't "really surprised" with the decision to bowl Yuvraj. "After the second one I thought, 'Let's just swing it hard'," Mascarenhas said. "And I think he bowled it in the right areas. I think I picked up his length early." It was a fine way to finish an innings but Uthappa eclipsed that with a nerveless touch at the end.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo