October 17, 2000

Emergence of Zaheer and Yuvraj a positive aspect

The ICC KnockOut Trophy concluded after providing a good deal of entertainment for just less than two weeks. It would have been a fitting finale if Ganguly's gang was to return with the Cup. Unfortunately that was not to be due to a combination of inexperience, inability to utilise the final ten overs to optimum effect and a very determined performance by a genuine all-rounder in Chris Cairns.

A lot was discussed with regard to some of the decisions taken by Ganguly in the final but it has to be borne in mind that he also is in the learning process as a captain and as such he may be excused. The pressure of the big occasion got the better of him and eventually the cool and calm partnership of Harris and Cairns ensured that the Kiwis romped home. It was written in one of the earlier columns that the Kiwis have a tendency to falter in the final mile, but they completed the last lap in grand style at the Nairobi Gymkhana.

All the theories in hindsight apart, Ganguly hardly put a foot wrong in the entire tournament. He batted with panache to notch up centuries in the semi-final and the final and made use of whatever resources were available to him in the best possible manner. He has brought this young and inexperienced unit together and raised the level of performance to unexpected heights. In doing that, he has revitalised the interest of the followers of the game in the country under very dire circumstances. Hopefully he will learn from his mistakes and improve as a captain in the coming matches.

There was a lot of criticism about the Indians fluffing up after Ganguly and Tendulkar provided a very solid platform with a 141-run partnership. Agreed the conditions were ideal for batting, but it is not easy to maintain a run rate of six per over throughout the innings. There is bound to be a slow phase somewhere down the line and full credit must be given to the Kiwis for pulling the game back. They bowled with a lot of discipline in the middle overs and their fielding complimented the bowlers. Harris and Astle mixed up their deliveries cleverly to stem the flow of runs and the Indian total was restricted to manageable proportions.

The Kiwis, by and large, have depth in batting but somehow have never put it across the opponents on earlier occasions. Once again the top order batsmen were dismissed trying to keep the momentum going and at one stage the Indians had the game under control. But Chris Cairns, who was a doubtful starter, had other ideas and he carried the hopes of the Kiwis on his shoulders. Cairns is a genuine all-rounder and he proved what difference a cricketer of his breed can make to a side. He batted with great common sense early in his innings by collecting runs with nudges and kept egging his partner Harris to provide him with the required support.

The fact that Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh stifled the batsmen by bowling economically meant that Ganguly had the luxury of deciding which of his regular bowlers would bowl at the death. His decision to go for Zaheer Khan, the MRF Pace Foundation trainee, did not work out as intended but Zaheer did exhibit some maturity against the Australians in a tight situation. The run out chance that Yuvraj Singh made a mess of due to elementary mistake sealed the Indians hopes ultimately.

Though the Indians lost in the final, they played a refreshing brand of cricket and two very talented players, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh have emerged which is definitely good for the nation. One can only hope that the youngsters who sat out in this tournament will be given opportunities in Sharjah, which may result in some more gains.