November 9, 2000

Sriram, Patel impress as NCA takes first innings lead

One day before the tour game between Zimbabwe and the National Cricket Academy match started, the groundstaff were hard at work getting the stadium ready for action. While checking the operation of the scoreboard, they had 97 runs against the name of Sridharan Sriram. While the lad playfully wished they had a three figure number on the board, even he would not have known how prophetic they turned out to be. After defying the Zimbabwean bowlers - quick and slow alike for over three and a half hours, one halfhearted shot cost him his wicket. He had made 97.

Beginning the day on 28/1, NCA lost their nightwatchman early in the day. However, that was of no consequence as Gautam Gambhir looked composed and confident at the crease in the company of Sriram. After playing a few trademark elegant strokes, the Delhi southpaw departed, presenting Alistair Campbell an easy slip catch off the bowling of Paul Strang. Gambhir was good for just 19 runs. Another youngster on whom many have placed great faith - Mohammed Kaif lasted just three balls. Playing all over a fast leg break from Paul Strang, Kaif was trapped plumb in front before he could open his account.

Sriram however was at his solid best. Although he was not as dour as he can be on his day, his shot selection was immaculate. He was also scoring at a much quicker rate than he is known for. What made his style of batting work on the day was his ability to convert deliveries just short of good length into deliveries he could strike boundaries off. He used his feet well and refrained from hooking or pulling. Utilising those very strokes caused his downfall in recent One-Dayers and that might have been playing on the young man's mind. If that was the case, then it certainly was a blessing for Sriram.

Paul Strang started the 53rd over of the day and was welcomed to the attack in fine style as Sriram came down the track and laced the ball through the covers. With that stroke Sriram pushed on to 97. It had been a patient stay at the crease and one that deserved a century. Alas, it was not to be. A flighted leg break from Paul Strang stopped on Sriram and he ended up spooning a return catch. The bowler accepted the offering gratefully and Sriram's knock of 97 had come to an end. His innings took all of 148 balls and included 14 hits to the fence. Having spent almost three and a half hours at the crease, the young man would have done well to stick around for a bit longer and reach the magical three figure mark.

Kaif gave way to Sodhi and in all the excitement Neeraj Patel quietly accumulated runs. Sodhi however was in no mood to play a quiet innings. Attacking the bowling with severe strokes, he raced to 40 in no time. Although he hardly looks elegant when at the crease, Sodhi's effective manner cannot be doubted. Choosing his strokes well, and packing them with power, Sodhi hit many crisp boundaries. None more special than the time when he got on one knee and square drove Henry Olonga to the point fence with great power. There was a time when he threatened to reach his half century before the well set Patel. However, in his unobtrusive manner it was Patel who chalked up the landmark first.

After reaching the half century mark Patel accelerated just a touch and the runs began to flow more easily. A touch too easily. Going for an extravagant drive, Patel holed out to long on after making a more than useful 87. It was the second time in the day a determined, sensible, even talented, left hander had set his sights on a hundred and fallen short. Mediumpacer Rakesh Patel joined his captain and treated the crowd to some lusty blows. A 13 ball essay saw him make 26 with three hits that sailed over the ropes. Sodhi had completed his fifty and the Zimbabwean score of 322 had been overhauled. At 323/6 the NCA declared their innings closed.

With 24 overs to negotiate, the Zimbabweans were defensive in demeanour. This ploy hardly worked for them as Gavin Rennie and Doug Marillier fell to the nippy Rakesh Patel. Fortunately for Zimbabwe, there were no more hiccups and they were safely through to stumps at 84/2. Flower on 23 and Madondo on 33 will go head to head with the NCA bowling tomorrow.