India v England, 7th ODI, Indore April 15, 2006

Experimenting their way to success



Robin Uthappa on debut - So near and yet, so far © Getty Images

The St. Joseph's Boys' High School in Bangalore has the motto, fide et labore (faith and toil) and two of its alumni made England toil as India closed off the one-day series with another nerveless victory. The senior of the two, Rahul Dravid, had reposed faith in the junior, Robin Uthappa, and it was amply repaid as a 166-run partnership obliterated any trace of a contest.

You'd think that Dravid would occasionally be considerate enough to lose a game, just so that those opposed to "experimentation" and the induction of youth would have something to whine about. Not that they ever stop anyway. Instead he keeps winning the toss and putting the opposition in, letting his team chase down targets with a nonchalance that borders on the scary.

But this was the unkindest cut of all. With Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif rested, and more deserving men on the sidelines, the team management had the gall to blood a man who could boast of a staggering 63 runs in his past seven walks to the crease. Worse still, undeserving youth made optimum use of a beautiful batting track to reduce a challenging run-chase to a victory waltz. But for the run-out that revealed his inexperience, there would have been a century on debut, unprecedented for an Indian. Now, that really would have been sacrilege.

Uthappa's confident, stroke-filled 86 - the previous highest by an Indian on debut was Brijesh Patel's 78-ball 82 at Headingley in 1974 - was another small victory for those that insist that a strong bench is essential if a World Cup win is even to be contemplated. Once Tendulkar is fit and Sehwag resumes firing, an opening partnership of Uthappa and Dravid is destined to be consigned to the history books, but this particular outing will give both immense satisfaction.

Dravid led the way, with some gorgeous strokes on the leg side, but once Uthappa had survived some uncertain moments against the steep bounce of Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett, he laced some magnificent shots of his own. The casual loft over vacant slip and the trigger-happy hook for six off James Anderson were suggestive of youthful impetuosity, but he also played the percentages beautifully as India made light of starting with an untested opening combination.

A stunning 93-ball 116 at the Challenger Trophy last October made Greg Chappell sit up and take notice, but since then he had done little to convince anyone. If cold numbers had been the criteria, the likes of S Sreesanth and Uthappa would never have got a game. Happily though, this team management takes educated gambles, instead of picking the same old domestic titans that will never hack it at this level.

Dravid himself has metamorphosed into such an accomplished one-day batsman that he fancies himself to come in and do a job anywhere in the order - at Nagpur against Sri Lanka, he came in as finisher and biffed 85 from just 63 balls. The innings today was perfectly paced, and it meant that Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina - talent-come-to-fruition and young prodigy - didn't have to exert themselves unduly to edge past the target.

England played their part on what was easily the best pitch of the series. Kevin Pietersen gave ample evidence of his prowess before a crocked knee and a tired shot came to India's rescue, and there was another wonderful buttress-job from the under-rated Paul Collingwood. Of even more satisfaction, however, would have been the splendid cameo from Geraint Jones, which appeared to be pushing the team towards 320 at one stage.

Sreesanth's tail-snipping job prevented that, and with no Andrew Flintoff to rally the men round, the bowling lacked the conviction to test a batting line-up as inexperienced as any that India have put out in recent times. Plunkett did his prospects no harm with another probing spell, and Ian Blackwell illustrated with his one-day value with another tidy spell. But with Anderson having an off day, and Kabir Ali and Mahmood lacking the nous for these conditions, the relative closeness of the finish rather flattered England. The series margin - 5-1 - didn't flatter India.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo