India coast to nine-wicket win
An efficient bowling effort was followed up by a couple of confident half-centuries as India rolled along to a thumping nine-wicket win in the rain-affected one-off one-dayer against Ireland at Belfast. It was a comprehensive way to start a three-month-long tour and a victory that would provide them a boost ahead of the three-match series against South Africa, starting in three days' time.
Ireland's innings never really got going - the top-order fell to swing, the middle to wrist-spin - and it took a fighting half-century from Niall O'Brien to prop them up to 193. Showers interrupted play exactly at the halfway point, costing more than two-and-a-half hours and leading to the target being revised to 171 off 39 overs, but an effervescent 163-run stand between Gautam Gambhir and Sourav Ganguly sped India to victory.
Gambhir and Ganguly were the expected opening combination but Tendulkar walked out early, for the first time in a one-dayer since early December last year. The move didn't pay off, though, with Tendulkar lasting just three deliveries: not accounting for swing, he attempted to flick a full ball from off to leg, leaving the gate wide open. Roger Whelan, on his one-day debut, couldn't have imagined a better start.
It meant Gambhir, coming off a century on India's recent tour to Bangladesh, was in as early as the second over, slapping and flashing to anything wide of the stumps. He's always liked width, backing himself with those jabs, but there were other strokes too: a delectable straight-drive off medium-pacer Trent Johnston and a crackling pull when Kevin O'Brien dropped it short.
At the other end, there was more left-handed class on show. Ganguly struggled with his timing and placement early on but soon unfurled the gorgeous strokes, lacing silken drives on the up and giving the cover fielders no chance. The events of the 11th over, from Kevin O'Brien, encapsulated his innings: second ball, full and outside off, driven to cover; third ball, full and outside off, driven to cover; fourth ball, outside off, driven between mid-off and cover for four; fifth ball, full and outside off, driven to cover; sixth ball, full and outside off, advances down the track and drills it emphatically past mid-off for four. Uncertainty followed by certitude followed by dominance. He rarely blinked thereafter and stamped his authority with a straight six off Whelan towards the end.
The base was laid by the bowlers earlier in the day, in conditions that were ideal for fielding first. Sreesanth and Rudra Pratap Singh, bowlers with contrasting styles but similar curving deliveries, posed the early questions. Ironically, it was a straight delivery that produced the early breakthrough: Kenneth Carroll driving away from his body only for Dinesh Karthik to leap to his right and pull off a delightful catch.
A scratchy yet consolidating partnership followed until Dominick Joyce drove loosely away from his body, getting a thicker edge that flew to Ganguly's right at third slip. Ganguly surprised himself, and the sparse gathering that had turned up, with an athletic take, one that resulted in his 100th catch in one-dayers. William Porterfield managed an adhesive 46-ball 16, an innings which went well with the sleepy settings provided for this game and equally one that ensured that Ireland didn't lose their way completely.
Things got worse with the introduction of the 18-year-old legspinner, Piyush Chawla. Not the conventional sort of legspinner but one who relies on a flatter trajectory and a majority of googlies, Chawla had the Irish middle order in knots. A delightfully flighted topspinner undid Gary Wilson, who played around a full ball and was castled, before a googly lured Kevin O'Brien into a slog sweep, one that struck the top edge and got only as far as RP Singh at deep midwicket. Andrew White was flummoxed by a conventional legbreak that bounced a little extra and struck the outside edge.
The situation was dire at 83 for 5 but Niall O'Brien produced a fighting knock, his fourth half-century in one-dayers. He wasn't frustrated by the dot balls - a massive 224 of them in fact - and hung in there when wickets fell at the other end. Johnston's was the more entertaining knock, cracking two sixes and a four towards the end, and boosted the total to close to 200 and set up some sort of a contest. Tendulkar's early dismissal caused a few flutters but Ireland had little to cheer from then on.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan assistant editor of Cricinfo