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Sidharth Monga in Mumbai
Mumbai probably knew, at some point in their amazing recovery, that they'd have to face Bengal again this season. This time, they'd have their most lethal weapon in the side: Zaheer Khan, who joined Mumbai before the season began but hadn't had a game because of his own personal journey back to the high life.
Zaheer has posed a threat to several batsmen this season but Mumbai knew that he had the number of the most dangerous batsman in the Bengal line-up. Sourav Ganguly doesn't like facing him - or probably has not faced him long enough to make up his mind on that. Seventh ball in the Duleep Trophy final in November 2005, and Zaheer bowled an inswinging yorker; Ganguly played all over it and was bowled. In the second innings of the same match, a similar delivery found Ganguly's pad on the way. After that final and before this, Ganguly, playing for Northamptonshire, had faced up against Zaheer, playing for Worcestershire in a second division County match in June 2006. Ganguly b Zaheer 2, read the scorecard.
Ganguly certainly had the opportunity to make amends today, walking out at the Wankhede with Bengal reeling at 28 for 2. Zaheer, as expected, was charged up and he greeted Ganguly with a ball that pitched outside off in the corridor, moved in, took the inside edge, and hit the stumps. Simple as that, 4-0 Zaheer.
He has obviously worked out that Ganguly is not comfortable with the one coming in from a length and has exposed it quite appreciably. And Graeme Smith will testify to the fact that Zaheer is not the man you expose your weakness to.
What has been remarkable in Zaheer's case - both with Smith and Ganguly - is the way he has capitalised on technical weaknesses to convert them into psychological ones. "It (knowing the batsman's weakness) does help. There's definitely a psychological advantage in that," Zaheer said after the day's play today. "But it's also about the rhythm. Rhythm is all about being able to bowl where you want to bowl. That's what is happening with me now."
Bowlers over the world know Smith looks to play on the on side early on, but no one beat him there as accurately and consistently as Zaheer did. After a while that entered Smith's head, to the extent that he refused to take strike to Zaheer in the second innings of the Wanderers Test. Ganguly has been in good form of late and one would have expected him to be sure of his foot movement, of what he was going to do to the first ball he faced. Instead, the feet didn't move and the bat came down without any intent - neither straight in defence nor forceful in attack.
Earlier, Zaheer - making his debut for Mumbai - had made an immediate impact with only his fourth delivery. Abhishek Jhunjhunwala was drawn into edging one that had pitched on leg and had slanted away. Then in his fifth over, just one ball before getting Ganguly, Zaheer left Arindam Das no option but to play at a fast one that pitched short of length and always looked at his body.
Zaheer bowled unchanged for 11 overs and, by the time he was done, Bengal were a shattered side. The Bengal batsmen, not having faced pace bowling of such ferocious quality through the season, were lambs to the slaughter; Zaheer was clearly too good for them. Rohan Gavaskar tried to fight the onslaught with one of his own, scoring 16 off 11 Zaheer deliveries, but he was drawn into a wide over-pitched delivery that swung away late. Before the end of that over, Laxmi Ratan Shukla had chased another sucker ball to complete Zaheer's five-for on debut.
The debut had been a long time coming, and obviously worth the wait. "When I came to Mumbai in 1996, I started playing all the club matches. My immediate goal was to play in the Ranji team and see how I'd find a place in the Indian team," Zaheer said, "Obviously it didn't work out that way." He was in the squad for the semi-final against Madhya Pradesh in 1996-97, but did not get to play the match. He had moved to Baroda later and made his comeback this year only. "When I started playing cricket, playing for Mumbai was on my mind, and it's a special feeling now."
With Zaheer taking Mumbai a huge step closer to reclaiming the grand old trophy, that feeling is probably mutual.
Boyc bats for the Prince
If Sourav Ganguly is expected to bat and Geoffrey Boycott is in town, it is hard to keep him from showing up. While making his way to the stand next to the press box at the Wankhede, Boycott asked the first soul that looked capable of speaking, "Has the Prince started batting?"
Boycott was heard telling the members at the stand, "I am very happy. My prince is playing for India, and my princess is winning in England." The princess, of course, is Shilpa Shetty, the Bollywood star, who has recently won the Big Brother, the reality television show. Boycott had earlier, during commentary stints in India, made public in no unclear terms his fondness for Shetty.
The considerate 'prince' did not give Boycott too much happiness at this old age and lasted only one delivery. Any chances of seeing him bat again today were erased when the last-wicket pair for Bengal saw them across the follow-on target.