Arjun Raja is a NRIOL featured sports columnist. To read about Arjun Raja, please Know more.
After months of waiting and witnessing the biggest build up to any world cup to-date, through massive publicity mainly via television, D-Day finally dawned. Luckily for the players, who have been in England for the past three weeks, were not subjected to the craze that has built up in India.
It was a relaxed and fit looking Indian side that arrived at Hove, the Sussex county ground, for their first match - a very important one against South Africa.
To the surprise of most of us, India batted first after Azharuddin won the toss. After watching Sri Lanka lose the first game after batting first, it looked like a gamble especially since the conditions were bound to favour the South African quick bowlers.
However, the Indian openers played beautifully. Saurav Ganguly was off-colour in the warm up games and this must have made him even more determined. He started off with a fantastic shot to the point boundary off Pollock and just kept getting better and better as the innings progressed.
Sachin Tendulkar, realising his importance to the team didn't go helter-skelter after the bowling but played each ball on its merit - a policy he will do well to follow throughout this World Cup campaign.
At the end of the 15th over, India were sitting pretty at 65 ... for no loss but the advent of Klusener saw the dismissal of Tendulkar against the run of play. He dabbed at a ball outside the off stump and Boucher picked up a regulation catch.
Fall of Wicket: 67 in 15.3 overs.
Rahul Dravid with two brilliant half centuries to his name in the warm up games strode purposefully to the wicket and from ball one he showed his class. A magnificent shot through the covers off Donald showed he was not going to allow the bowlers to dictate terms and soon he and Ganguly were milking the South African bowling with ease.
Donald had a very good first spell of 6 overs for 17 runs and this meant the Indians had to score quickly against left arm spinner Boje and Skipper Cronje. As planned, they managed to get 55 runs of the 10 overs with Ganguly depositing Boje into the stands at long off as well.
The batsmen then seemed to lose their way a bit between the 37th and 40th overs as Ganguly approached his century and Dravid his fifty. Finally Dravid reached his 50 in 63 balls with a superb boundary of Klusener. But the bowler had his revenge in the next over when he bowled Dravid with a fantastic yorker. It was a well paced innings by Dravid and an important one after Tendulkar's early departure.
Fall of wicket: 197 in 41.4 overs.
At this stage, I feel Azharuddin should have sent in the batsmen capable of big hits since there were only eight overs left. But he didn't and decided to come in himself, which in hindsight cost India at least 15-20 runs. A total of 270 should have been reached after a score of 197 for 1 in 42 overs. India managed only 56 runs in the last eight overs, which was just not enough with so many wickets in hand.
Saurav Ganguly, it must be said, also wasted a lot of balls in his quest to become the first century maker of this world cup. He scored 97 in 142 balls which means he batted nearly 25 overs for his runs. Now that is not a good strike rate in the context of the match, especially considering the good start we had.
India needed to bowl and field brilliantly to defend 253 on a perfect batting pitch and lightning fast outfield. Srinath and Prasad bowled beautifully in the first few overs and soon South Africa were 22 for 2. But the South Africans were never going to allow the bowlers to dictate terms, and Boucher decided to take a few risks. It paid off handsomely and soon they were back on track.
With Kallis playing the perfect game of sheet anchor while not being overly defensive, the strokemakers could play their shots without fear.
Boucher departed at 68, Cullinan at 116 in the 25th over and things seemed evenly poised.
Soon it was down to the last few overs and Kallis who had played a great knock was run-out at 96 in 128 balls,14 fewer than Ganguly and he had walked in at 22 for 2! At 227 for 5 in the 46th over needing 27 to win, it was still anybody's game. But Lance Klusener with the heaviest bat in world cricket simply smashed the bowling all over to reach 12 in 4 balls, and a total of 17 runs in Agarkar's over (the 47th) meant an easy victory for SA in the end.
Looking back, it seems that SA had an easy victory but it was not so. India should have scored another 20 runs which would have put a lot more pressure on SA, especially after the two early wickets. Credit must go to the SA batsmen for never allowing the Indian bowlers to dominate. They took risks at the right time to make sure the required rate stayed around the run a ball mark.
Looking ahead, India need to bowl fewer bad balls. In England, consistency is important. Bad balls will be punished on the small grounds. If changes need to be made for the next game, I will give Mohanty a match in place of Agarkar who is proving too expensive in one-day cricket.
To close, a decent performance by India, not a spineless one and this augurs well for the future especially if we learn from the mistakes of this game.
India's next match v/s Zimbabwe at Leicester on 19th May. Read more
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The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online. For a listing of past columns by Arjun Raja, please Know more.