After a long time I watched a complete match and it had to be one where India lost. Humphhhh!
Pakistan won the toss and asked India to bat. Before the match began, there was the customary hulla boo by the Sony Set Max people, with Mandira Body doing her stuff and Charu Sharma cracking those increasingly un-funny jokes. Then there was "Maa Ritambhara", the tarot card reader, who predicted an initial blitzkrieg by Pakistan and also gave the Pakistanis a better chance of a win. During the world cup, when this "Maa R" first came into the picture, they used to dress her up a bit like a fortune teller to sell that angle but here she was dressed in a trendy dress ... really couldn't associate the name "Maa" with her. Anyway, damn, she was accurate ... they didn't give her contact number on the program.
Ganguly and Sehwag came out to bat. The first over by Sami showed that Ganguly wouldn't last long ... he chased everything from wide balls to balls just outside off, and after missing a few, touched one to the keeper ... possibly if he had left it, it might even have been called wide. Fate willed otherwise.
Laxman came in and went pretty soon .... got a short ball from Rana and pulled it to the only guy present for that shot (Shoaib Malik) .... he could have gone either side of him or over him and got a boundary but finally, the guy didn't even have to move ... just bent down a little and got it in his midriff. Laxman looked around unhappily before walking off ... maybe he was thinking baseball was a better game ... u got three strikes before u r out.
Kaif came in and played a good innings. It wasn't a brilliant innings by any stretch of imagination but he looked comfortable and while slow, accumulated his runs steadily. He will be awaiting Tendulkar's return with no great relish ... if Laxman stays at 3, Kaif will surely move back to 7 ... and after tasting so much of success (Ok, so its not brilliant but even 50s are good enough for a guy of Kaif's experience and opportunities), it is not going to be nice coming in with the usual 6 overs remaining.
Sehwag on the other hand looked scratchy like hell ... even though he got a 50 in the practice game, obviously that hasn't done too much to his form coz he batted lousily, finally chipping an overpitched Rana delivery on his legs straight to Shoaib Malik at square leg ... again the only guy present there and had the ball gone either side of him or over him, would have been a boundary.
Sehwag is a good player ... we have seen him bat ... but something different is required to bring him out of his slump ... a stint at number 6 with the freedom of slogging his way out of form in the final 10 overs might just be the tonic he needs. Anyway, when Tendulkar comes back, one of Ganguly and Sehwag has to go down and on current form, it might well be Sehwag (ok, so Ganguly hasn't set the Thames on fire either, but he is not out of form, just technically deficient).
Dravid came in and along with Kaif steadied the ship ... both ran well and Dravid was quick to punish anything loose ... some of his shots were so classy ... one might be tempted to move him to 3 seeing the form of the others and his own form but do that at ur peril. Dravid has played the majority of his ODI career at 3 and in my opinion, killed the momentum more times than he has not. At 5, he has so much of freedom because of the spread out field and his own increasingly innovative batting. He has found his niche in ODI cricket; don't dare touch him.
Kaif got dropped by Afridi when on 9 ... a blistering shot on the off going straight to Afridi and popping out ... apart from this blemish, the only other fault in Kaif's innings resulted in his dismissal. Akhtar, bowling 2nd change, bowled a fiery spell and got one to pitch outside off and take off .... both speed and bounce ... and Kaif, always looking for those small nudges and trickles which get him most of his runs, touched it through to Moin.
There are some who want to make Yuveraj Singh an opener. Today's dismissal was an example of why that experiment is bound to fail ... Yuveraj has a great game when the ball doesn't move around a lot ... today, in the same over as Kaif, Akhtar got ont to slant away from Yuveraj and he touched it through to Moin. Let me put it this way ... If u think Ganguly would make a good test opener, then by all means Yuveraj would.
Gavaskar is an honest trier but he doesn't seem cut out for this level of cricket ... ok, if u use his bowling more (a lot more) and he were a brilliant slip fielder or something, he would survive. But when the injured stalwarts return, it is hard to imagine how this chap will survive the axe. However, I don't like the way they diss him in public ... SET MAX commentators informed us that in a survey they took from many ex-players, they couldn't find even one who thought Gavaskar should be in the squad. The chap is young (ok, so no spring chicken but not OLD), is trying his best ... maybe he isn't good enough ... but hey, let him live ... don't kill him without a trial. It isn't as if we have 10 guys waiting in the wings whom Gavaskar is blocking ... Dinesh Mongia is the name on everyone's lips today and this is the same chap who was being cursed right and left during and after the world cup. Basically, there is no one who stands out today ... Gavaskar, Mongia, etc and his brother are all names we can throw around and none of it has any basis. So whoever is chosen, let him play in peace and either succeed and fail without everyone taking such obvious pleasure in dissing him.
Anyway, Gavaskar hung around for a little bit, didn't do anything to prove his critics wrong and then touched Razzak through to the keeper, Moin taking a good tumbling catch to his left.
Agarkar came ... and frankly, surprised me with his batting. When he came in, my friends and I were joking about Aggu to the rescue and how he wouldn't go back without scoring a fifty and rescuing India ... and damn me if he didn't almost do that. He still had that high backlift that will keep him from being a good batsman ... but as for the rest of it, he batted beautifully. Yes, he has scored runs before, a fast and furious fifty in ODIs and a test hundred .... but to me he still didn't look like he knew how to bat. Yesterday, he looked like a batsman.
Usually he uses his bat like a sword (gives that impression coz of his backlift) ... today he used his bat like a bat ... he played at a run a ball through his innings and played some good looking shots ... he had this on drive against a fast bowler (I forget who) which would have made Dravid proud ... a straight lofted four (the only shot where he looked unconvincing to me, though it was a solidly struck blow) ... and then he got stuck into Afridi, pulling him for a huge six over mid-wicket in the process.
Dravid holed out trying to pull Rana out of the ground and not managing to clear the inner ring ... Agarkar got out three short of his fifty, and if his batting goes on the upswing, I for one will count September 19 as the start of it all.
There were a couple of run-ins between batsman and bowler during the innings, I think both of them involved Dravid ... one of them was with Shoaib and Dravid ... they collided and Akhtar had some words to say to Dravid ... and in constrast with his usual style, Dravid strode down the wicket to confront Akhtar ... Inzy and Youhanna (I think) broke up the pair and an over later, Akhtar and Dravid exchanged a grin in passing, so everyone lived happily ever after. However, this reminded me of a Dravid many years back in South Africa who went running to cry to the umpire when Donald sledged him ... this time the same chap strides down the wicket to confront another strong, fast bowler with an attitude of "Whassat ... lemme hear what u just said, u piece of rubbish". There was even a run in between Kaif and Rana (I think) when Kaif dropped one near his feet and took off ... Rana tried to get to the ball and instead got Kaif ... waved his hand around and Tony Grieg was like "What does he expect ... he is playing with men out there ... no one is going to move out of the way politely so he can run them out".
Dravid and Agarkar took India to respectability, but nothing else. However now the bowlers had something to bowl at; at least they could try for a miracle.