God is back and he scored 93 good ones yesterday. The Indian media in their regular suck-up mode is hailing his greatness to have come back from injury layoff and conjuring up a match winning 93 but for me, the fun part was in the way he scored those 93. Right from his first four - where he stretched far beyond the normal stretch standards to put bat to ball and drive it through the covers - to his second six - which was a typical SRT-of-old "dance down to the pitch of the ball and hoist it over long on" - the approach was beautiful. SRT may have been better in Sharjah in 1998 but after the way he has approached batting in the past two-three years, I really wondered if SRT would even be a shadow of the 1998 master. Yesterday's innings suggests to me that even if he never approaches that brilliance of 1998, he seems to be looking far beyond the depths of the last two-three years. There were shots played that we haven't seen for a couple of years now ... straight drive past the bowler (but not as straight as I have seen him to drive), square cuts and drives on the up. There was a dart down the wicket to Chaminda Vaas where he tried to smash him over the top; he missed and the inside edge went narrowly past the stumps and wicket keeper to the fence for four. The miss doesn't matter; the intent does. That is good news for cricket lovers; for statisticians it doesn't really make a difference coz in terms of runs, SRT always contributed.
The match was not only about SRT though his was the most significant innings from the Indian point of view. Pathan got promoted to 3 and batted well; Dravid played a cracker at the death and Dhoni showed that low down the order is where his place is and where he can do damage consistently. And hey hey hey, Bhajji came up with a really good bowling performance ... I was starting to wonder why exactly he was in the team coz he seemed to have lost his magic and his spells in the past year or so were nothing to write home about.
One thing about Dravid's innings; I guess it is a great tribute to the man that an innings like this - typically uncharacteristic of the Dravid we all loved to hate in ODIs - that it doesn't really come across as a surprise. He has re-invented himself so completely in the ODI format that when u read the scorecard to see him at 80 odd off 65 odd balls, it doesn't seem wierd anymore.
This match throws up the interesting question of what happens when the team for the third (and beyond) ODI gets selected. The news bytes being leaked from the Indian camp seemed to indicate that SRT was being seen more from a point of view of a middle order bat since he wasn't going slam-bang any longer ... and he would be opener for the first two ODIs since the other option in Ganguly wasn't there. Yesterday's match indicates that indeed, SRT is ready and able to go slam-bang ... if not like 1998, then not like 2004 either. So if the thought process was indeed to send him in the middle order, then surely there must be some re-thinking going on now... as it should, in my opinion coz that is how good outfits operate; they keep thinking and they keep changing plans coz no plan is constant.
So if SRT stays up top even after the first two ODIs, then for Ganguly to come back to his favorite opening position, Sehwag must go down or out. The Chuckster has many times given his opinion on Sehwag being better off in the middle order where he can smash the end overs but the same thought wasn't occuring to the team management. Time and again, it was being debated as to who would be Sehwag's partner indicating that the team management saw him at the top of the order. So now to get the best combination possible, they have to juggle positions between Ganguly and Sehwag.
BTW, just on an un-official note ... I read someone's "inside info" somewhere that the compromise worked out between the BCCI and Ganguly involved Ganguly keeping mum on the captaincy issue - basically letting the mantle slide onto Dravid - and getting a long run in the ODIs as opener. Again, "inside info" are usually just guesses most fo the times and this could be too but this one makes sense to me simply coz in my book, either Ganguly opens or he doesn't play (same with Laxman). Ganguly also knows his best days have been in that position so if he does indeed gamble a last throw of the dice in that position, he knows he has a fair chance of landing a six. How will this affect Sehwag who loves that opening slot?
Also a note about Irfan Pathan's batting. I have read in numerous places that SRT was the one who came up with this idea and shared it with team-management etc etc etc ... and what a great plan the little genius came up with. Seriously, we have all seen Irfan Pathan bat since he made his debut against Australia ... why is someone surprised he batted so well? He is not ur typical bowler-batsman ... that is not to say he can be seen as a regular bat but he is much above the tail-end bat we are generally used to getting among our bowlers. To send him at 3 was a nice move but it wasn't an amazing or incredible call to make ... it is an idea which always had a good chance to succeed coz it was a good idea to begin with. To listening to people in the media (the Shastris and the Gavaskars and the Arun Lals), it was the cricketing move of the century ... and all coz of the little genius. Makes me want to throw up, seriously! I can imagine the scene if Irfan Pathan had scored a duck and gone back ... Would Shastri have said - "Well, it seems it was SRT who suggested the move of sending up Irfan Pathan. I don't know why he thought it would work but then he isn't exactly known for being the brightest bulb in the room , is he ... he is a bit of a mental midget, is Tendulkar". Would he have said that ... huh, huh???
Dravid would be heaving a sigh of relief as would be Chappell. I have supported Chappell all through this Ganguly saga simply coz I believe he has the right idea in mind where the long term improvement of the team is concerned. The team's individual batting and bowling skills will anyway take them far; the difference between winning and losing might just be the edge they get by doing the basics correct ... being disciplined, running hard, fielding hard, being committed 100% of the time. The problem is that in India, we are not really willing to sit back and wait for the results to come; we want them in the very next match and that doesn't happen generally, unless luck plays a big part. Chappell at least has a contract till 2007; for Dravid, it is a contract for 2 series and he will be happy after the first match that his record as captain doesn't take a beating coz of Chappell's desire to keep trying new things. In that regard, Chappell and Dravid must be on the same wavelength or there would be trouble. A last point in this Dravid thingy - I just wish all the news channells would stop calling Nagpur as "Dravid ki sasuraal" ... man, that makes me want to puke!
A nice touch was added at the end of the match when Sreesanth came back into the attack to take the final two wickets. He didn't exactly have a great debut but with Jayasurya and Sangakkara lining him up between their sights, he came away with less damage than might have been. His confidence must have been a bit low after the initial beating and it was a good thought to bring him back and let him take those wickets. 40 odd runs for two wickets sounds far better than 40 odd runs for no wickets, albeit over 6 or so overs.
All in all, it was an easy victory for India and I am not surprised simply coz I always knew we are that damn good. That is why I was so excited when Chappell became coach coz it is no good being that damn good and losing half of the time. Ok, so this is only one victory but I look on this as a pointer to things to come. We may still face a hiccup or two coz SL is a good team but in terms of direction, I feel good. A lot of people are talking about the likes of Ganguly, Zaheer and Nehra being out of the picture as long as Greg C is coach but the way I see it; Greg C has laid out some laws and anyone who is willing to conform to those laws can come in and join the party. Zaheer had a 6-fer in the recent Duleep trophy and Nehra has always been one of our wicket-taking bowlers but whether they want to play the game by Greg C's rules or not is the moot question. As for Sourav Ganguly, it might be harder for him to look on Greg C as his boss coz he (Ganguly) has been the boss for a long time ... but again, it depends on how much he can adapt. Greg C's way is the better way and that is the Chuckster's firm opinion ... so now it is upto Ganguly to choose.