Cricket: World Cup - A fighting farewell by the Indians

India (50 overs) 251-6 v New Zealand A D Jadeja 76
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The Independent Online
NEW ZEALAND arrived here in Nottingham with their destiny in the World Cup in their own hands. India had been deprived of such a luxury by indifferent form in key matches and results in those which they were not involved doing them no favours.

It did not then have all the ingredients of a gripping affair - New Zealand's place in the semi-final perhaps not concerning the bulk of New Zealanders - and India heading for home. But this did not stop a carnival atmosphere in the ground and the habitual huge support for the Indians.

One foot on the plane, or not, they could not fail to be stirred by this. In return for their fervour the crowd were rewarded with a closely fought contest in which India appeared to establish a platform for victory and the Kiwis responded with some dash. They were not going to let their further progress in the tournament be denied lightly.

The loss of three wickets chasing a target of 251 did not deter them and Matthew Horne scored a fighting half-century which was rarely fluent but always determined. On this result the fate of Australia and their place in the semi-finals depended.

What the huge Indian contingent in the crowd desired, what everybody desired, was for one of their batsmen to provide a resplendent adieu to the tournament. Another fond, lingering glance at the order on the scorecard merely heightened the absurdity of their absence from the last rounds of the seventh World Cup.

Surely one of the top five, from Sachin Tendulkar to Mohammad Azharuddin via Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Ajay Jadeja, could offer a lasting, glorious memory in their final appearance in the Super Sixes. Anticipation was high as soon as they won the toss and batted.

There was a touch of moisture on the turf and drizzle in the air - mizzle, to use the technical cricketing term. But it was warm enough and India clearly felt they could belt the Kiwis and their dibbly-dobbly, military medium seamers around Trent Bridge and out of the match.

It was not, alas, to be. The angelic batsmen all partly established themselves, tempting their followers with the promise of riches to come, and then succumbed to the dibbly-dobbly ones. This, perhaps, does a disservice to bowlers who have kept New Zealand's collective head above the shifting waters of the one-day game - not least to Geoff Allott, the leading wicket- taker in the competition - but the answer to the question of whether you would rather see Tendulkar and Dravid bat or Gavin Larsen and Chris Harris bowl is not exactly elusive.

Tendulkar was the first and, perhaps, most mourned loss. His first run brought a massive yelp from the throngs, later to be remonstrated with for their noise despite their perpetual goodwill. It was like a mass swelling of pride. But the little master has had his problems this World Cup and it has been suggested that the scorer of 22 one-day centuries has been found out by the swinging, new white ball at the start of the innings.

Maybe, but since 20 of those centuries have come when he has opened, albeit on more trustworthy pitches, it does not hold up for long. Tendulkar's father died only a fortnight ago and, even in a country such as his where cricket is part of the national psyche, it may he difficult to concentrate so soon on such matters as proper shot selection.

It was a loose-drive-cum-forward-prop which did for him yesterday during an efficient little burst from Dion Nash. But when Tendulkar goes, there comes Dravid. If it is not heretical to say so, Dravid is perhaps a more pleasing sight, slightly more correct and orthodox with an equal range of shots and a thoroughly appropriate idea of when to deploy them.

He timed a couple of lovely drives and a cut or two and you were just thinking of putting your house on his acquiring his fourth half-century of the tournament, and at least the garage and the garden shed on Dravid going on to complete his third century when he flashed at one from Chris Cairns which was on to him quickly. If you flash, flash hard, they say, and this sizzled off the bat towards backward-point. It was straight at Stephen Fleming's left shoulder but it was a snorting, reaction catch.

Ganguly went next, not the first in the past month to have been dumbfounded by Allott's length and deceptive swing, and Azharuddin was still playing through a patch of indifferent form, which his battling half-century against Pakistan last Tuesday had not quite rectified. He was still battling when he mistimed a pull.

All of which left Jadeja, himself scorer of a lovely, dashing century at The Oval against Australia. This was similarly jaunty stuff, there were sixes to long-off and long-on off Nathan Astle and Cairns, but when the late chase was on he perished to a drive played too early against the latter.

But they did enough to make 251 and that itself looked ample to see off New Zealand. Qualification for a World Cup semi-final is a wonderful motivating factor, however, and they set off at a dash. Astle, short of runs throughout, did a rare thing by giving the noble Javagal Srinath the charge and thumping him back over his head for four.

This could not last, and it did not. Astle fell victim to Debashish Mohanty, England's seaming nemesis at Edgbaston, Srinath found a lifter for Craig McMillan and Fleming flirted with danger before his loose, flashing drive against Mohanty ended up with the wicketkeeper. Matthew Horne, another who owes them a few runs, stayed around for an 85-ball half-century. They weren't going quietly if they were going at all.

Andrew Longmore, page 3