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Srinath has been simply superb

By Peter Roebuck
March 10, 2003 21:47 IST
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Thanks largely to its old-timers, India became the second team to reach the semi-finals of this eighth World Cup. From the start Ganguly's side has seemed the most gifted, balanced and purposeful of the subcontinental outfits. Only the Antipodean sides have played as well. Australia romped into the last four and knows that Srinath and company must sooner or later be beaten. When the last Sri Lankan wicket fell at The Wanderers, the Indians raised their arms and rushed to form another huddle. These fellows like each other, which is not always the case in cricket teams from any part of the globe. Dravid jumped for joy. Tendulkar took a tumbling catch and threw the ball into the air. Earlier he had played a measured innings as India's senior players took charge of the match.

For a month cricket has been searching for the team that scrapes through its opening matches and then improves as the tournament moves along. The search is over. India is the team, a side full of youngsters running with the wind and old salts providing shelter in the storm. Ganguly's side has a blend of energy and experience. A fortnight ago disenchanted Indian supporters were stoning the players' houses and breaking their car windows. At least they care. In this dark hour it was the old hands who settled the team down, supporting the captain and turning the side around with resolute performances. Actions always speak louder than words. Here was confirmation that there is more to one-day cricket than is indicated by the hit and giggle description used by critics. Of course, it is an examination of the capabilities and character of team and players.

Never again will old-timers accept that one-day cricket belongs to the younger brigade. Their bones may creak, they may gasp towards the end of a cross-country run but they persevere and perform. Far from being a celebration of youth as advertised, this World Cup has reminded all and sundry of the eternal verities of the game. By doing so it has served a higher purpose. When it mattered the veterans of this World Cup have put runs on the board and taken wickets. They may have drifted along between tournaments and some added a few pounds in the wrong places, but once the world was watching they sorted themselves out and started to play. They have learnt a thing or two over the years and did not last this long without having a strong competitive instinct. Most realise they will not play in another World Cup. Accordingly they are reaching deep inside in search of their best cricket. Their contributions have enriched the tournament.

Old-timers and the tried and trusted have dominated this World Cup. Meanwhile, the younger brigade have been floundering repeatedly. The salted veterans have raised their game whilst those wet behind the ears have struggled . Apparently, spectators in Australia have observed a similar effect.

As far as batting goes, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Aravinda De Silva have been the men of the tournament. Sadly, the boycotts and their own mistakes stopped the West Indians from reaching the second round, a misfortune that denied the game the sight of its two of the greatest batsman comparing strokes in the manner of violinists exchanging notes. Lara was at his twinkling best and was also brilliant in the field. Tendulkar's work off his pads has not been bettered even by Viv Richards. Cricket needed to see these men at their peaks upon the same field and fighting for the cause. It was only a moment away.

De Silva was masterful in Pretoria, collecting the ball and despatching it over the boundary at square leg in the style of a rugby full-back finding touch. Andy Flower and Sanath Jayasuriya have been holding their sides together Age shall not weary them. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid have kept their team in several matches whilst also bowling and guarding the stumps. Alec Stewart and Nick Knight were England's leading batsmen. Meanwhile, Virender Sehwag and Mahela Jayawardena have appeared as frail as ancient silk. Amongst the youngsters, only Ramnaresh Sarwan and Yuvraj Singh have made impressions and they are not exactly novices. Even John Davison and the leading lights in the Kenyan side will not see thirty again.

Javagal Srinath and Wasim Akram have been the bowlers of the month. Sooner or later, Srinath was bound to take some wickets. At The Wanderers he ran through a brittle Sri Lankan side that did not dare to bat first. Even so, the Lankans could be dangerous in Port Elizabeth, where the ball turns and the first semi-final is to be held.

Srinath's return has transformed the Indian side. Whilst inexperienced colleagues have waxed and waned, the veteran has flowed to the crease before gathering himself to send down another precisely pitched delivery. Really, he could bowl with his eyes closed. Nothing happened for a few matches as batsmen played and missed at balls that landed on a length and jumped away.

Never underestimate the aging bowler is one of the longest-standing sayings in the game. England cursed its luck after losing the toss in Durban but should have doffed its cap to the excellence of Srinath's opening spell, in which he went past the bat about three times an over. Beforehand the Indians had worked out that the English middle order scored most of its runs on the leg-side. Accordingly, the ball as kept just outside off-peg whereupon the pale skins pushed and prodded and their camp followers bleated. Cricket is a simple game.

Akram was compelling and doomed. Chaminda Vaas and Murali have been Sri Lanka's only effective bowlers. Murali's action has looked rougher than previously whilst Vaas has curled the ball back so late, the lights were almost out. Several raw pacemen have appeared and most have been expensive, though Jermaine Lawson's delayed debut was full of promise. Australia might have an interesting time in the Caribbean this autumn. Otherwise, it is hard to think of any rising cricketer who has broken through in the first month of this competition as Inzamam did in his time

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Peter Roebuck