Records rescue India's Super Six hopes
Trevor Chesterfield - 26 May 1999
TAUNTON (England) - There was a serious fire hazard warning in the records keeping department of the World Cup at a venue where Graeme Hick once thumped 405 as two of India's finest severely singed the pages with a massive partnership and eclipsed Sachin Tendulkar's munificent batting skills.
India, in serious danger only a week ago of bowing out of the tournament as first round losers, found two heroes in the form of Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid as they pounded the reigning champions, Sri Lanka, into the sort of submission with defeat of 157 runs.
The result of a record partnership of 316 runs at seven runs an over is no mean achievement as they mounted an impressive total of 373 for six in their 50 overs.
And records there were: when you consider that before yesterday India's highest World Cup score was 289 for six against Australia 12 years ago in New Delhi, the partnership of 316 assumes the sort of proportions which will have millions dancing in the streets from Calcutta to Mumbai.
The view is that Sri Lanka, who arrived in England with an attitude problem the size of the Dumbulla Rock, were taught a lesson in batting skills and a common sense approach.
For one thing Muthia Muralitharan, while not quite tamed by England at Lord's 12 days ago was severely manhandled at Priory Avenue by Ganguly and Dravid. Normally he returns respectable figures and anything above 35 is seen as a thereat to his reputation as the world's No1 off-spinner. Yesterday he went for 60 off 10 overs was wicketless and bowled with utter frustration as the fieldsmen put down a couple of catches off his bowling.
Statistically, man of the match Ganguly, eclipsed Kapil Dev's rec0ord World Cup score of 175 not out against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells in 1983. It was the highest individual innings by a batsman in a match between Test playing countries, falling short of Gary Kirsten's 188 against the United Arab Emirates in the last World Cup.
The partnership surpassed the Waugh brothers 207 for Australia against Kenya in the last World Cup and although Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lanka captain, chided his bowlers for their slovenly efforts and waywardness, the Indians were a tad hungrier to stay alive in the competition than were the title-holders. Sri Lanka are fast disappearing into a tunnel of gloom created by their own indecisiveness and the turmoil at home must be seen to partly responsible for the often ineffectual performances.
Then again, the batting of Dravid and Ganguly was such that it is doubtful whether many bowling attacks would have been able to contain such sublimed and supreme strokeplay. They left you with the impression that having Tendulkar on board was superfluous baggage.
Dravid is a class act: smooth, stylish and driving straight and hard; even when he is pulling or cutting there is a touch of genius about him. He is emerging as the latter day Mohammad Azharuddin: it was uncanny how the two drive with such precision and timing.
Ganguly, the prince of Calcutta, a left-hander whose ability to drive on the up is as dignified as any, and his execution of the cover drive is as good as you are likely to see these days, punished anything which deviated a millimetre off the seam or through the air.
There has been so much talk about the maverick waywardness of the cantankerous Dukes white ball that the avalanche of runs no doubt came as a shock to Ranatunga. By the 15th over, with the score already in the 80s, the jaunty step Ranatunga had when he went out to toss had been replaced by a laboured step unable to keep up with the run-making efficiency.
Mind you, Priory Avenue, with stately stone tower of the 16th century St James church almost nodding benignly on this pastoral scene has been standing in mute tribute for more than a century while watching some great batting achievements.
And such are closeness of some boundaries a forward defensive drive will reap a four or even a six if the ball is bowled into the batsman's arc. The Sri Lanka bowlers were all too often guilty of this wayward tactic.
When it came to their turn Sri Lanka did not have it in them. Sanath Jayasuriya, the would be captain, has been taped and there are a variety of strategies to have him quick marching back to the pavilion. And with Romesh Kaluwitharana also falling early, the Lanka innings was always in danger of folding as a proverbial house of cards.
If any lesson has been learnt by Mahela Jayawardena is that playing half-forward is not an option outside Sri Lanka where umpires decline to give such lbw decisions.
There was a tidy half century for Aravinda de Silva and some spark and flair from Ranatunga but for the rest they as badly as they bowled and fielded: unimaginatively and without conviction.
For India there is now a chance to go through. They meet England while Zimbabwe play South Africa. It is still a knife edge for them both.