COLOMBO: No side has won a match at the Premadasa Stadium batting second in the last 13 ODIs played here. India broke that hoodoo on Friday,beating New Zealand by six wickets in the second match of the Compaq Cup tri-series and thereby ensuring a place in Monday’s final against hosts Sri Lanka and also moving to the top of ICC’s ODI rankings. India now take on the hosts in an inconsequential game on Saturday.
But the real positive to come out of Rahul Dravid‘s comeback match was the superb performance of another man on the comeback trail: Ashish Nehra whose career was thought to be as good as over after he suffered a serious ankle injury during the 2003 World Cup. into a match winner again. “It was tough but I never for once thought that I won’t play for India again,” said Nehra after his man-of-the-match showing.
Nehra generated good pace and bounce and, more importantly, moved the ball either ways after pitching. That he got both the New Zealand openers, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum, one a left-hander and the other a right-hander, out leg-before with balls that came in after pitching showed that he knew what he was doing with the ball.
The Delhi left-armer opened the floodgate in his first over and also wrapped it up in the 47th over as New Zealand managed a modest 155 for nine wickets.
Nehra finished with figures of 3 for 24 from his 8.3 overs. New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori top scored with 25 in a card that had quite a few 20s, some 10s and a duck too. In reply, India notched up the required runs in the 41st over losing just four wickets.
Sachin Tendulkar, back in the squad after skipping the West Indies tour, scored 46 valuable runs before skipper MS Dhoni (35 n.o.) and Suresh Raina (45 n.o.) saw to it that India broke the Premdasa jinx.
But more than India’s batting, coach Gary Kirsten & Co would have taken heart from what their fast bowlers did early in the day. Bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad applauded every New Zealand wicket that fell with a great sense of satisfaction.
It could be seen in his big smile as it flashed on the giant screen. And he had some good reasons for that too. Without Zaheer Khan in the line-up, many thought that this attack lacked bite and venom.
But Nehra’s comeback and RP Singh return to form and fitness meant that a bowler like Ishant Sharma could afford to come in first change to trouble the opponents. Of course, conditions at the ground helped the bowlers and the Kiwi batsmen failed to put up any credible resistance. But Indian bowlers were still spot on.
If Nehra was hungry for some action, so was RP. He too had a point to prove and didn’t let go of this opportunity. He mixed his deliveries well and never hesitated to dig in one short or bowl the slower ones every now and then.
And while the focus was on the seamers, part-time spinner Yuvraj Singh also proved incisive, grabbing three wickets for 31 runs to hasten New Zealand’s fall.