Left-right combination makes life difficult for Indian bowlers on a batting wicket
India was 19 for two in six overs. The batsmen dismissed were Sourav Ganguly (2) and Gautam Gambhir (3).
Southampton: With the Indian bowlers not quite finding an answer to the challenges of bowling at a left-right combination, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell prospered with maiden ODI hundreds at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday.
It was not just about the bowlers shifting their line efficiently enough, the difference in the heights of the two batsmen — Cook is 6’2, while Bell, 5’10 — meant they had to alter their lengths as well. The visitors were found wanting for most part.
The second-wicket stand of 178 runs in 185 balls provided England — the host finished at a creditable 288 for two in 50 overs — a wonderful paltform to push for a victory in the first ODI of the seven-match NatWest series.
Cook made 102 (126b, 8x4) before attempting a heave off paceman Rudra Pratap Singh while Bell remained unbeaten on a well-constructed unbeaten 126 (118b, 10x4, 1x6). Kevin Pietersen blitzed a 25-ball unbeaten 33.
England’s inability to score more than 78 runs in the last ten overs — the host had nine wickets remaining at the start of the 40th over — might have given India a sniff.
Back to the man they call the Chef. There are doubters about Cook blossoming as an opener in one-day cricket.
The English selectors, however, have backed the left-hander who has the right temperament and innings-building skills. They were rewarded here on Tuesday. While Cook’s typically efficient on-side play was on view — his on-drives reflect his balance — the opener also produced a few gorgeous shots through the covers to reveal his growing range of strokes.
Yet, the 22-year-old Cook’s effort was more intelligent than innovate. It is possible to gather runs in one-day cricket with clean cricketing shots. Importantly, even during the early overs, when he could not quite pierce the field, the left-hander did not panic. Patience pays... even in one-day cricket.
Bell is a far more flamboyant customer; someone quick of mind and feet. The right-hander from Warwickshire has also backed his natural ability with a sound technique off either foot.
Bell, cutting driving and pulling, forced the bowlers to alter tactics, collecting runs in the process.
Left-arm pacemen Zaheer Khan and Rudra Pratap Singh were steady. Ajit Agarkar was expensive in his second spell and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla struggled after beginning well. Chawla’s expensive ways forced Rahul Dravid to introduce Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, who too leaked runs.
The initial phase of the match — the first ten overs — did not exactly witness pulse-pounding stuff apart from Matthew Prior’s straight-hit charging Zaheer. Zaheer and Ajit Agarkar operated with a fair measure of control even if they were not incisive.
There were not too many big blows, nor too many instances of the ball beating the bat. In several senses, it was mundane cricket before a colourful crowd at a venue of breathtaking beauty.
The non-availability of the influential Marcus Trescothick has meant England is searching for an effective opening combination, a crucial aspect in any form of the game. This could be precisely why Matthew Prior, despite his rather ordiranry glovework, has been preferred to Paul Nixon.
It was Zaheer’s ability to seam the ball both ways that saw Prior (19) miscuing a shot to Dravid in the ring. The England score read 43 for one in 10.5 overs; a useful start by a left-right pair.
A dense clould cover might have influenced Rahul Dravid’s decision to field first.
The Indian eleven included three specialist pacemen and Sourav Ganguly, a handy bowler in these conditions.
Still, it would not have been an easy call for Dravid to make.
The Indian skipper’s move evoked mixed reactions.
Former West Indian fast bowler Ian Bishop, who made a brief entry into the press box, said, “I would have batted first. It looks a good pitch and chasing under the lights could be a problem here. It is always better to bat under the natural light.”
However, recent history suggested otherwise. Pakistan successfully pursued 272 against the host here last year.
Interestingly, England did not quite start its innings under the natural light. Murky weather meant the floodlights had to be switched on from the first ball.
England: A. Cook b R.P. Singh 102, M. Prior c Dravid b Zaheer 19, I. Bell (not out) 126, K. Pietersen (not out) 33, Extras (lb-4, w-4) 8; Total (for two wkts. in 50 overs) 288.Fall of wickets: 1-43 (Prior), 2-221 (Cook).India bowling: Zaheer 10-1-49-1, Agarkar 10-1-65-0, R.P. Singh 10-0- 49-1, Ganguly 4-0-21-0, Chawla 7-0- 42-0, Tendulkar 4-0-29-0, Yuvraj Singh 5-0-29-0.