S. Dinakar

Dhoni equals world record with six dismissals behind the stumps

Leeds: The roller-coaster NatWest series has witnessed another momentum shift. And the seven-match ODI face-off is on the boil.

The outcome of the series could hinge on whether or how well Andrew Flintoff — England missed him desperately in the middle overs and at the death — recovers from yet another ankle injury.

Flintoff”s fitness will be assessed during the pre-match nets on Tuesday at The Oval, the venue for what could be the pivotal sixth game. England will be relieved if the injury is no more than a strain caused as much by the pace-bowling all-rounder’s heavy frame as the faulty direction of his left foot in his action.

England has a few other fitness issues. Ravi Bopara, who does add depth to the line-up, will consult a hand specialist before deciding whether he can play any further part in this series. Paceman Chris Tremlett’s old foot injury has flared up as well and the selectors and the team-management have to make a call on him before the game.

The Oval, traditionally, has been among the harder, drier surfaces in England. There will be some bounce and carry for the pacemen, and a measure of assistance for the spinners.

Powerhouse batting

The Indians, victorious at Leeds, have now certainly given themselves a chance. The side turned in a powerhouse batting display after Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, reading the pitch well, gathered 116 for the first wicket. India is a line-up that relies rather heavily on starts and skipper Rahul Dravid complimented the experienced right-left duo, among the most successful opening combinations in ODI history.

Zaheer Khan, recovering from a twisted ankle, bowled with great heart and skill even if he was luckless. Off-spinner Ramesh Powar operated with guile, with a slightly wet ball. Man of the Match Sourav Ganguly showed just why he is such a feisty cricketer.

And Mahendra Singh Dhoni equalled a world record of six dismissals with the gloves. Interestingly, in the morning, former Indian wicket-keeper- batsman Farokh Engineer reflected on his session with Dhoni during the present tour.

Said Engineer: “The good thing about Dhoni is that he accepts his mistakes and is willing to learn. Sachin (Tendulkar) put him on to me. Dhoni worked on rising with the ball, which is so important for a ’keeper, transferring his weight without losing balance, and allowing the ball to ease into the gloves.

“In England, while standing back, the ball often swings after passing the batsman. So a wicket-keeper needs to watch the ball all the way to his big gloves. He should not grab at it. Dhoni is definitely improving.”

Nayan Mongia with five dismissals held the Indian record previously.

“It wasn’t so much the visibility but the wind that was the problem. The ball was swaying away from the fielders,” Dhoni said.

Dhoni, standing up to Ganguly, certainly allowed the ball to nestle in his gloves when Ian Bell, attempting a glide, edged. This particular dismissal was underlined by high quality ’keeping.

Skipper Rahul Dravid paid a rich tribute to Dhoni. “We wanted the ball to go to Dhoni all the time.”

The statement was also a comment on India’s overall fielding; easy catches in the slips and the outfield were put down. The skipper attributed this to the ball changing direction due to the swirling winds.

Under scrutiny

The Indian fielding is still under scrutiny. England skipper Paul Collingwood said his batsmen were picking out a few Indian fielders and putting them under pressure.

His team is still only a match away from clinching the series, but if India draws level at The Oval, it will travel to The Lord’s as the favourite.

The Indian team-management decision to revert to the four-bowler theory meant Ganguly would have a fair amount of bowling to do. The ‘Dada’, a street-smart seamer who is just a scalp away from 100 ODI victims, was precise and moved the ball away from the right-hander.

Be careful

This said, India would have to be careful on the 7-4 theory; it does not always work. India surprised England by sending Gautam Gambhir at No. 3 in Leeds, and the side could have a couple of more tricks up its sleeve before the series concludes.

The form of Kevin Pietersen is a major area of concern for England; the match-winner has been out-batted by Yuvraj Singh in the middle order. Ian Bell has been a revelation though in this form of the game. Confidence, they say, is everything.

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