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Player of the Month: July
12 Aug 2007
By: Sudeep Popat

In a month that saw several singular outstanding performances, but no total domination by any particular player over the entire period of four weeks, on account of either lack of consistency or just the fact of not having much cricket to play, it is difficult to choose one who was head and shoulders above the others.

The month started off with the decider in the three-match ODI series between India and South Africa at neutral grounds in Ireland. In a shortened match reduced to 31 overs a side, because of rain, Indian bowling managed to restrict the Proteas for a meager score of 148. And while it looked as if India could make a mockery out of what should have been a simple run chase, Yuvraj Singh stood tall, crafting a patient 61 not out off 82 balls, guiding India to the series victory. Unfortunately, Yuvraj did not get another outing in the middle all through the month, since later in the month he was not preferred over the likes of Dinesh Karthick and VVS Laxman, against England, in the longer version of the game.

While India pulled off the series victory in a tight match, England squared off against the touring West Indies side in a three-match ODI series, after routing them in the Test series 3-0, despite Shivnarine Chanderpaul's Herculean efforts to prevent so. Chanderpaul stroked a fifty and a hundred in the ODI series as well though, which saw West Indies bowling come good with wickets being shared by pacemen Darren Powell, Fidel Edwards and Dwayne Smith over the course of the three matches. Chanderpaul, however, failed on two occasions, the last match against England and then, the one-off match against Scotland which the touring side almost blundered to a humiliating loss, to be rescued only by Chris Gayle's second fifty of the month.

On the subcontinent, meanwhile, Sri Lanka continued their three-Test series against touring Bangladesh, with the second and third Tests going the same way as the first one: an innings victory for the hosts. Two players stood out above the others. Kumar Sangakkara with two double centuries in the two Tests, and Muttiah Muralitharan who picked up 17 wickets, made sure that Sri Lanka totally dominated the minnows. Sangakkara, however, failed in all the ODIs against the Bangladeshis, while Muralitharan was rested for the same. Mohammad Ashraful showed a flash of his brilliance in the second Test, with a masterful 129 not out in a losing cause, but nothing else he did apart from that was of note.

The major attraction of the month surely was the Test series between England and India. England was perhaps robbed of the opportunity to go one up in the series in the first Test, when rain, to a larger extent, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, with a patient fourth innings knock of 76 not out, prevented them from completing what could have been an easy win after having set India a difficult target. Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan in England?s first innings, and especially Kevin Pietersen in the second innings, played crucial knocks that were instrumental in pushing India back against the wall. Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson's bowling was spot on throughout the match, and they looked all set to script a victory before the rain gods came to India's rescue.

But perhaps the player of the month should go to the bowler, who in the second Test, bowled brilliantly in both the innings against England, and was instrumental in helping India take the upper hand in the series with a memorable win. Zaheer Khan bundled out the English top order twice in the same match, first time cheaply, but the second time even while the batsmen were giving much better resistance. Zaheer, on the fourth day, made sure that Michael Vaughan's valiant century in the second innings doesn't shift the balance which had lied with India throughout the earlier days of the Test.

He only managed a single wicket in the ODI against South Africa, and just two wickets in the first innings of the first Test. But Zaheer Khan came back with a bang. While he could not stop Kevin Pietersen set a daunting target in the first Test despite his four wickets, his nine in the second Test were by far the most important ones of the series that put India in the driver's seat going into the third and final Test.

Player of the Month - July:
Zaheer Khan
16 wickets (1 ODI, 2 Tests)

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