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Rain, India unable to stop South Africa
Prem Panicker | January 06, 2007 21:50 IST
Last Updated: January 07, 2007 21:00 IST
For a while there -- for quite a while, in fact, during which period first lunch, then tea, was taken -- it seemed as if the rain gods would gift India a draw, and an opportunity to level the series.
Had it happened, it would have been a travesty: India, presented with 'home' conditions for the series decider, had made shot itself in the foot twice in course of the match (the first time, when it frittered away the best start of the series and ended up with a first innings score that was at least 100 runs less than it should have got; the second, during that bizarre period of play on the afternoon of the fourth day when Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar threw cricketing commonsense to the winds), and did not deserve a face saving win.
South Africa, on the other hand, did. The home side played the key sessions well; when presented with an opportunity on the fourth afternoon, it bowled and fielded to perfection to squeeze the breath out of India and then batted positively to set up the winning opportunity.
The fifth morning brought more of the same: the Proteas sent out home boy Shaun Pollock, to replace Hashim Amla who had fallen to the last ball bowled on the fourth evening.
Pollock's job was clearly to ride his current rich vein of form and try and knock off the runs. The all-rounder did his job to perfection, going hard at everything, pulling, cutting, driving and in sum, turning the heat on the Indian bowlers to such an extent that Dravid was forced to dilute the aggressive field setting.
Graeme Smith was the prime beneficiary. The captain was nowhere near the sort of touch he had displayed in the first innings, and late yesterday evening; he took to batting within himself, rolling the strike over and letting Pollock do the hard yards. And when, in the 27th over, Kumble went around the wicket and made one explode off the deck, getting Smith to fend at it, there was no short square leg fielder in place to hold.
The third wicket partnership produced 50 runs in 9.5 overs -- and down came the rain, literally out of the blue. The first four days of this Test had been bright and sunny, there was no warning that the weather would play spoilsport; yet it did, to the point where first lunch was taken early, then tea.
South Africa contributed to its own problems with the sort of bad management that, had it happened here in India, would have had us yelling for the BCCI's blood. There was water on the covers, but the super sopper that could mop it up had no gas in it. And when gas was finally found, it turned out the machine was non-functional. The result: the ground staff was reduced to carefully carrying the covers to the edge of the ground, draining the water, then bringing them back on ever so often -- all the while consuming precious time.
After three hours and ten minutes of weather watching, play finally resumed at 15.05 local time with a maximum of 49 overs possible (more than enough for the home side to get the 100 runs it still needed at that stage) -- and in keeping with the weather, we saw high drama. Pollock had pulled Zaheer Khan for a four, then rocked back and cut Kumble to the fence. It seemed at the time that South Africa would finish the game off in a heck of a hurry.
In the 32nd over, Khan banged one down at Smith, outside his off, and jagged it back in. Smith played the length and looked to cut; the in-cut cramped him and off the high top edge, the ball flew to the left of Dinesh Karthick, who dived to pull off a great catch (55/84; 127/3).
The very next ball was fired down the leg side; Jacques Kallis had a healthy flick at it, got the edge for Karthick to produce another diving take -- and Asad Rauf ruled in favor of the batsman, ignoring some frenzied appealing.
Despite being denied (and, ironically, spoken to by the umpire), the Indians finally began buzzing in the field; their dives were more than cosmetic, and the volume of chatter reached ear-shattering proportions.
Kumble gave Kallis a hard time with a mixture of leg breaks, flippers and a googly that fooled the batsman and went heart-stoppingly close to the top of the stumps; the pressure began to build and it was Pollock, batting beautifully till that point, who finally succumbed. Zaheer Khan teased him around off with shortish deliveries that angled across and then straightened; by way of variety, he let one run away straight off the seam on the fuller length. Pollock was suckered into swishing at it, but managed only to find the edge, and picked out the lone slip, Laxman, posted a bit wide for just that (37/56; SA 132/4; 79 more needed). Pollock had put South Africa in pole position with his batting before the rain interruption; clearly, the break, the loss of his captain, the narrow escapes Kallis was having at the other end, all combined to put him under pressure.
With the ball reversing, Zaheer hit his straps and bowled possibly his best spell of the match; time and again, he hit the high 130s and had Kallis, in particular, groping and clueless around off. At the other end, Kumble slowed himself down, taking his time between deliveries and varying the angles constantly to the bemusement of both batsmen. Runs were mostly through singles -- risky ones at that.
Ashwell Prince, facing hand grenades thrown by Kumble into the rough outside off, took 21 deliveries to nudge a single and get off the mark. From then on, the two dug deep, and added 30 runs in 12.3 overs; it wasn't pretty how they did it, but when the two teams went off for a tea break, they had reduced the ask to 49 runs in 27 overs, with six wickets in hand.
When Kallis began post tea play by stepping back into his crease and banging Kumble back past the bowler for four, it signalled that the Proteas were ready to administer the last rites. The Indians gave Virender Sehwag a shot at the other end, for an over, then went back to Sreesanth -- who continued to run in with a lot of heart, and even induced two sniks from Kallis in successive overs, both wasted because Dravid had chosen to stagger his slips, posting a first and third and leaving the second vacant.
Somehow, though, the zip and bustling intent the team had shown before tea appeared to have been left behind in the dressing room; there was, in the way they went about their task, a sense that the team had collectively given the game up as a lost cause.
With a dozen runs to get, Tendulkar got a bowl -- and ripped leg breaks at Kallis, off breaks at Prince, then beat Kallis with a Murli-style offbreak the batsman played for the other one; the two exchanged grins at the contest within a contest. Tendulkar then turned his attention to Prince, turned him in knots, laughingly taunted him -- and made the rest of us wonder why he was never tried till then.
With two runs for South Africa to force the win, Kallis tried to finish it off, went for the pull off a Zaheer Khan short delivery, and managed only to scoop it up for Dravid to hold at midwicket, by way of a final tease (32/90; SA 209/5).
Yesterday, two of India's premier batsmen had pottered around for a little over 15 overs and, in doing so, surrendered the initiative -- a particularly bitter thought when you consider that when South Africa finally sealed the win by five wickets to take the series 2-1, there were only 12 overs left in play (and remember, Kallis was in fact out first ball). A handful of runs, a headful of commonsense, some heart -- the difference, really, between sensational success and the biting sting of defeat.
Sufficient unto the day; the post mortems can come after a day or two, to step back and gain perspective. For now, the sobering realization, that India had through the course of this Test several opportunities, with bat and ball, to seal a historic series win, and failed due to their own lack of self-belief, suffices as a sign off.
And, by way of salt in the wound, the team lost its opportunity, and the series, against a team that was uniquely vulnerable: South Africa's Test record for 2006 reads 11 played, 3 won, 7 lost and 1 drawn; not only did it lose all three of its away Tests, it wasn't too hot at home either, losing four and winning three.
An opposition that had lost the fire, a wicket just like the one mommy makes back home, the advantage of winning the toss and batting first or, more to the point, ensuring that the opposition would need to bat last on a breaking pitch, an opening partnership of 153 -- what more does a side, need to win?
India's tour of South Africa 2006: The Complete Coverage
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