Justin Kemp's maiden limited-overs century helped South Africa fightback and score a 106-run victory over India in the third one-day international in Cape Town on Sunday.
Kemp was unbeaten on 100 as South Africa recovered from 76 for 6 to a competitive 274 for 7 in their 50 overs. He was involved in a world record unbroken partnership of 138 with Andrew Hall, who played a vital innings of 56.
In reply, India lost quick wickets at the start of their innings, never really recovered, and were bowled out for 168 in 41.3 overs.
Shaun Pollock caused the most damage, claiming 4 for 26 in his 9 overs, accounting for the top four Indian batsmen.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni provided a glimpse of hope in the middle overs with a quick 55 from 48 balls. He added 85 runs for the fifth wicket with Rahul Dravid, who scored a painstaking 63 from 103 balls.
South Africa lead the five-match series 2-0.
South Africa innings:
Talk of wholesale changes -- India switched half its side. Whether it is a reaction to Durban, and to the mass uproar following that defeat, is unclear.
While on the Durban issue, an amusing email from Sujata Prakash, who old-timers will recognize as a regular contributor to Rediff way back when, reads: `Did you read of Sharad Pawar asking Dilip Vengsarkar to go to South Africa and tell the captain and coach how the country feels?
`That, in this day of instant communication by ISD, internet, instant messaging and what have you?
`Typical politician -- jao, unhe samjao ki hum naakush hain!'
Right -- ridiculous doesn't even begin to describe it.
Back to the team, and Irfan Pathan in for Munaf Patel makes sense - the latter is injured, the former is the natural replacement, plus his inclusion strengthens the batting.
Viru Sehwag is back from injury, so that is natural, too. Anil Kumble coming in makes sense, too, though I am not as sure about the retention of Harbhajan Singh. The coach and captain have in recent times said Kumble has an important role to play in the World Cup campaign; that being the case, it makes sense to play the leggie as much as possible.
The other day, though, I thought Harbhajan was finding the conditions inimical. There isn't as much turn as he is used to; add good bounce, and the offie was coming on nicely onto the bat.
But a wicket-keeper batsman, Dinesh Karthick, in for a pure batsman? The move indicates, merely, a sudden, total, lack of faith in Suresh Raina. Granted, the teenaged left-hander after a promising start to his career has increasingly looked at sea. It wouldn't have been quite as perplexing had he been left out of the touring party and a full fledged batsman (did someone say VVS Laxman?) been picked.
To pick the youngster for the team, to play him in one game, then drop him abruptly smacks of an emphatic vote of no-confidence; more so when you replace him with a wicket-keeper batsman. What that will do to Raina's already waning confidence level remains to be seen.
The best move, in my mind, is Rahul Dravid back at number three -- that is where he belongs, and it is about time this business of trying Mohammad Kaif at that position was given a decent burial.
South Africa, meanwhile, wins the toss on a pitch radically different from Durban and opts for first strike. Again, no surprise -- batting conditions should be at their best first up in the morning, though this time round, given it is a day game, the Indians don't have to contend with the extra movement seen under lights in Durban.
India struck early and hard before. There was, though, something special about the start here at Newlands -- confirmation that Zaheer Khan, after his spell in the wilderness, is now really, really hungry.
Prone, earlier, to taking time to warm up and get his radar going, Zaheer here was bang on target -- and thinking.
The first ball of the match was as good as you want -- full in length, angling in, seaming off the deck to cut Graeme Smith in two and strike the pad.
The next ball was the ideal follow up -- the line adjusted just a tad to outside off, the seam movement bringing the ball sharply in and forcing a tentative Smith to push the wrong line and lose his off stump (0/1).
The second wicket, in the same over, owed more to batsman's error. Zaheer's delivery was angling across the right handed Jacques Kallis and going harmlessly through when the batsman, playing on the back of a century in the series opener, aimed an airy drive that merely managed to find the edge; Sachin Tendulkar at first slip controlled the chest high catch with ease (0/2).
The pairing of Ajit Agarkar with Zaheer was surprising. The right arm seamer has been coming in at first change of late and doing well with a restrictive line; with the new ball, though he does tend to generate swing and seam, his control has been inevitably awry.
That error cost India dearly. Herschelle Gibbs, having survived a torrid over against Zaheer, got stuck in to Agarkar, following up a barely controlled swat over point with a creamy drive through mid off in the fourth over. Two elegant cover drives in the sixth over, followed by two sublime flicks off his pads through the midwicket region, off Agarkar in the sixth over threatened to break the hold being created at the other end by Zaheer (3-2-1-2 at that point).
Agarkar's 3 overs for 25 runs prompted the change; Irfan Pathan was switched on in the 8th over, and promptly began with a maiden to Gibbs.
At the other end, Loots Bosman looked ill at ease and under pressure; a rare bad ball, slow, short and wide by Zaheer, finally permitted him the carve through point to get off the mark after 20 deliveries.
There are signs, towards the end of this 10-over period, that Gibbs is rediscovering his footwork and touch; taking him out early holds, for India, the key to the rest of the game.
South Africa after ten overs is 36/2; Zaheer with 5-3-8-2 being the standout performer of the session, while Pathan's two overs have cost 4 runs thus far.
Loots Bosman had at no point in his stint this morning looked even remotely at home. Unable to connect with his shots, unable to work the ball off the square to turn the strike over, the right-handed opener finally tried to slog his way out of trouble -- and paid when an airy drive, straight out of the Kallis copybook, found the edge for Tendulkar at first slip to complete the déjà vu moment (6/25 Bosman; SA 38/3).
Irfan Pathan doesn't have the pace of Zaheer Khan, but there was sign, in his bowling today, of more thought and application than he has shown in recent times. Against Gibbs, Pathan experimented a touch in his first over, then quickly settled into a very straight line, on length, and on the stumps - a ploy calculated to negate the batsman's strength in hitting on the rise and through the line.
Relatively becalmed after the exit of Agarkar, against whom he had reaped six fours in two overs, Gibbs attempted to break the stranglehold by blazing a drive at an angling delivery a touch on the shorter side. He was down on his knee for the stroke; the ball was moving away from him, and Gibbs managed only to get the lower part of the bat onto the shot, to pick out Mohammad Kaif at cover (Gibbs 35/40; SA 42/4).
Dravid resisted the temptation to bring back Agarkar, and replaced a tiring Zaheer Khan (inspirational, with 7-4-9-3) with Anil Kumble in the 15th. The leggie's third delivery lined up de Villiers' pads, bang in line with the stumps; umpire Billy Doctrove, though, reckoned otherwise and the batsman lived to fight on.
The reprieve began costing India in the very next over; Sehwag was too lazy to cut off an off drive; de Villiers celebrated with an immaculate straight drive to the very next ball of Pathan's.
The left arm seamer appeared to tire early into his spell; if his fifth over was a touch under-whelming, the sixth was bad news, with a short ball sitting up and daring the batsman to hit it (de Villiers did), followed by one short, angled, and wide enough to carve through covers (again, de Villiers did). Pathan immediately went around the wicket; it was clear from the follow through ball that the steam had gone out of him.
Mark Boucher had been living dangerously all along, especially in the 22 yards between wickets. On occasion, he took off for runs that were just not there; on other occasions, he refused the simplest of runs - and then he did it once too often, in the 19th over.
The stroke by de Villiers' went to sweeper cover; Pathan raced around to field and fired the throw in with Boucher just setting off on his second. Kumble's experience told - with the throw coming over his head, he didn't wait to collect, but merely palmed the ball onto the stumps to catch Boucher out of his ground.
An interminable number of replays later, the third umpire finally gave it - and South Africa's implosion continued with yet another batsman succumbing to pressure just when it looked like a revival was in the offing (Boucher 4/16; SA 70/5).
Agarkar came back on in the 20th, and served up a half volley to de Villiers by way of hors d'ouevres. The next one was short, lifting outside off, and the batsman got cute with it, trying to steer it down to third man but managing only to touch it through to Dhoni (de Villiers 29/30; SA 76/6).
Overs 11-20 produced 40 runs and four wickets; the power plays are out of the way; the batting side is reduced to its last two recognized hitters and India has a wealth of bowling options on tap - to let SA get away from here would be downright criminal.
The first five overs of this period was a study in contrasts -- Anil Kumble on a strangulating length; Ajit Agarkar bowling a mixture of unplayable and unmentionable deliveries.
South Africa managed 15 runs before Agarkar was switched off (6-0-42-1) and Harbhajan came on, to make it an all spin attack. The offie's third delivery found the edge -- and Dravid fluffed a chance -- a difficult one, but he has held tougher -- to send back Pollock with the score at the time on 93/6.
The next over produced a bizarre decision -- Kumble fired a flipper across the right-handed Justin Kemp; the batsman attempted to run it down to fine leg, got a faint nick, and umpire Brian Jerling not only turned the vociferous appeal down, but signaled the wide by way of adding gratuitous insult to injury.
The session produced 32 runs; more crucially, Pollock and Kemp kept their wickets in tact, giving SA a glimmer of hope that, with 20 overs yet to go, some sort of competitive total can be posted.
You'd reckon on this track, even the SA bowlers need around 230, 240 to make a fight of it, though -- and it's very hard to see the home side getting close to that total.
After 30, SA 108/6; Pollock 22/33; Kemp unusually subdued with 9/31.
Shaun Pollock, reprieved on 12 by Dravid and not long after that, reprieved again by Brian Jerling, batted to his rep as one of the few genuine all-rounders in world cricket today -- calm, controlled, and very thoughtful in the way he focused on getting through the overs, getting runs when he could without risk, and looking to keep his team in the hunt.
That kind of attritional stuff must come harder to the big-hitting Justin Kemp, but he too kept his wits about him in the 7th wicket stand that, albeit slowly, continued to move the score along.
During the middle phase, Dravid opted yet again to give Tendulkar a longish spell of seam-up stuff - which made eminent sense in the previous game when India played just four regular bowlers, but seemed a tad strange given the attack here sported five full-time bowlers.
You would have thought, with one wicket to get to expose the tail, that Zaheer Khan could get a go. On the park, though, it was Tendulkar, who continued to bowl with the sort of control and tight lines he had shown in Durban, but didn't look like breaking through.
It took a Mohammad Kaif special to produce the breakthrough, in the 36th over. Shaun Pollock pushed Harbhajan out on the off and took off. Dhoni raced around from behind the stumps, fielded, and whipped the ball back -- but wide of the stumps.
Kaif, from short square leg, came up to the stumps to cover the throw, saw it going wide, dived, caught it one handed and flicked it back onto the stumps. Incredibly, Brian Jerling at square leg seemed inclined to give Pollock in; it took a concerted appeal by the close in fielders before the decision was referred to the third umpire (Pollock 33/50; 136/7).
Typical of the team, the next two overs produced fielding at its worst, with Keystone Kops fumbles that produced three boundaries where there should have been none. Whatever else they learn or not, the knack of keeping the pressure on appears to elude successive Indian sides.
Kemp, taking on the senior partner's role after the fall of Pollock, was the prime beneficiary, to the tune of 15 gifted runs during that two over period.
Kumble, in the session, ended his spell with returns of 0/24 from 10 tight overs; he should by rights have had two in the wickets column.
The ten over phase produced 52 runs for the wicket of Pollock, and if the home team managed to stick a foot in the door just as it seemed to be shutting in its face, it is largely thanks to the benevolence of the fielding side.
After 40, SA 160/7
It was in the World Cup, in South Africa, that Sandy Gordon worked with Sourav Ganguly and his men and coined for them the catchphrase: Now or never.
For free, I could coin one for the Indian team, for now and for always: It ain't over till it's over.
Having taken out six batsmen for just 76 runs inside 20 overs, it was as if the team believed its work was done; a failing that has constantly tripped it up in the past as well.
And, as in the past, the Indians paid a price here for easing off, as South Africa climbed out of the hole and even, thanks largely to the efforts of Justin Kemp, managed to dig a huge one for India to fall into.
With the ball getting older and softer and the pitch easing out, even the return of Zaheer to the bowling crease didn't yield much dividends -- Justin Kemp in fact indicated just how easy it was out there, with the smoothest pick up you want to see, off his pads and over the bowler's head, and over the straight fence in the 43rd over.
That was merely the warm-up; Kemp danced down to Bajji in the next over and hoisted him effortlessly over the long off fence, then followed through with a thumping drive again to the straight fence -- a combination of great hitting, and ordinary bowling from a bowler who, for the second game on the trot, appeared to be way below par.
Pathan took over from Zaheer -- and faced a nicely warmed up Kemp in full flow. A slogged pull for four, a huge swing over long on for six, a wide from the panicky bowler, and by way of coup de grace, yet another six over the same long on fielder's head -- and suddenly, India was bleeding runs at both ends, with no solution in sight.
At the other end, Andrew Hall got stuck into Agarkar -- who in this game was living out a personal nightmare anyways, going for runs even early on when Zaheer and Pathan could do little wrong.
The 43rd over had gone for 11, the 44th for 19, the 45th for 15, the 46th for 12 -- and Kemp continued to pay Zaheer back for his early heroics. A single by Hall off the first ball of the 47th set the stage for Kemp to slam Zaheer for successive sixes. The second of these raised the 100 of the partnership -- off an incredible 65 deliveries.
The over produced 19 runs -- and Zaheer, whose first seven overs had gone for nine, had given up 33 in three at the death.
To give the devil his due, it really was sensational hitting -- the sort of barnstorming batting that has earned Kemp his reputation as a late order destroyer.
The 49th over took the partnership to 120 -- a world record for the 8th wicket. Kemp duly celebrated by hoisting Pathan back over his head for yet another six. In the final over of the match, Kemp went to his first ever ODI century, off 89 deliveries, in the most prosaic fashion -- pushing Agarkar square on the off for a single.
What this assault has done is not merely set up a sizeable total for India to chase, but worse, has given the home team, down and seemingly out at 76/6, a massive second wind. For India, the reverse is true -- from buzzing around the park full of purpose while the wickets were falling, the team had towards the end taken on a 'oh fish, here we go again' demeanor.
South Africa closed on 274/7, with Kemp and Hall walking off to a standing ovation; the final ten overs had produced 112 runs.
Though the wicket at Newlands is nowhere near Durban in terms of pace and bounce, this score is going to take some getting against an attack in which even the fifth bowler regularly hits the 140k mark.
Virender Sehwag lives by the sword; yet again, he fell on his own when Shaun Pollock, with the third ball of the innings, got one to lift outside off.
The opener went into his patented upper cut; down on the line at backward square, Andrew Hall judged, then dived, to complete an excellent catch (0/1).
In a sense, you could blame the batsman for not taking the time to get his eye in; viewed another way, this is how he bats and when he pulls it off, he is Virender `Mayur' Sehwag, toast of the town.
On balance, in this game, against this attack, runs were his for the getting, had he waited just long enough to gauge the bounce the ball was getting off the deck; his dismissal ranks with that of Jacques Kallis, earlier in the day, in the hara-kiri hall of fame.
The second wicket was of a piece with the first. Pollock banged one in short, Tendulkar rocked back and pulled - and managed to hit it straight to square leg, missing acres of real estate to that fielder's left and right (Tendulkar 2/9; India 7/2 in the 5th over).
With Pollock and Ntini bowling well in tandem, it took a square drive by Mohammad Kaif in the 9th over to bring up the first boundary of the Indian innings. That shot, though, was illusory -- Kaif throughout his stay (as in fact even in the previous game) continues to move around way too much for comfort while waiting for the bowler to deliver the ball; the antithesis of Batting 101, that recommends you stay as still as dammit.
That failing resulted in the ugliest of heaves to a straight Pollock delivery one ball after that four had been struck; the batsman played all around it to find his stumps pegged back -- again, a dismissal caused not so much by a quality ball, as by the batsman's own reluctance to apply himself to the job on hand (Kaif 10/17; India 17/3).
The wicket, interestingly, remains on the quieter side; till date, the ball has done nothing for the South African bowlers that was markedly different from the way it behaved when India was bowling.
The difference, really, has been those few extra yards of pace - and the fact that the Indian batsmen are tending to play from the crease, or off the back foot, almost irrespective of length.
India 18-3 in 10
This spell of 10 overs produced something I have been waiting a match and a half to see -- an Indian batsman whose initial movement, when facing pace, is the forward press off the front foot.
In Durban and again here, batsmen did everything but come forward. They perched on top of the crease, they moved back and across, and if their name was Mohammad Kaif they went sideways, backwards and everywhere all at once.
This reluctance to use that front foot has permitted the South African bowlers the rare luxury of bowling just back of a length and keeping it there for ever and ever, amen -- or it did, till the 13th over.
In that over, Dinesh Karthick eased onto his front foot even as Pollock was into his delivery stride. The ball was, what else, short; Karthick stayed on the front foot and as it came up, got under it and eased it over mid off for four.
Before you could say `fluke', he was back on that front foot, clubbing Andrew Hall in the same direction, in the very next over. An irritated Hall promptly bounced Karthick; the batsman shifted his weight back and pulled it clean as a whistle over the backward square leg fence for six.
It's a line favored by the Ravi Shastris and Sunny Gavaskars: Any young kids watching, that front foot of yours was given to you for a reason. It is ironic that only a keeper-batsman, brought into the side to replace an out of form regular, was the only one who seemingly sussed that out while even Rahul Dravid, at the other end, persisted with the sideways movement and found himself cramped and unable to work the ball off the square.
What was even more ironic was that the first time Karthick went back and across, he lost his wicket. Makhaya Ntini produced a delivery that was quick, short, and seaming; the batsman pushed at it from his position on the back foot, with bat well away from his body -- and the edge was snapped up by a delighted Graeme Smith at first slip (14/23; India 44/4).
The South Africans have been talking of giving Mahendra Singh Dhoni nothing in his half of the pitch. Ntini opened though with a delivery on length -- and Dhoni, off his front foot, produced an astonishing push that sent the ball soaring several rows back among the spectators behind the bowler's arm. (I'd bet good money at this stage that I can count the number of good length deliveries Dhoni gets here on, on the fingers of one hand with enough fingers left over to hold my fork).
At the 20 over mark (SA 76/6), India is on 62/4. Looked at another way, Pollock has bowled seven, so has Ntini. And it is this factor that, more than any other, makes the suicidal play of the earlier batsman so criminal.
It was during the corresponding phase of the South African innings that the Indian fielding had a sudden, inexplicable attack of the yips -- to my mind, one key factor in lessening the intensity and allowing the Pollock-Kemp combine to set the stage for recovery.
You couldn't help recalling that phase, while watching Herschelle Gibbs at point field in a manner that made you think there is life after Jonty Rhodes after all -- a flying swoop to stop a fierce square drive by Dhoni was as good as any the master ever produced.
That sort of fielding helps paper over the chink in the South African bowling armor -- to wit, that neither Kallis nor Langeveldt are as penetrating, and consistently hostile, as Pollock, Ntini and the absent Andre Nel.
The introduction of the fourth and fifth bowler into the attack should have helped the batting team get a second wind, but the fielders upped their game another gear, and it remained business as usual.
Dravid is a pretty player but not, in such circumstances, an effective one; Dhoni is an effective player without ever having pretensions to aesthetics. Not surprisingly, the one looked comfortable without being able to score at anything approaching a decent clip; the other raised smiles with his hops and jumps but kept the board ticking whenever he got a chance at bat.
The mindset of the batsman during this phase though seemed to be to stem the South African advance; it was only when opportunity afforded, that they allowed themselves any kind of flourish. Opportunity afforded in the 29th, when Langeveldt opened with a slightly short delivery outside his off stump; Dhoni teed off on that one, blazing it over cover for six. A ball later, Langeveldt delivered a bouncer gone bad; Dhoni swung him over the midwicket fence for his third six of the innings; interestingly, this one had been fetched from outside off.
Smith was forced to resort to his sixth bowler -- Justin Kemp, who came in and was greeted with a wild waft that took the under edge of Dhoni's bat to third man for four more.
There was nothing edgy, though, to the batsman's treatment of the third ball of Kemp's over, the 30th -- onto the front foot, and a mammoth hit over the long on fence brought up his 50 off just 45 deliveries.
India at the end of 30, had made 118/4; SA at this point was 108/6. The session produced 56 runs; crucially, it did not produce a wicket and for the first time in the Indian innings, the batting side held its own.
The difference in fielding was the lead-in, and theme, of my previous post.
The 31st over prompts an encore.
Dhoni, who appeared to have worked up a good head of steam, got a short one from Kallis that he pulled with ferocious intent. The ball was traveling at pace, and seemingly dropping onto the ground en route to the square leg fence when Loots Bosman entered the frame.
Damned if you could figure where he came from, or how he got there so fast -- in the event, he sprinted, he flung himself forward, he stretched his arms to an impossible extent, and he snaffled the ball a heartbeat away from the ground.
It was a stupendous catch -- when Mickey Arthur said they had a plan for Dhoni, maybe that is what he meant, that SA has fielders everywhere capable of catching bumblebees on the wing. It took a near miraculous effort of that kind to get rid of an innings that was just gaining in impetus, and looking threatening (Dhoni 55/48; India 129/5; partnership 85 runs at 5.93 rpo).
There was more of the same later, when Harbhajan was in hit and giggle mode. A scooped push off his pads saw Graeme Smith, at a widish mid on, make ground like he was on wheels, dive, and pluck nonchalantly off the grass (Bajji 10/12; India 148/7); an Indian fielder to that same shot would have been lucky to restrict the scoring to a single; more likely, he would have dived late, the ball would have gone past him, and the batsmen would have ambled a couple.
Ajit Agarkar played a flick; if his mates had been fielding, that was four. Here, Graeme Smith, having earlier dived horizontally, this time went vertical, timing his jump to a nicety to pluck the ball one handed over his head (6/9; India 156/8).
Compare that kind of catching, and the fielding that went before, with Indian efforts today on the boundary line or even well within, and you realize there is more to building and maintaining pressure than just picking four bowlers, or five, or even debating ad nauseum whether Agarkar should play or Munaf should come back in.
Meanwhile, with Dhoni gone, so too went the brief flash of confidence -- Irfan Pathan came and, without ever looking like he knew why he was out there, ended his tenure with a flash outside off that put the ball in the hands of second slip (Pathan 1/10; India 133/6).
One of these days, hopefully, someone will be able to answer a question that to me holds a very big key: what happened, over a space of a little under a year, to take the wind so entirely, so noticeably, out of the sails of players like Raina, Kaif and Pathan who, not so long ago, were performing with a confidence belying their years?
Damned if I know.
To me this defeat -- and defeat it is even if the fat lady hasn't taken the stage yet -- should sting more than the previous one.
There, the team had come off months of play on flat home tracks; they had gone, with the barest minimum of acclimatization, onto one of the quickest wickets in world cricket and failed to adjust in time.
Not good, no - professionals are supposed to do their job irrespective. But you can make some allowances for that.
This one is another story. To have your lead strike bowler perform in a dream and then to give it away with clumsy fielding and amateurish catching; to get a team six down inside 20 overs and let them add a further 198 runs in the next twenty was criminal. Inexplicable. And yes, well though Kemp batted, inexcusable.
Meanwhile, India ended the 40th over on 168/8; South Africa were 161/7. The difference between the two sides? India doesn't have its own bowlers bowling at the death.
(Overs 40 - 41.3)
Rahul Dravid seemed, for most of his innings, to have resolved to bat through. The fall of Dhoni, Pathan, Harbhajan and Agarkar in rapid succession seemed to indicate to him that the game was a lost cause.
He changed gears, lofting Pollock over the long on boundary for a six in the 39th over. The bowler had his revenge in the 41st, when Dravid top-edged a pull and Andrew Hall, running in and diving from a deep backward square position, gave SA fielding coach Jonty Rhodes another reason to be pleased with his wards (63/103; India 168/9).
Zaheer must about now be sick as mud, after watching his team fritter away, first with the ball and in the field, then with the bat -- the advantage he had won for them with a sizzling opening spell. His grimace -- as Kumble swiped all over one from Andrew Hall to lose his off stump and finish off the innings on 168 all out -- told its own tale.
Here is the question that bothers me as the players walk off the field: How, if you are a Zaheer (or, in earlier times, a Kaif, a Raina, a Dhoni, a Pathan, whoever) do you keep your enthusiasm up, if you know that on any given day, half your mates or more will fail to turn up for the party?
With that, over and, for today, out.