Srinath strikes, as India pulls off sensational win in first Test
It would have taken a brave prophet to have predicted, this morning, that the first of the three-Test McDowell series would end before tea. And a braver one to suggest that the home side would canter to a comfortable victory.
And bravest of the lot would have been the man who suggested that on this "spinner's wicket", it would be the pace and fire of Javagal Srinath that would shatter the South African batting lineup with one of the most explosive spells of fast bowling in recent memory.
And it precisely this unpredictability that makes cricket - more especially, Test cricket - so fascinating. Look back at the match thus far, and you will see that in no two sessions of play, on all four days, did the advantage remain with one side. Each session saw its share of fluctuation, each produced its share of heroes and failures...
And at the end of it all, India had pulled off its 56th win in its 300th Test. More to the point, Sachin Tendulkar had won his second straight Test as captain.
Here's how it all happened...
India, it will be recalled, resumed at 172/7, overnight not outs V V S Laxman (50) and Anil Kumble (22) looking to add as many more to the board as possible.
In the event, just 13 more runs were in fact added, Laxman contributing one before falling LBW to the well disguised straighter one from Adams; Prasad falling to the bat pad trap and Hirwani, who apparently decided to live or die by the sword, lived for the space of four deliveries, hit two fours, and then perished off another attempted big hit.
With Donald nursing a bruised heel, India could well have been looking at adding valuable runs. And if they didn't, it was because Adams, rather mediocre thus far in the game, suddenly found the perfect line and length, and proved too good for the tailenders.
At this stage, with South Africa needing 170 to win and a day and three quarters to get them in, the touring side appeared to be well on top. A good solid start was all they needed, the rest was a matter of accumulating the singles and chipping away at whatever remained to get.
An over into the innings, the pendulum of probability had swung right round in the other direction. Javagal Srinath, bowling faster than anyone has seen him in his career, blasted one into a tentative Hudson's back pad, the ball looking headed to shave off stump if the obstacle hadn't been there. And off the very next ball, a perfect length just short of the drivable, a perfect line just on off stump, the extra shoulder to get lift and the latest of movements off the seam, and a helpless Cullinan had edged behind to reduce South Africa to 0/2.
Cronje and Kirsten then kept the fielders smiling with a succession of edges that went everywhere but to hand, till Joshi, who looked threatening the minute he came on to bowl, straightened on into the left-hander to earn a non-controversial LBW decision. South Africa 40/3 and already, one thing was apparent in the way the touring side were batting - strategies had been worked out in a team meeting, perhaps with the aid of coach Bob Woolmer and his peripatetic laptop, and were being implemented blindly in the middle.
This became even more obvious when McMillan came out to bat at number five, and promptly swept at the five balls that remained in Joshi's over. You could almost see the facts and figures churning into the computer and this results emerging: 'If you stick your front pad well forward and across towards the off stump, then you can't be LBW. And if you sweep with all your strength, the percentages are the ball will clear the close set field even on an edge and fetch runs'.
Pre-determination, however, fails to take into account one thing - the fact that a top quality bowler could well change his strategy to cope with the tactic. Kumble did precisely that, when he bowled one just that shade shorter to get the top edge on McMillan's sweep - textbook dismissal, that, and SA at that stage were 65/4.
With Rhodes nursing a hamstring strain that has ruled him out of the second Test, Dave Richardson came in at four down, and looked very comfortable coming onto the front foot against Kumble. Cronje, meanwhile, was his usual self - more edges than middles, tentative as a cat on the hottest of bricks, but grimly hanging on at one end.
And then Tendulkar displayed, yet again, the shrewd thinking that has been a facet of his captaincy. Back came Srinath, replacing Kumble at the Pavilion end and enabling the Indian leggie to switch over to the other end.
The reluctance of Tendulkar to give Srinath a bowl in the middle of the SA first innings had allowed the likes of Symcox and De Villiers to mount a rescue. Tendulkar had obviously learnt from that - and Srinath underlined the point when he first made one climb and swerve from off good length to get the edge of Richardson's bat, then greeted Rhodes (with Kirsten as runner) with a fast, swinging yorker first ball.
Bansal figured that it was LBW - god knows why, as the ball was swinging from off stump and looking to miss leg stump when it struck the batsman on the back pad. But then again, the selfsame god would have had a hard time explaining why, earlier in the innings, Bansal kept his hands in his pocket when Kumble struck Cronje below the knee roll with the flipper straightening onto the middle stump. As Ravi Shastri said after the match, the best you could say about the umpiring was that it was consistently bad.
The double blow, reminiscent of the one-two Srinath had delivered at the beginning of the innings, proved too much for the nerve of the SAfricans. Pat Symcox went way forward to Kumble who, after watching the batsman use that ploy for two balls on the run, held the third one back a shade shorter, defeating the push and sneaking in between the batsman's legs to crash into middle stump. Symcox nodded his appreciation of a classic delivery. And, two balls later, De Villiers was nodding his head in appreciation as Kumble drew him forward for Azhar to take a reflexive bat-pad at short square leg.
Two wickets had fallen at 96, two more at 100.
And skipper Cronje must take the blame for the fact that the last two fell at 105. Srinath was bowling as fiery a spell of fast bowling as you would want to see, getting enormous swing with the older ball and adding to the batsman's troubles by bowling the breakback, pitching on off stump and cutting the ball sharply towards leg. Cronje, at that stage, had batted 122 deliveries, and scored 48. Presumably, he was better equipped to cope with Srinath than Allan Donald, who had just come in. Strangely, though, Cronje took a single off the first ball of Srinath's 12th over. Donald lasted two balls that left him outside off, and then found the breakback crashing past his bat and into leg stump. And next ball, Srinath produced a similar ball, this one pitching outside off stump and blasting Adams' middle stump out of the ground.
South Africa all out 105 in just 38.5 overs, and now a definite question mark will hang over its inability to cope with intense pressure. At one stage the side had 94 runs on the board and just four batsmen back in the pavilion. Minutes later, they had lost six wickets for the addition of 11 runs - and the ghosts of Barbados were revisited here in Ahmedabad.
Two points are worth making, and the first relates to Tendulkar's captaincy. At 94/4, and with Richardson slamming star leggie Kumble for four, the temptation for a captain would have been to spread his fielders along the line, cut off the fours, and try to force them to graft by singles. Sachin, however, persisted with four men round the bat (five, when Srinath was bowling with four slips and a gully), aggressively seeking wickets instead of opting for the dubious benefits of defense. And the attitude - mirrored in the way Srinath bowled, and the Indians fielded - paid off here, as it had a month earlier against Australia.
Point two is this - nothing could be as fatal as assuming that India is now an unbeatable side. Frankly, there is no such thing in international cricket today. What India is, is a side in transition. Slowly, game by game, it's putting the jigsaw together. When the puzzle is complete, what it will have is a very young side, every component of which has a minimum of six, eight more years of top level cricket to look forward to.
And if you can absorb a few losses - as India did in Sri Lanka and Toronto - and keep focussed on the task of team building, then - perhaps in three, four months from now - it will be time to hang out the buntings and hail this side as the harbingers of a new era in cricket.
India 1st innings R B 4 6
SV Manjrekar b Adams 34 94 4 0
NR Mongia lbw b de Villiers 9 18 2 0
R Dravid lbw b Symcox 24 98 3 0
SR Tendulkar c Rhodes b Symcox 42 64 7 0
MA Azharuddin run out (Rhodes) 35 79 5 0
VVS Laxman lbw b Donald 11 43 1 0
SB Joshi c Hudson b Donald 16 60 1 0
J Srinath c Cullinan b Donald 14 46 1 0
A Kumble c Kirsten b Donald 17 54 3 0
BKV Prasad c Donald b de Villiers 9 37 0 0
ND Hirwani not out 0 3 0 0
Extras (lb 9, nb 3) 12
Total (all out, 98.5 overs) 223
Fall of Wickets: 1-22 (Mongia), 2-63 (Manjrekar), 3-98 (Dravid),
4-129 (Tendulkar), 5-159 (Azharuddin), 6-165 (Laxman),
7-193 (Srinath), 8-196 (Joshi), 9-221 (Prasad),
Bowling O M R W
Donald 26.5 13 37 4
de Villiers 18 5 55 2
BM McMillan 11 4 20 0
Cronje 5 3 8 0
Adams 17 2 46 1
Symcox 21 5 48 2
South Africa 1st innings R B 4 6
AC Hudson lbw b Kumble 23 80 3 0
G Kirsten st Mongia b Kumble 17 47 2 0
DJ Cullinan lbw b Joshi 43 75 4 1
WC Cronje lbw b Hirwani 1 8 0 0
JN Rhodes c Manjrekar b Joshi 14 38 0 0
BM McMillan b Joshi 8 23 0 0
DJ Richardson b Hirwani 4 29 0 0
PL Symcox lbw b Joshi 32 80 1 1
PS de Villiers not out 67 136 5 1
AA Donald b Srinath 17 64 2 0
PR Adams c Azharuddin b Srinath 1 7 0 0
Extras (b 7, lb 9, nb 1) 17
Total (all out, 98.1 overs) 244
Fall of Wickets: 1-29 (Kirsten), 2-46 (Hudson), 3-49 (Cronje),
4-95 (Rhodes), 5-102 (Cullinan), 6-113 (Richardson),
7-119 (BM McMillan), 8-182 (Symcox), 9-242 (Donald),
Bowling O M R W
Srinath 19.1 7 47 2
Prasad 9 2 24 0
Kumble 31 6 76 2
Joshi 24 4 43 4
Hirwani 15 3 38 2
India 2nd innings R B 4 6
SV Manjrekar c Hudson b Donald 5 20 0 0
NR Mongia c Richardson b Donald 5 22 0 0
R Dravid lbw b Symcox 34 110 5 0
SR Tendulkar c Rhodes b McMillan 7 33 1 0
MA Azharuddin c McMillan b Donald 24 42 3 0
VVS Laxman lbw b Adams 51 125 6 0
SB Joshi c McMillan b Symcox 13 51 1 0
J Srinath lbw b de Villiers 1 6 0 0
A Kumble not out 30 61 4 0
BKV Prasad c McMillan b Adams 0 2 0 0
ND Hirwani c sub b Adams 9 4 2 0
Extras (lb 8, nb 3) 11
Total (all out, 79.2 overs) 190
Fall of Wickets: 1-10 (Manjrekar), 2-15 (Mongia), 3-38 (Tendulkar),
4-82 (Azharuddin), 5-91 (Dravid), 6-123 (Joshi),
7-124 (Srinath), 8-180 (Laxman), 9-180 (Prasad),
Bowling O M R W
Donald 15 3 32 3
de Villiers 17 4 45 1
McMillan 9 4 18 1
Symcox 22 8 47 2
Cronje 7 2 10 0
Adams 9.2 4 30 3
South Africa 2nd innings R B 4 6
AC Hudson lbw b Srinath 0 5 0 0
G Kirsten lbw b Joshi 20 43 2 0
DJ Cullinan c Mongia b Srinath 0 1 0 0
WJ Cronje not out 48 122 6 0
BM McMillan c Joshi b Kumble 17 23 2 0
DJ Richardson c Mongia b Srinath 7 26 1 0
JN Rhodes lbw b Srinath 0 1 0 0
PL Symcox b Kumble 0 4 0 0
PS de Villiers c Azharuddin b Kumble 0 4 0 0
AA Donald b Srinath 4 3 1 0
PR Adams b Srinath 0 1 0 0
Extras (b 1, lb 3, w 5) 9
Total (all out, 38.5 overs) 105
Fall of Wickets: 1-0 (Hudson), 2-0 (Cullinan), 3-40 (Kirsten),
4-65 (McMillan), 5-96 (Richardson), 6-96 (Rhodes),
7-100 (Symcox), 8-100 (de Villiers), 9-105 (Donald),
Bowling O M R W
Srinath 11.5 4 21 6
Prasad 7 0 18 0
Kumble 12 2 34 3
Joshi 8 1 28 1
Score card source : Cricinfo