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Indian bowlers keep Proteas in check
Prem Panicker | January 04, 2007 16:10 IST
The morning session produced one of Test cricket's simple joys: a duel to the death between a combative leg spinner and an attacking left hand batsman.
Speaking before the start of play, members of the Star Sports commentary team had wondered at Anil Kumble's performance on the second evening. 12 overs for 39 runs without a wicket told part of the story; the problem was an over-eagerness to break through, that saw the leggie trying too hard and, as so often happens at such times to him, dragging the ball down too quick and too flat, drifting too often to leg and beyond.
He was trying a bit too hard, Greg Chappell said before the start; he needs to cool off a little.
On the third morning, Kumble was Mr Cool -- taking his time between deliveries, slowing himself down, tossing the ball up a lot more and giving it a healthy tweak to give it turn, and the occasional surprising bounce. And that set up the contest: Graeme Smith, by now batting close to the best he has ever been, took the leggie on, working him with the turn smoothly off his pads, standing back when the length was shorter to force against the angle, and dancing down to pick the bowler right out of the rough for a glorious on drive -- a shot that spoke to the tremendous confidence the batsman was feeling.
At that point, Kumble was bowling around the wicket to the left-hander, coming close to the stumps, looking for straight lines around off to bring the ball in to the stumps. The leg before seemed the best mode of dismissal that line was intended to achieve.
Halfway through the 49th over, Kumble changed tack. He took to swinging very wide of the crease, sending the ball down at a far more acute angle to the southpaw, forcing him to square up and setting him up for either the jumping leg break or the google to find the edge. Smith began to look fidgety -- through that over and the first four balls of the next, he kept looking for the productive forcing shot, with the turn, off his pads but found himself stymied by the change in angle. Yet, that same angle made it more imperative for the shot to work: he could no longer afford to go back and force; the rough was too dangerous to drive against the turn on the off, so the on side was the only place runs could be had.
Smith fell into the trap: to the 5th ball of the 51st over he went for the shot anyway, reaching around and driving at it. The angle meant reduced control over the shot; the ball was a touch in the air and dropping when Virender Sehwag, at mid on, dove to his left to pull off a great catch (Sehwag this series has made a habit of taking great catches; this is the second time a stunner has sent Smith back).
It was a classic dismissal by a working man's leg spinner: no flash, just a gradual tightening, a narrowing down of the angles, the squeeze increasingly applied, and finally the reward (94/142; 173/2 SA; partnership 159 at 3.39). Smith fell six shy of a century he would have well deserved. Luck had briefly sided with him when his first ball hook flew over fine leg (a similar shot in the previous Test had ballooned for Tendulkar to run a long way back from slip and hold); from that point on, though, he batted with the authority of old, playing shots on both sides of the wicket, off either foot, and looking increasingly like the man who could put South Africa in pole position. Outside of the on drive off Kumble, there were two successive on drives off Zaheer Khan that screamed to the fence with ominous authority.
Once Smith left, the pressure transferred to Hashim Amla. Grittily though the batsman had played in this innings, it needs mentioning that he had been carefully nursemaided along by his captain, who with his fluency, and readiness to take strike, allowed Amla to play in his considerable shadow.
As senior partner after the fall of Smith, Amla was back in the spotlight, and the fidgets showed as Sreesanth, who had a bit of a to-do with the batsman late last evening, tied him up with a series of pretty much everything a fast bowler could bowl: a yorker, an away swinger, an inswinger, a short, lifting delivery... the dot balls were racking up, and when Sreesanth bowled one through the channel a bit wide, seaming it further away, Amla lit up at the possibility of getting a bit of his own back. His slashing drive, though, merely managed to find the edge through to Karthick (63/174; 177/3 SA). With the wicket, Sreesanth joined Javagal Srinath (18 wickets in three Tests) and Anil Kumble (18 in 4) as the leading striker on South African soil.
The Indians were far tighter in the field than on the previous evening, yet they missed at least three run out chances, off Smith, Kallis and Prince. Those blemishes apart, the fielders attacked the ball more, made run-scoring considerably more difficult, and helped the bowlers bring the run rate down and the pressure guage up. The ten overs following Amla's dismissal saw the run rate drop to around 2.3 -- a considerable improvement on last evening, when Smith and Amla were going on at 3.5 or better.
The 64th over was perhaps the best of the morning: Munaf Patel, to Ashwell Prince. Three balls to warm up, three balls to make the very correct Prince look like a batting novice. One kicked off length and just flashed past the outer edge, the next was fuller, went away late, and beat the edge again, the third again beat the bat for pace and impossibly late movement -- how the three balls missed the edge, the batsman never knew.
Last evening, South Africa was cruising; the smart money would have been on an emphatic batting performance that before the day was out overtook India's first innings score and went into the lead. By the end of the first session, though, the cruise had become a sluggish progress through choppy waters, and a fight was on again. Both Kallis and Prince played labored knocks, struggling against seam, leg spin and off spin alike.
Lunch-time score: South Africa 206/3 in 71 overs; Jacques Kallis 18/50; Ashwell Prince 9/56; 62 runs in the session off 30 overs; overall run rate now 2.91.
India's tour of South Africa 2006: The Complete Coverage
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