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March 6, 2000


India Down Under
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South Africa complete 2-0 sweep

Prem Panicker

The fun and games lasted for just around 8 overs this morning, during which time Mohammad Azharuddin underlined a mistake the other Indian batsmen had made.

Every single one of them -- from Jaffer and Dravid to Ganguly and Tendulkar -- had treated Niky Boje with the kind of attitude you expect from a rabbit caught in headlights on a highway. Which is not to say Boje bowled badly. Karthik, and Kumble had bowled well for India, too -- but the South Africans didn't make the mistake of going out in predetermined defence, but chose to attack, hit the bad balls and keep the runs coming. The Indians instead focussed on simply padding up at everything, and paid the price.

That was the mistake Azhar underlined, as for the second session running, he played Boje to perfection. For one thing, he thought through the problem and came up with a solution that worked for him. As he told the Channel 9 crew before the start of play, he figured that if you stay on leg stump, you are letting the bowler pitch middle and spin it away from you. "So I started standing on middle, that meant I could push my front foot out to off, and make sure the ball didn't go anywhere near the edge or near the stumps," Azhar explained.

And he did one more thing right -- he smashed the bad balls mercilessly. Seeing Azhar take a middle stump guard, Boje went to over the wicket, looking to bowl the batsman round his pads. That brought the immediate response -- Azhar used his feet, danced down the track shutting the angle down, and carted one over midwicket for a six, then repeated his little waltz, this time hitting inside out over extra cover for four.

A flowing on drive, off Pollock, brought up his century off 163 balls, with 13 fours and two sixes. The Indian dressing room lined the balcony, applauding a fighting comeback. And at that point, 44 runs had come off just 7.4 overs.

Minutes later, Azhar was walking back. Pollock bounced him, Azhar went for the hook, the ball came in a bit off the seam and hit the maker's label, going higher in the air than the batsman would have liked, and found the fielder placed for the shot at deep midwicket -- a tame end to a brilliant innings under pressure.

From then on, it was all downhill. Kumble, who again this morning showed admirable application with the bat, padded deliberately at one from Boje and was trapped plumb by the one going through with the arm, Karthik swept the same bowler straight to Gibbs at midwicket for the fielder to take another fine one, Srinath flicked at one going to leg and Boucher held diving, and with Mongia yet again unfit to bat, the Indian innings folded at 250/9, giving South Africa victory by an innings and 71 runs.

More importantly, it gave South Africa the big prize -- a series victory on Indian soil, the first by any team in 13 years. Which represents a brilliant performance by a team that was expected to be all at sea against the turning ball on Indian pitches. And to add that exquisite touch of irony, it was the spin of Niky Boje that did the home side in.

South Africa, having defeated Pakistan in Pakistan, had set itself this goal well ahead of the series, and worked towards it as a unit. The batsmen worked on ways to counter the turning ball, the bowlers planned the length and line to bowl to every single Indian batsman they were likely to face. The win by the Proteas, thus, goes to show the value of goal-setting, of long term planning and of a team working as a unit to achieve a common goal -- lessons the Indians could well learn, with profit.

It also ends the second tenure of captaincy by Sachin Tendulkar. And strangely for a batsman setting records round the world, and who started off with a one shot win over Australia, then a series win over South Africa followed by a triseries win against both South Africa and Australia, his captaincy record has now swung to the other extreme.

With the defeat, Tendulkar goes out with the dubious distinction of being the only Indian cricket captain to have five Test matches in a row.

India had earlier lost five in a row way back in 1959, but Anshuman Gaekwad's father DK Gaekwad had led in only four of those, with Pankaj Roy leading in the fifth. India in fact went on to lose a sixth in a row when the Australians followed up England's five wins with one of their own at Delhi, but on that occasion, G Ramchand was skipper. Thus, while India in the 1959-'60 season lost 6 in a row, it was under three different captains.

In 1967-'68 again, India had lost seven on the trot, three against England, four against Australia. But again, on that occasion, the captaincy oscillated between Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, present chairman of selectors Chandu Borde, and Pataudi again.

Thus, this makes it the first occasion that India has lost 5 in a row under any one captain -- a rather sad way for Tendulkar to end what will probably be his last tenure as captain.

Asked to explain the defeat, Tendulkar said: "Having won the toss, we as a team batted very badly in the first innings. And in the second innings, when I played a very bad shot when the need was for me to stay out there and see the team through."

Famous last words. And with that, the curtain comes down on India's Test match play till September, with the focus turning to the five ODIs against SA, followed by a triseries in Sharjah involving India, Pakistan and South Africa that will bring this cricket season to a close -- under a different captain.


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