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March 15, 2000


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India go down fighting in third ODI

Prem Panicker

I'll tell you what -- a few more tracks like this, and the pitch report experts will go out of business.

I mean, here's this thing that looks like underdone clay on which pranksters stuck lumps of grass any old how. The South Africans, in fact, did a parody of a pitch report this morning, poking at the pitch with a hammer, a playing card, and pretty much everything else they could find. While the official expert used a lot of words to say that nothing could be said about how it would behave.

The camera goes right up close to the surface, and watching on TV and seeing the cracks, I figured this for the kind of track where you want to bat first, get around 230 on the board, and chalk up a won game. As it turned out, India got 248. And lost.

So much for experts. Including this one.

Hansie Cronje won the toss and inserted the opposition. And explained that to his way of thinking, there was no way of telling just what this track would do, and he'd prefer to see what it did for his bowlers. "Also, we haven't defended well the first two games, so I thought we would try and chase this time." Ganguly, meanwhile, said he would have batted first anyway, had he won the toss.

Tendulkar and Ganguly walked out to open, and straightaway, one thing was clear. When the SA bowlers pitched fractionally short, they got the ball to kick like blazes off the deck. Ganguly sussed this out very quickly -- all it took, in fact, was one snorter that he fended away and was lucky to see dropping short of slip -- and in mid stride, changed his game plan.

As early as the 5th over, he came dancing down to Pollock and hit him back down the line for four. And then went after Elworthy in a classic assault, treating the opening bowler like a spinner, repeatedly using his feet to alter the length and producing a blazing display that saw him racing to his 50 at better than a run a ball.

At the other end, Sachin actually started the ball rolling with a deliberate step inside the line of a ball from Pollock, altering the line and flicking over midwicket for four. But once Ganguly got the bit between his teeth in that electrifying display, Sachin opted to play second fiddle.

Interestingly, Ganguly said at the end of the match: "When we walked out, I told Sachin I was feeling confident enough to take risks, and asked him to play his normal game, we wanted at least 80 on the board in the first 15."

The trouble, though, is that rather than play his normal game, Sachin opted to look for a single off the first ball he faced each time, and give it back to Ganguly. NOT his natural game. And whenever he goes away from his game, he tends to get out -- that is becoming a given. Here, to a ball just on off seaming in, Tendulkar went forward, checked the shot he normally plays which is a firm push into the on side, and opted instead to try and just play it short for the single. He missed with the push, got it on the pad, and up went the finger. A bit of debate followed, with the replays and TV pundits reluctant to call the decision either way.

India, meanwhile, had progressed from 16/0 at the end of five, to 59/0 in 10 and 80/1 in 15 -- bang in line with Ganguly's pre-match plan. And the Indian captain looked on track for much more, batting 53/46 when he got a decision that raised quite a few eyebrows. Elworthy, brought back for a second spell once the field restrictions were off and he could get some protection, pitched one short, the ball lifted outside leg, Ganguly flicked at it and missed, the ball deflected a long way off the hip, and up went the finger, much to Ganguly's obvious surprise, and disgust. That was a bad call, and ended an innings in full flight.

Azharuddin, coming in at the fall of that wicket, didn't last long. And, in fact, fell to an old failing -- feet in place, slashing at one outside off and playing well away from body, to get the edge through to the keeper. That brought Dravid and Jadeja together. And the two set about meticulously rebuilding an innings that after a promising start, had appeared to lose the plot entirely.

Dravid settled into his anchor role, Jadeja as always happens when he gets in early, took a while to find his feet, and progress was a touch slow for the midphase, India making 120/3 at the end of 30 overs, which meant a mere 40 was added in 15 overs after the field restrictions went off. From that point on, both batsmen began actively looking for runs in a more organised fashion, Jadeja as always good at working the ball around and Dravid, taking a leaf from his partner's book, settling in to good strike rotation as well.

However, the slow tempo in the middle had set the team back a bit, and that put pressure on the batsmen going in to the end phase of the innings. And pressure, in turn, produced the mistakes, Jadeja tamely flat batting a Cronje delivery to cover as he predeterminedly shaped to drive.

Ganguly sent Joshi ahead of Robin Singh, and the former delivered, with a nice little cameo that brought a sense of urgency to the scoring. Joshi in fact seemed set to turn the game around when a bad piece of running put paid to his innings, the batsman cutting to point, the fielder there, Gibbs, very quick onto the ball and the throw right beside the stumps, gave Joshi no time to recover his ground after setting off for an impossible run.

Robin Singh played his usual mix of edges and flat hits across the line out on the on side, but again, bad running and razor sharp fielding produced another wicket when Robin pushed on the off and took off on an impossible single, ignoring Dravid's loud No.

Another run out accounted for Dravid, when he raced down for the one as Boucher fumbled a take, Dighe however had his back turned to his partner and failed to see him coming, resulting in Dravid being stranded at the wrong end as Boucher recovered and sent the ball to the bowler. A 50+ knock had been some time in coming for Dravid -- this one is not one he would want to single out among his top ten, but the positive in there was that once he was through into his 30s, the confidence seemed to be coming back and if that is not an illusion, then this should see the start of a turnaround for him.

India played the last 10 overs very well, putting up 75 off 60 and thus posting a respectable 248 on the board. One interesting feature worth mentioning was that after 48 overs, when some statistics were checked, it was seen that the Indians had scored 108 singles, of a total of 230 on the board at that point -- which is not something you see too often from the Indians. On the other hand, there were 153 dot balls in there as well, and that means over half the overs had not been scored off, and if India are to attain consistency in results, this is one area they will need to take a look at.

When South Africa began its reply, one of India's problems surfaced immediately. Thus far, Kumaran on Indian tracks has been seen as a touch less than top flight. He doesn't have the extra pace in the air to hustle batsmen, the wickets don't afford him the kind of assistance he would get say in Australia, and the combination has meant easy pickings for the opposition so far.

This in turn meant that Ganguly had to introduce spin much earlier than he would have wanted to, as both Gibbs and Kirsten went after Kumaran early on. Ganguly brought on Joshi and Kumble, in the 8th and 9th overs (which in the long term meant that he wouldn't have enough of their overs in the middle and end game) and in the short term, it worked as Kumble got Gibbs coming down the track, looking to hit over the top and holing out to mid on in his very first over.

Ganguly has in his time as captain shown that unlike say Tendulkar, he is prepared to depart from prefixed gameplans, and go with the flow. Thus, when Cronje sent out Niky Boje at the fall of the first wicket, to pinch hit and also counter the left arm spinner Joshi and Kumble, who too is not too comfortable bowling to left handers, Ganguly promptly rested Joshi after just one over, and brought on Tendulkar to bowl off breaks to the left handers. Boje went after Tendulkar, but paid the price when he charged him once too often, Tendulkar spotted it and drifted the ball wide, and induced the batsman to slash it to point.

That brought Kallis to the crease -- and Ganguly at once switched back to Joshi. The South African number three played a superb lofted shot over long on for six, but a characteristic of Joshi in recent times is that when hit, he doesn't tend to lose his nerve, as on earlier occasions. Here, he produced a top spinner, not a variation he tries too often, and surprised Kallis -- the batsman went for another big hit, misread the ball, and played all round it to be bowled middle stump.

At this point, the Indians had got back into the game, reducing South Africa to 91/3 inside 18 overs. A short while later, with the score 103/3, Kirsten found the luck of the umpires running his way when Joshi tossed one up on middle and leg, the ball skidded through and kept low, Kirsten shaped to play across to leg, missed the line and was hit on the pad. The appeal was turned down, for reasons not quite clear to this reporter -- that is one that has to go down in the books as an error.

From that point on, Cronje and Kirsten batted South Africa right back into the game with a very well paced partnership. Both batsmen took advantage of any lapse in line and length, but more importantly, began actively working the singles and keeping the board ticking over. In this, they were aided by an Indian failing that two wins on the run does not suffice to paper over -- the Indians, unlike most international fielders these days, don't attack the ball when standing at mid on and mid off and the South Africans took advantage, hitting directly to those fielders and racing singles they wouldn't be able to take against any decent fielding side.

Steady batting took SA to 99/3 in 20, 122/3 in 25, 147/3 in 30 -- and as the progression shows, India at this point found the game slipping away from them. Their problems were compounded by the fact that they were two bowlers short -- not only had the 5th bowler's quota to be made up, but Ganguly had to find a way to get through Kumaran's quota as well. While on the subject, it is strange that Robin Singh has not been bowling much of late -- a trend that began in Australia, and is continuing here. Makes you wonder if there is some physical reason -- surely, two successive captains couldn't be completely blind to the fact that he is in the side as the all rounder who will fill in as fifth bowler?

The two duly got to the 100 of the partnership, off just 110 balls, and SA seemed on course for a fluent win when the old Protean failing -- the nerve cracked, and the innings suddenly took on a shambolic aspect. Kirsten, seemingly on course for his second century of the series, made the mistake of going back to a ball of good length, and inner edged Tendulkar onto his stumps.

In the very next over, Anil Kumble cleaned up Benkenstein with a googly -- the batsman misread it completely, played for the leg break, and found it going through bat and pad to crash into middle stump. Ganguly had added to the pressure by putting three close men round the bat, and the combination produced the results.

With two wickets down quick, the Indians went flat out on the attack, with two close in fielders coming for the well set Cronje as well -- again, a refreshing change in attitude. Cronje seemed to get a touch fidgety, and repeatedly looked to go to off and hit to leg -- one such attempt ending his innings, as Tendulkar turned one in sharply and got him on the pad. On the one hand, there was sharp turn. On the other hand, the batsman was a long way across and was in fact addressing the ball from outside off. A bit of a tight call -- 50-50 at best, which means the batsman was a bit unlucky not to be given the benefit on that one.

Klusener hasn't had a good time of it against the Indians, and his indifferent form continued here as Tendulkar kept teasing him with off breaks that spun past his bat. Finally, frustration forced him onto the back foot, cutting and managing only an edge to the slip fielder, and suddenly, the game had opened up yet again.

The game seemed dead even with the Proteas needing 9/10, when Pollock charged Dravid and slammed him over long on for a four to bring the target within reach. However, he repeated the charge, rather needlessly in the context of the game, next ball, played all round the quicker one, and was bowled.

It was up to Mark Boucher -- and the 'keeper, who has shown an ability to hit hard when occasion demands, sealed a tight win when, to an off break from Dravid that seemed to be heading for the middle stump, Boucher set himself, bent low at the knee, and swung with immense power over wide long on, for a six to seal the win.

South Africa made it, with two wickets, and six balls, to spare.

"I guess if you look back, we could have added 20 or so more runs during the middle overs, but I have no complaints, everyone played well today, I'm happy with the team," was Ganguly's summation. "I think the important thing is to start fighting to the last ball, and we did that here, I'm not too worried by the result."


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