Cricket Find/Feedback/Site Index
March 19, 2000


Indian Safari
send this story to a friend

Proteas clinch a thriller

Prem Panicker

630 runs in a day's play -- if a few more pitches are as bland, and a few more boundaries as short, as the Vidharbha Cricket Association Ground in Nagpur, bowlers will gang up and go on strike.

At the end of all the mayhem, India lost, by 10 runs, attempting a world record chase of 321. In the process, for the first time in this series, the team chasing lost.

Both teams made changes with Sharjah in mind. Saurav Ganguly, continuing with his proactive style of captaincy, went up to Azhar and asked him if he would rest for a game, in order that either Sridharan Srirarm or Mohammad Kaif could get a game. And more importantly -- I think it is important that captains tell their players what the future holds -- told him that he would be back in the playing eleven for Sharjah. Azhar agreed, and Sriram got a game. Similarly, Joshi, who has had a great series, was rested, in order to have Nikhil Chopra get a bowl. The final change was more interesting, Ganguly departing from precedent, and telling the board he wanted to rest Agarkar (who, given his frail physique, needs all the rest and nursing you can afford to give him) and going outside the playing 14, brought in Venkatesh Prasad.

South Africa also rested Kallis, Pollock and Boje. And brought in Crookes, McKenzie and Williams, the last named reportedly an end overs specialist who, in the event, broke down with a shoulder injury after just 1.5 overs.

Ganguly won the toss, and opted to bowl. His rationale was that with batting being the team's strength, he would rather try and chase, than go out and set the target on a belter of a track.

South Africa got off to an absolute blinder, and Srinath has to be thanked, in large measure, for that. Granting that bowling on this track was never going to be easy, it still needs mentioning that the need was for him to hold a steady line in the initial overs, before the batsmen had really worked out the conditions. Instead, he overpitched, drifted to leg or went wide of off, and in sum, made every cardinal mistake an opening bowler can make, all in the same three over first spell, to get smashed to the tune of 29 runs and give his captain some major headaches.

At the other end, Prasad began with a nice line, and in fact bowled a maiden in his second over. The South Africans had obviously decided that they needed runs off every ball, and when that failed to materialise, Kirsten lost his cool, pushed to mid off and took off. Tendulkar, fielding there, raced in and underarmed the stumps to catch the batsman out of his ground, and the Proteas lost their most reliable batsman early.

From that point on, it was all about Herschelle Gibbs. His innings was a mirror image of what Ganguly had done the other day -- stepping away from the crease or well inside the line, altering length and trajectory, hitting on the up and clearing the fielders in a neck or nothing blitz that stunned the Indian bowlers into submission.

McKenzie, in at number three, left early when Kumble, yet again having to use the new ball replacing Srinath, produced the quick flipper which got the edge to the cut shot, and Karim, staying low, did well to cover and hold.

In the same over, South Africa nearly lost the rampaging Gibbs. Kumble bowled the slower one, Gibbs slammed it back at the bowler, Kumble found it coming at him, covered the line well but took his eye off the ball, and down she went -- a dropped chance that changed the complexion of the game. At the time, SA were 48/2 -- and Gibbs had got over 30 of those runs. When Gibbs was finally out, he had taken SA to a massive 161, in just 20 overs, his personal contribution being a barnstorming 74 off 53 deliveries.

The South Africans were obviously not worrying about wickets -- batsman after batsman came to the crease and began hitting from the get-go. Crookes came in at number four, obviously sent to pinch hit, and began with a swept four off the first ball he faced. He didn't last long, however, with Kumble using the googly to defeat the sweep, and taking out off stump as the batsman played all round the wrong 'un.

Srinath was brought back for the 12th over -- and if anything, produced a performance more inept than his earlier spell, going repeatedly wide of off or down leg side, giving away 21 in just one over, and at that point, four of his overs had cost 50, in a total score of 101/3. His bowling, by any yardstick, caused the most damage to India's chances on the day, and it does seem time someone talked to him about what is expected of a senior bowler.

Hansie Cronje, on a pitch tailormade for his kind of batting, was just beginning to look dangerous when Dravid pulled off a blinder. Cronje slashed a cut at Chopra, the ball whistled away at the rate of knots and Dravid, very close at slip, clutched on to the ball as it homed in seemingly on course to take his head away with it en route to the boundary.

In the same over, Gibbs stepped away to leg, smashed on the up, the ball rocketed towards cover and Tendulkar, after doing well to lunge to his left and overhead and get both hands to it, failed to cling on to the hot chance, giving Gibbs his reprieve number two -- which the batsman promptly took as an invitation to continue his mayhem.

The rate of progression tells the story thus far: 33/1 in 5, 72/3 in 10, 126/4 in 15, 160/4 in 20.

In the 21st over, Gibbs left. Sriram, who showed good skill in the field all day, raced in from cover as Boucher played in that direction, picked up and all in one motion, underarmed the stumps down to catch Gibbs out of his ground. Third time unlucky for the batsman, but his ebullient batting had at that stage put South Africa in line for what looked a world record score.

From then on, the Indian spinners got into the game, and responded magnificiently. Tendulkar, Chopra, Kumble and Sriram, rotating their overs around, bowling as slow as they could and ensuring that the ball didn't come on to the batsmen, checked the racing run rate, and in fact the next twenty overs produced a mere 71 overs, for the loss of two more wickets. Sriram looked very good on debut -- he has an easy action, uses flight and loop well, gets turn and more importantly, holds his nerve when hit. Tendulkar and Kumble bowled with a lot of sound sense, the former in fact bringing India right back into the game with his spell of 31 runs in 10 overs for one wicket -- on a track like this, that qualifies as a superb performance and, in fact, Tendulkar was the best bowler on view on the day.

The wicket he got was Benkenstein, cutting to the line outside off and beaten completely as the ball turned in a long way and took out middle stump. This phase also saw some astute captaincy and some very good work by the Indians in the field -- finding that Benkenstein was unable to make headway against the spinners, the Indians focussed on keeping him on strike as much as possible, denying Boucher the strike into the bargain and slowing the run rate right down.

Lance Klusener, like Benkenstein, struggled against Tendulkar and Sriram, and when the former completed his 10 over spell, SA, at 233/6 in 41 overs, was struggling.

At that point, Klusener had managed to play 28 deliveries, 18 of them dot balls, and nine singles. In came Srinath -- and promptly disappeared yet again, for 15 runs, in a display that led his captain to openly express his disgust. And from that point on, the floodgates were opened. Klusener got his second wind, and went into World Cup mode, setting himself, hitting through the line of everything thrown at him, and producing a brilliant 75 off 58 balls that, in tandem with Boucher's more controlled, but equally effective, 68 off 92, took the game away from the Indians and helped SA to a mammoth 320 in the allotted overs. It also underlined the danger of Srinath's comeback over -- at the time, Klusener's confidence was way down and he was struggling. By the time Srinath had given him width outside off and overpitched on leg, and let the batsman hit him for fours on either side of the wicket, the batsman was back and racing.

320 was a chase never attempted before, but on the other hand, the South Africans had rested most of their main bowlers, which meant India could really make a go of it. The pressure was further on Cronje as early as the third over, when Williams, after bowling two deliveries, began looking in obvious pain and unable to continue. Unfortunately, a complete lapse in concentration saw Ganguly leaving to the most innocuous of deliveries -- unable to really use his bowling arm, Williams floated a full toss outside leg, Ganguly just poked at it, in a belated attempt to swing it around, and played it straight to short fine leg. Ganguly left the field looking disgusted with himself -- and Williams followed him out a ball later, in pain and unable to continue.

Rahul Dravid has in previous outings looke to anchor the side, to play defensively. And every time, he has looked edgy, unsure, and a pale shadow of the batsman he can be. Today, he came in seemingly determined to play his shots -- and suddenly, he was matching, at times outdoing, Sachin Tendulkar in stroke production as he mounted a superb assault on the Protean bowling.

At the other end Sachin, who had seemed a touch subdued while Ganguly was there, promptly took on the aggressor role with the departure of his captain. The first indication we had that the gears were being changed was when Sachin out the blue danced down the track and carted Crookes, given the job of bowling with the new ball, back over the straight field for the first of 4 huge sixes. And from then on, it was flat out strokeplay at both ends.

Again, the run rate is the best indicator: 26/1 in 5, 67/1 in 10, 119/1 in 15, 147/1 in 20, 177/1 in 25. Thus, at the halfway mark, India had caught up with South Africa on runs, and were four wickets ahead, SA having made 177/5 at the 25 over mark. More to the point, at the turn, India had already brought down the asking rate to under six an over, with nine wickets in hand -- an enviable position to be in.

Within the space of 2 balls in the 28th over, everything changed. Crookes pitched one on leg, turning it away. Tendulkar, then 93/98 and having, when on 50, become only the second player in ODI history to get past 9000 runs, looked to slam the ball over the square leg fence, hit too early, and gave the fielder a simple catch.

A ball later, Dravid was walking back. Having crossed while the Sachin hit was in the air, he swept at Crookes, got a thick edge, and looked back to see what was happening. The ball ballooned wide of Boucher, and by then, Jadeja was running the single. Dravid, thus, had to take off, his moment of hesitation spelt trouble, the fielder threw to the bowler's end, and Dravid, after a belligerent 79/69 balls, had lost it as well. The two had, in a 180 run partnership at better than a run a ball, brought India to the threshold of a spectacular win -- and by leaving within a ball of each other, set the team right back. One good thing though is that Dravid appeared to have realised that he can play shots -- if he can keep that thought in mind here on in, the Indian batting will be even better served.

Sriram, coming in at that point, looked very good against the spinners, using his feet with smooth fluidity. Elworthy was brought back in order to stem the flow of runs. At the other end, Jadeja was struggling and seemed unable to get the ball off the square. And the pressure of runs not coming told on the debutant, inducing a wild charge and wilder heave that found a thick under edge through to Boucher. Jadeja, as senior partner, needed to have talked Sriram through the chase -- however Jadeja was himself under pressure with his batting not firing, and failed to play the senior role.

Jadeja in fact left soon after. Elworthy bowled him a long hop outside off, and instead of hitting the shot, Jadeja patted it gently to point, then walked away admonishing himself. It was obvious that the batsman had realised he had let a sitter go. Soon enough, along came another ball, short enough but not so far outside off, Jadeja decided to make amends, went into a wild heave, and dragged it on to his stumps.

Srinath was sent in to pinch hit. And after doing his best to edge a few to the slip fielder, he finally got his second wind, and opened out, swinging for the sidelines and producing a quick 20 off 18 that brought India right back into it, while at the other end, the coolheaded Robin focussed on chipping singles and keeping his end going. One heave too many, though, and Srinath was out caught on the midwicket fence.

But that brought Karim to the wicket. If Srinath was all wild swings, Karim was calculated shot-making. Time and again, he stepped away to make room, and concentrated on hitting the ball as straight as he could -- given the straight boundaries are the shortest at Nagpur, a sane ploy, and one that paid dividends for the batsman here. With Karim going well, and Robin looking completely unflustered, India in fact seemed to be cruising towards a win at 290 inot the 46th over, when Klusener made amends for his goof in the previous game. Bowling off a shortened run, favouring his injured ankle, Klusener had shown great skill in mixing up his bowling, using slower ones, off breaks, leg breaks, and inswinging yorkers to good effect. Here, he produced a slow off break, Karim was way too early into the shot aimed at the straight field, and Klusener, swaying back and bending at the knee, held the hard hit as it came rushing at his face.

That was pretty much that, as far as India's chances went. Robin and Nikhil Chopra kept chipping away, and going into the penultimate over, being bowled by Cronje, the ask was 11 off 11 balls -- eminently doable, one would think, more so given that the Protean nerve seemed to have cracked completely. Cronje with the ball had twice bowled wides, on one occasion, the ball going to the third man fence, on another occasion the South African captain fumbled a caught and bowled, the other SA fielders took their cue and misfielded, giving away valuable runs, but just when it looked like India would in fact do the improbable, blind panic set in.

Klusener triggered it off when, with India needing 16 off 15 balls, he pitched one outside off, Robin drove at it with bat away from body, and found cover with the hit.

Cronje produced a nice half volley, Kumble put it away, the ask had come down to 11/9 when Chopra had a huge heave, found a thick edge, the ball drifted away on the off. The batsmen had apparently decided to run for everything -- thus, Kumble came charging down, only to see Gibbs in brilliant form, race in from point, field, dive and while airborne, underarm the ball onto the stumps.

That was effectively that. Prasad, not someone you depend on for runs, came in, Chopra duly got himself run out in a bid to farm the strike, and India, having put on 310 and made a real fist of the chase, faltered at the final hurdle.

Generally, after a defeat, you tend to think of the negatives. Here, though, it is the positive that comes to mind -- already in this series, India with a reputation of being poor chasers had batted second thrice, against one of the best fielding sides in the business, and won each time. Here, faced with a world record chase, the team didn't collapse, and until that penultimate over, in fact looked like pulling off a win -- the kind of fight that hasn't been seen by India in quite a while.

Klusener predictably got the man of the match. And the adjudicators duly gave Sachin man of the series, for 274 runs and 6 wickets. True, Sachin especially in the last two games has come up with good innings, true again that his bowling has been a higlight of this series -- but I thought the award should have gone to Ganguly. Firm, decisive captaincy, equally decisive batsmanship at the top of the order, a lead from the front all round performance -- somewhere along the way, the adjudicators appeared to have been blinded by the last two games, and forgotten the greater role Ganguly had played in reversing the team's fortunes and leading the side to a series win.


Mail Prem Panicker