Choke's on us
From 267-1, India lost nine wickets for 29 runs to manage only 296; South Africa seemed to be headed for another close defeat till Nehra conceded 16 runs in the last over. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports. Scorecard | Numbers to ponder | Steyn is killer in Nagpur thriller | Three things India must figure outcricket Updated: Mar 13, 2011 02:00 IST
Seldom does the batting firepower of a team and its fragility come to the fore in the same match. Rarely do the spectators go through a gamut of emotions on the same day. And it's not often that a team comes back from a shocking collapse with a disciplined effort with the ball, before losing the plot again and with it the match.
Saturday was full of such dramatic twists and turns. At the end of it all, India's capitulation in a passage of play which was expected to put the match beyond South Africa proved decisive. Hammering the attack from the initial part of their innings and having brought the bowlers almost down on their knees, India were well placed for a final assault that would have beaten the steam out of the visitors.
Having a firm grip on proceedings with the scoreboard reading 253 for one after 38 overs, India opted for batting power play. Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir were in command and the packed house was waiting to go berserk expecting fireworks. The fans were let down massively as a 'power failure' saw India score just 30 runs in those five overs at the expense of five wickets.
If there were lessons to be learnt from that period for sanity to be restored, India didn't do so. Having halted the Indian march with two wickets in one of the power play overs, Dale Steyn returned to hasten the end of the innings, leaving India about 50 short of what they looked like getting rather comfortably at one stage.
Cautious and subdued during the first half of their chase, South africa started accelerating when it became necessary. Hashim Amla laid the platform with Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers provided the momentum to frustrate the fans. There were late cameos down the order too and India helped South Africa with some sloppy fielding at crucial junctures.
Fortune smiled on South Africa as well as miscued heaves landed in no man's land, edges raced to the fence instead of hitting the stumps and the most crucial inside edge resulted in a four in the first ball of the final over when they required 13 runs. But they certainly rode something more than luck to stop all talks of being labeled as chokers.
It looked so different in the beginning with Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag cutting loose. Arguably the most destructive opening pair in contemporary cricket against one of most deadly new ball pair of Steyn and Morne Morkel, the contest promised to be riveting. The ball kept disappearing to distant parts of the ground.
It was a combination of savage and sublime batting as Tendulkar first butchered the attack and then settled down to anchor the team towards a big total.
He had done his job in his own inimitable manner, but the problem was that others too started thinking they could operate in that fashion. Firstly, it proved unwise and then turned out to be decisive.