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Going going gone

cricket Updated: Apr 06, 2008 03:05 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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Barely a month ago India showed the world that Australia are not invincible, beating them at Perth, their own fortress.

Now, the same group of cricketers reminded us of their own fragility and just how quickly things can change in this game of cricket as they lost to South Africa at home inside three days. A few minutes before 6pm on the third day when Makhaya Ntini slanted one back in to peg back Sreesanth's off stump, South Africa had won by an innings and 90 runs. Save for a gritty knock from Sourav Ganguly, the Indian batting once again capitulated, albeit not as spectacularly as they did in the first innings.

Hopeless
To be fair to the Indian team, batting on this third day was no easy affair. When a team knows there is no chance of escaping defeat, it can become difficult to survive for long periods, even if the pitch is easy-paced and the bowling not especially threatening. Graeme Smith's decision to declare on their overnight score meant that there was no wasting time, and South Africa's bowlers could get to work.

Frightening approach
When you've been shot out for 76 in the first innings, and pretty much surrendered the game to the opposition right there, you're left with a serious opportunity to redeem yourself, even if the match cannot be saved.

But Virender Sehwag chose to come out all guns blazing, hooking Dale Steyn for six off the third ball of the innings and then flicking his second six two balls later. The intent was appreciated by the sparse crowd at Motera but not for long. Sehwag was late playing an incoming ball from Ntini and was trapped in front, the ball hitting pad before bat.

Morkel checks in
While Steyn has been rightly making waves with his pacy, penetrative bowling Morne Morkel has done a sterling job himself. Relying on a high-arm whippy action to generate disconcerting bouncy, Morkel was the one bowler to keep things tight even in Chennai when Sehwag was going berserk. On the day he picked up his pace and produced a couple of early lifters that brought rich dividends.

Rahul Dravid could do little when a Morkel delivery reared on him and the attempted fend went straight to the slips cordon. Wasim Jaffer unfurled one of his tentative pokes to an outswinger from Jacques Kallis and there was early trouble at 70 for 3. With Dravid gone it was critical that VVS Laxman pitch camp for a long stay at the crease. But he, like most of the other batsmen, managed a start but fell against the run of play, driving hard at Morkel and feathering an edge to the keeper.

Coming together
Even in dramatic collapses there is usually at least one partnership that saves the blushes. In their second innings the Indians showed plenty of fight, even if the result doesn't reflect this, and chief was the 110-run partnership between Ganguly and MS Dhoni.

While Dhoni was not at his best, and gave more than one half-chance in his stay at the crease, Ganguly played with a degree of control and composure that was reassuring.

An experienced hand, Ganguly showed the right kind of temperament for a long stay at the crease. He did not go searching to manufacture strokes but at the same time Ganguly did not recede into a shell. When the ball was there to be hit he played his shots.

As Ganguly neared his century, one that he deserved, Steyn made his first breakthrough of the second innings. Ganguly drove hard at a full ball outside the off stump and struck the ground in the process, and a loud shout for the catch behind the stumps was upheld by umpire Tony Hill.

While replays were not conclusive, Ganguly looked visibly unhappy to have been given out.

What there was no doubt about, however, was Dhoni's dismissal, not long after Ganguly had fallen. Once again Dhoni chose the route of fearless aggression and lived down to the adage that those who live by the sword die by it. He played an expansive drive to a wide, full ball from Ntini and only managed a thick edge to Smith at slip. With Dhoni gone, and the score a mere 268, India's goose was cooked.

With all the rain for this time of the year having already come down on Friday, there was no chance of the weather coming to India's rescue. Irfan Pathan led the way for the tail, scoring an unbeaten 43, but it only delayed the inevitable.

With shadows lengthening and extra time being squeezed in, India were eventually dismissed for 328. South Africa, who had outsmarted and outperformed India at every turn in this match, had the win they so desperately wanted.