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Spineless India blown away in four days

South Africa thumped India by innings and six runs despite a fighting century by Sachin Tendulkar on the fourth day of the first Test to go 1-0 up in the two-match series, reports Kadambari Murali Wade.

cricket Updated: Feb 09, 2010 23:43 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade

There were different prayers on the lips of various groups of people when the fourth day's play began. South Africa's cricketers wanted a no-fuss finish, India's men a hero to show some fight and character. The optimists among the schoolkids dragged in to fill the stands might have hoped the game dragged on till Wednesday, so they could spend another day out of class. And the cops who were on duty at the ground, they looked like they just wanted wrap up work and head home.

The prayer that was heard, fittingly, was that of the South Africans, even if it was five hours and 58 minutes coming. An innings and 6-run win meant South Africa lead 1-0 and only need to avoid defeat in the second Test to take the No. 1 ranking. Through hits and misses and well lefts by the Indian batsmen, a few dreadful fielding lapses from the world's best fielding side (the Safs possibly thought this game was done and dusted before it actually was), a couple of swinging cameos by Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan and yes, Sachin Tendulkar's 46th Test century (he made exactly 100), everyone waited with a sense of inevitability.

Even the schoolchildren, who obediently stood and cheered at every signal from Authority, as the cameras moved in their direction and the big screen lit up briefly with their smiles, were otherwise subdued. This was markedly different from Monday morning, when Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag walked in unbeaten from overnight after India had begun their first innings with a mini-flourish.

But, despite the presence of Tendulkar — in any case, this is a team sport — there should never have been any expectations from India on the day. You can't win the match, or save it, if you can't win the sessions. And the world's No. 1 ranked Test team did not completely dominate a single session in this game. They won the first half hour on Day One and looked happy during the last 15 minutes of Day 2, when Gambhir and Sehwag racked up 25 in 4 overs. Otherwise, except for those two and a half odd-hours when Sehwag and S Badrinath looked comfortable, it was the Proteas all the way.

Now here's the obvious question? Is this the No. 1 team in the world? On the evidence of this Test, no. India bowled ineffectively, batted badly, Dale Steyn bowled the best he ever has and South Africa, as a unit, looked far more at home in Indian conditions than India did.

But the No. 1 ranking, even if it stays with India briefly, has not been given on the basis of a single Test. India definitely have the wherewithal to be No. 1 in the world and in many ways, is. Just the statistic that this is the first Test loss under Mahendra Singh Dhoni should be enough indication of that.

Under Dhoni's captaincy, before this, India have won eight Tests and drawn three. For those interested in coincidences, India's last Test loss at home was also to South Africa, in Ahmedabad in April 2008. Dale Steyn, who grabbed a 10-wicket haul here, was wrecker-in-chief there too.

Up ahead is Eden. Hopefully.