On a cold, blustery Irish summer's afternoon, a day when the chill seeped into the bones and gripping the ball itself became a tough task, Indian fans in Belfast rediscovered a hero in the young Piyush Chawla.
On Monday, the Indian camp had been hit by a flu that converted it into an infirmary; Tuesday saw 11 Indians fit enough to take the field -- all from the 15 India had brought along. Their pace power lain cold, literally, India played two spinners -- leggie Chawla and first-choice spinner Ramesh Powar. Just as well, because when it came to defending a modest total of 242, spin seemed India's only chance.
The two ended up with four of the six SA wickets to fall, yet again underlining the Proteas' frailty against spin. But India needed to get all 10 of their foes to win and captain Jacques Kallis played a trademark innings, an unhurried, solid knock that generally ends up securing his team against trouble. South Africa won by four wickets, in the end, quite comfortably.
It is supposed to be summer here, but someone seems to have forgotten to inform the weather department upstairs. Tuesday was the coldest day of all since the Indians landed in Ireland, though it stayed dry for the most.
Journalists, when not writing, either sat on their hands or put them in their pockets. Chawla and Powar, both among those unwell over the last two days, did not have this luxury, and thus must be given credit for the way they bowled.
Chawla's first victim was Morne van Wyk, beaten by the turn of one that dipped on him; the ball took the edge and lobbed into the covers. Herschelle Gibbs played for spin that wasn't there and was castled. Powar, getting brave, tossed one up and got Duminy, sweeping down Sachin Tendulkar's throat at the deep midwicket boundary. South Africa 124/4 in the 25th and things were beginning to look interesting.
Zaheer got an LBW decision against Mark Boucher, though the ball seemed to have hit him too high. Chawla got Andrew Hall when the burly allrounder failed to clear Dravid at mid-off, SA 190/6 in the 40th over. With 53 to get off 62 balls, the possibilities seemed invigorating, and Indian fans in the stands found renewed lungpower.
But Kallis was not to be denied; 91 of the best, embellished with trademark pulls and drives, ended India's hopes on a day that had started on a hopeless note anyway.
Earlier, Sachin Tendulkar fell one short of what would have been his 42nd one-day hundred, and that summed up the Indian story. Much depended on Tendulkar -- there were four overs still to be bowled when he fell, going for a run that, from behind the ropes at least, seemed non-existent. Discretion was advised, especially as Rahul Dravid had fell two overs ago after a solid 74.
It was a strange sort of innings from Tendulkar, who opened with Ganguly once again -- begging the question, was the team trying to cover for Gambhir? What about the declared intent of using Tendulkar in the middle?
Anyway, Tendulkar's knock came at the right time -- the master's last five innings in ODIs were 1,7, 57 (against Bermuda in the World Cup), 0 and 4 (against Ireland). But it wasn't enough.
The groundsman had predicted that it was more a 230-run wicket, not 270, as Kallis had suggested. The SA skipper was right, unhappily for India.