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Morale-boosting victory for India

india Updated: Dec 10, 2006 02:36 IST
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It's been a helluva long time coming! At about 5pm local time, 25 days and 10 hours after they landed on the South African shores, India had their first real win when they beat a fighting Rest of South Africa by 96 runs at the Sedgars Park in Potchefstroom on Saturday under a setting sun.

A few minutes later, the rains that had been threatening to ruin this game finally came down in a rush but by then, the Indians were safely back in the pavilion, wondering how they would celebrate. Probably quietly.

While India did win the lone Twenty20 game (with a ball to spare) they played at the Wanderers a week ago, it is not to be counted seriously for anything.

This win, coming in under three days, will obviously count for much more in the psychological stakes, even if it did come against a second-string team who had only two of the Proteas first Test squad in their ranks --- both of whom (Jacques Rudolph and Paul Adams) contributed nothing.

But when the last home wicket fell, with Morne Morkel trying to hit Sehwag out of the ground over midwicket and only top-edging it to find a rush of fielders waiting to get under (Dhoni finally took it), the celebrations were muted, more relieved than anything else, as all the mini-celebrations so far have been.

There are a number of things the Indian think-tank will have to contend with and many of these problems were laid bare on this happening day. Straight off is that old bugbear --- the batting. While their batting at the top has been stripped bare of all pretensions to glory repeatedly on this tour, the rest hasn't looked much better, with a couple of exceptions.

On Saturday, India, who were 93-7 overnight, managed to get 142 but that was only because of Irfan Pathan (the man of the match, who top-scored again with 40*) and some rare, dogged resistance from the tail - this time in the form of Sreesanth, who stood there gamely for an hour.

That, combined with the first innings lead of 178 (which, again was due to Pathan, a rejuvenated Ganguly and the unlikely Harbhajan Singh) gave the Indians some runs to play around with and defend.

But at the same time, they would realise that this second-string side they played managed more than India in their own second innings (224) and may well have taken the match if it hadn't been for a piece of sheer bad luck.

Because, for a long while in the matinee session on Saturday and running into just after the tea break, when Vaughn van Jaarsveld (66) and Justin Kemp (53) were plundering the Indian bowling, to put on a 100 runs in under 15 overs, it did seem like this match was getting away from India.

But 20 minutes after tea, disaster struck, with van Jaarsveld failing to make his ground while the batsmen were taking a quick single and that started the collapse, as the South Africans lost five more wickets in very quick time.

But their senior squad would have watched that rollicking partnership with great interest, for while Kemp and van Jaarsveld made merry, the Indian bowling, their great strength (relatively speaking) on this tour, seemed to visibly wilt. As did the body language of the Indian fielders.

As the partnership progressed, Indian shoulders drooped, the chirrupy sounds and the loud clapping that were so loud over two sessions on Friday, when the pacemen wreaked havoc under helpful, overcast conditions, were conspicuous by their absence now. Sreesanth neither walked across to have words with the batsmen for a long while, nor did he let out a feral "ayyyyo" as his appeals were turned down.

It was all far too quiet, unlike in the morning for the Rest, when Alfonso Thomas, one of their players of colour (and the distinction is important here), made an important statement as he walked triumphantly off the field holding the ball after finishing with a magnificent 7-56.

The Indian bowlers have visibly tired under a debilitating sun and maybe the six-day break now before the first Test will do them good. That's also when the real test begins.

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