January 8, 2007

India in South Africa, 2006

When the tide turned

Nishi Narayanan

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

In a series where the scales constantly tilted,Cricinfo picked out eight phases where the momentum shifted. It often took just one manic passage of play for the game to turn with neither team dominating extended periods. The pendulum swings made it one of the best series in recent memory

Sreesanth picked up AB de Villiers' wicket, South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 1st day, December 26, 2006
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VRV's verve

The first Test hung in a fine balance on the second morning at Johannesburg when India's No.11 VRV Singh sauntered in. India had just lost 4 for 39 and seemed to have squandered high ground but VRV, in a hectic 27 minutes, wrenched back the initiative. Backing away outside leg stump and swinging his arms with rustic abandon, VRV splintered six fours and added 44 for the last wicket with Sourav Ganguly. Amid raucous cheers fom the stands and uncontrollable laughter, VRV had coolly caused a momentum shift from which South Africa never recovered.

The Zak and Sree show

17.1 overs, 45 runs, seven wickets. It was a spell of bowling like few others seen in Indian cricket history. Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan engineered an abrupt annihilation, turning the contest into a one-horse race. The sight of South African batsmen groping outside off, hopping and edging in their own backyard was clear indication of how rattled they were. India surged ahead from that point and wrapped up the Test in due course.

Prince ploughs South Africa out of trouble

South Africa's top order continued its struggle in the second Test at Durban, floundering at 28 for 3, when Ashwell Prince entered. His outstanding 97 at Johannesburg had been drowned in a wave of Indian elation but he wasn't to be overshadowed here, gnawing his way to his third century of the year. He realised 94 runs with Herschelle Gibbs and another even 100 with Mark Boucher, allowing South Africa to cross 300 and gain some sort of advantage.

Graeme Smith reaches his third fifty in as many innings, South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day, January 6, 2007
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Ntini leads bowling revival

Unlike at the Wanderers where they tried to bowl too short on a pitch that demanded fullish deliveries, South Africa's bowlers rejigged their plans. Makhaya Ntini was at the heart of the revival, sticking to a back-of-a-length strategy and targeting India with disconcerting bounce. Ntini's wickets of Tendulkar and Ganguly in quick succession - one to an overambitious shot, the other to a thunderbolt of a bouncer - provided the much needed boost and to establish their dominance.

Smith finally strikes

It was an innings that was to have a bearing not only on the match but on the series as well. Graeme Smith had endured a horror patch since the start of the ODI series and his return to form, with a confident half-century, was a vital fillip for South Africa. From that point on, Smith didn't let up on his steely resolve and led by example through the series.

India get an 'Indian' pitch

Rahul Dravid gave his team-mates a New Year gift by winning the toss and batting first on a belter at Newlands. Wasim Jaffer and makeshift opener Dinesh Karthik cruised through the opening two sessions, adding 153 and setting the base for a huge total. The cracks were already developing on the surface and everything seemed to be in India's favour on a distinctly sub-continental pitch. South Africa were staring at a huge total as India could bat them out of the game completely.

Sachin Tendulkar sways to avoid a bouncer, South Africa v India, 2nd Test, 1st day, January 2, 2007
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Pollock evens the odds

First with the ball and then with a plucky partnership with Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock dragged South Africa back into the game. His four wickets in the first innings, apart from an economical line where he hardly gave any freebies, kept India down to 414. Then, with South Africa battling on a tough pitch and reduced to 281 for 6, he rattled off 69 with Mark Boucher and steered them closer to India's score. It was an inspired effort and one that South Africa desperately needed to come back in the match.

The Tendulkar-Dravid crawl

England recently suffered at Adelaide, after their scoring ground to a halt, and India committed the same blunder on the fourth afternoon. The fourth wicket stand between Tendulkar and Dravid produced 24 runs in 15 overs, to which Tendulkar contributed 9 in 45 balls. Pollock was giving nothing away and Paul Harris troubling the batsmen with his over-the-wicket line spinning it from the rough. Yet, the batsmen will blame themselves for the sudden drop in scoring rate and letting South Africa roar back into the contest. It was the decisive momentum shift that was to eventually seal the series.

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by harsha on (January 9, 2007, 8:43 GMT)

Shaun Pollock's promotion to bat at no. 4 on the 5th day of the 3rd test was also a crucial tactic employed by South Africa.

Posted by V.Jagadeesan on (January 9, 2007, 7:35 GMT)

Excellently captured. I only wish you had been a little more harsh on the so called 'stalwarts' of Indian cricket , Dravid& Tendulkar and their abominable crawl.Dravid' s strike rate over the years is so bad that it acts as a dampener on the scoring rate.It is high time all our senior players are given a shock treatment, if not shown the door

Posted by venga on (January 8, 2007, 10:01 GMT)

These are just eight minor things. There are several major turning points in the game. Here, i list some of them: 1) The very bad umpiring decisions - 1st innings( Dinesh Karthik's dismissal where there was clearly no bat involved) - 2nd innings( Tendulkar's lbw dismissal where the ball was heading away from the leg stump) 2) The failure to pass the information early enough to the indian dressing room that sachin cannot bat till 10.30 as he was not on the field for certain time. 3) The seven ball over. It was really stupid of the umpires. They are international umpires for goodness sake.

India lost because of all these blunders and the whole umpire team should apologise to the indian team for all these and for the loss of the series.

Posted by Somashekar on (January 8, 2007, 9:19 GMT)

The Indian team got what it deserved in the third test. The opportunity to win was there. At the very least, they could have drawn the test. Tendulkar and Dravid crawled through their batting on the fourth day. If they thought they could just bat the time out without scoring, they are sadly mistaken. You are going to get out at some stage and you won't even have the runs to show for your effort. The only way to survive is to bat positively and put runs on the board. Even in the first innings, India showed no urgency to post a big total.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nishi Narayanan
Staff writer Nishi studied journalism because she didn't want to study at all. As she spent most of the time at j-school stationed in front of the TV watching cricket her placement officer had no choice but to send out a desperate plea to the editor of ESPNcricinfo to hire her. Though some of the senior staff was suspicious at that a diploma in journalism was the worst thing that could happen to ESPNcricinfo and she did nothing to allay them, she continues to log in everyday and do her two bits for cricket.

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