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March 18, 2001
This Second Test match is still very evenly balanced, the West Indies being just 36 runs away from what could be a very big psychological boost if they could get a first innings lead. With just three wickets in hand, it will be touch and go to see which team leads on the first innings. Indeed, it might have already been much closer if some of the decisions had been better. At least the saving grace is that the mistakes affected both teams.
The West Indies won the first session, losing only one wicket while adding another 87 runs to their overnight 2-0. It seems evident that the South African bowlers have found out that if they bowl straight at Chris Gayle, instead of feeding him drives outside of off stump, he does not seem to be able to get the ball away, and would eventually play across the line. That was exactly the scenario as he was plumb LBW to Pollock.
However, the South Africans pulled themselves back well in the post-lunch session, restricting the West Indies to just 78 runs while taking three West Indian wickets, done with great dexterity and manipulation of the batsmen.
At 123-4, with Chris Gayle, 10, Marlon Samuels, 35, also found out slightly by playing away from his body on a quicker surface; Brian Lara, 12, similarly slashing at a wide delivery; and Wavell Hinds, given out caught behind for an aggressive 56, all dismissed, the West Indies were wobbling from the South African punches.
They recovered somewhat, thanks mainly to their captain, Carl Hooper, who eventually fell for 53, his second half century in as many games as captain, and his 20th overall, showing his determination and effectiveness; and his compatriot, Ramnaresh Sarwan, who made a valuable 34, the pair putting on 75 for the 5th wicket.
Sarwan's wicket, though, just when the West Indies seem to be escaping, was vital, the batsman making the crucial mistake of not driving with his head over the ball, Darryl Cullinan at 1st slip making no mistake with the catch.
Both Hooper and Sarwan were eventually removed by South Africa's spearhead, Allan Donald. He finished with the creditable figures of 4-67 from 22 probing overs, and might have had more, so aggressive and focussed he was.
Ridley Jacobs, the West Indies wicket-keeper/batsman, has survived - just - to be 26 not out, and much will depend on him on day three, with perhaps some help from the tail, for the West Indies to get any lead at all. It will be tight.
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After 8-0, MS Dhoni could look forward to building a team from scratch; now, there is nothing left for him to contribute. Free him from the Test captaincy and he could yet give back in other ways
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His decisions in the England series have seemed to confirm that he does not care too much for the Test game. Maybe he should be concentrating on the World Cup
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