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November 6, 2001
The Goodyear Park at Bloemfontein has provided great entertainment to the spectators who bothered to turn up for the first three days of the first Test. The rate of scoring has been very brisk by any Test match standards. The batsmen from both sides have enjoyed themselves on a friendly pitch by playing positive cricket. The little champion, Sachin Tendulkar, along with the debutant, Virender Sehwag, set the trend on the opening day. Mind you, the situation was not exactly rosy when these two got together after the top order crumbled in a hurry.
I had written in an earlier column that Sehwag has improved progressively, but even he would not have imagined he would score a century on debut in Test cricket. He joined Tendulkar when the team was in a crunch situation, but he batted like a battle-scarred veteran. The most remarkable aspect of his innings was the way he played the forcing shots off the back foot. It is not an easy shot to play, but he repeatedly sent the ball to the ropes through the offside. He was in the company of Tendulkar, and it has to be said that he never lagged far behind, even though Tendulkar was at his punitive best.
Tendulkar is not only making the statisticians scurry around but also making it extremely difficult for scribes to find new ways of describing his achievements. The latest effort at Goodyear Park can only be summed up in one word - great. The way he took the attack into the enemy camp left the South Africans stunned. Besides that, he guided the young debutant, taking the pressure off him by repeatedly talking to him. Still, one gets the feeling that his job is not over yet, as the match is still very much open.
The home team replied even more aggressively, with Herschelle Gibbs leading the pack, one player who plays both versions of the game in the same manner. The South African batting depth is formidable when you consider that Nicky Boje comes in at number nine. The Indian bowling looked rusty, but the fact remains that three of the main bowlers are not totally match-fit. Javagal Srinath worked hard for his five-wicket haul, with Anil Kumble supporting him well. Harbhajan Singh was sorely missed, but things would not have been easy for him either.
The fourth day's play will decide the outcome of this Test. The Indians have to wipe off the deficit with enough wickets intact. If they can set a fourth innings target of around 250-270, then they are in with a chance. The pitch is wearing, and the bounce is likely to be unpredictable. There are a lot of patches where puffs of dust have started to emerge. The diminutive opener Shiv Sunder Das has got the team off to a good start, but there is lot of good work to be done yet.
The Indians have been very positive throughout this Test, and it is imperative they remain so. They have the advantage of bowling in the fourth innings, but the batsmen have to put first up runs on the board. Skipper Sourav Ganguly is due for some runs in Test cricket and, if he can play a substantial innings, the Indians can really fancy their chances of winning the match. The batsmen have broken the voodoo of not playing up to their potential abroad, and the fact that they scored runs by playing positively should keep the adrenaline pumping.
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