October 3, 2001

Agarkar blasts India to three-wicket win against South Africa 'A'

Ajit Agarkar blasted India to an unlikely three-wicket victory over South Africa A at Willowmoore Park in Benoni last night, hauling the tourists out of deep trouble with an uninhibited display of clean hitting.

Agarkar, in harness with Yuvraj Singh, carried the attack to the South Africans after the Indians had stumbled and scratched their way to 156 for six in the 37th over in reply to the home team's total of 241 for six.

The cause seemed all but lost when Agarkar joined Yuvraj, but the pair upset the South African rhythm and with HD Ackerman finding himself a bowler short at one point, India capitalised. In the end, they won with five balls to spare.

Less than an hour before, however, victory had looked only a remote possibility for the Indians. Captain for the night Rahul Dravid and Jacob Martin had put together 91 for the third wicket, but when Martin went for 54, splendidly run out by Boeta Dippenaar's direct hit, the innings started to fall apart.

Just a few overs previously Dippenaar had made a dreadful hash of a simple catch to give Dravid a life on 31, but Dravid failed to take full advantage of this reprieve, hoiking wildly across the line against Roger Telemachus to be bowled for 35.

Reetinder Singh Sodhi and Deep Dasgupta came and went quickly and the momentum appeared to have drained away from the Indians, but Agarkar and Yuvraj clearly had different ideas. Together they crunched 78 off just 69 deliveries and although Agarkar fell for 49 off 43 balls, caught in the deep in the penultimate over, he had already done enough to win the match for India.

The turning point, perhaps, came when Ackerman turned to Martin van Jaarsveldt's occasional offspinners as he tried to protect Jon Kent who had taken punishment during his first six over spell. The ploy was hardly an unqualified success, Agarkar and Yuvraj hammered 20 off Van Jaarsfeld's two overs and the tide of the game had turned.

Yuvraj hit the winning runs off the first ball of the final over to end unbeaten on 46 and the end might have come even earlier, but for a curious incident. In Charl Langeveldt's last over, Yuvraj crashed a straight drive back down the wicket at the bowler. The ball glanced off the bowler's head and had been hit with such force that it carried on down to the boundary ropes.

The umpires, however, had already signalled dead ball on the grounds that they believed Langeveldt might have been seriously hurt and the runs did not count. Fortunately, he was able to walk off the field with an ice pack held to his head and a rueful grin on his face.

Earlier, the SA A innings had been built around a fine 117-run partnership for fourth wicket between Van Jaarsveld and Gerald Dros. The home side had been given a useful start by Dippenaar and Jacques Rudolph who put on 62 for the first wicket, but with Agarkar claiming the wickets of Dippenaar (34) and Ackerman (1) and Anil Kumble getting rid of Rudolph for 25, the A team were suddenly 75 for three after 19 overs.

Van Jaarsveld and Dros, however, put the castle back together again, playing calmly, picking up the ones and twos and taking advantage of shoddy Indian ground fielding. Together they took the score along to 192 with seven overs remaining before Van Jaarsveld picked out Dravid at midwicket off Harvinder Singh to depart for 69.

Dros picked up the pace in the closing overs, picking up Agarkar sweetly over square leg for six and benifiting from a life on 80 when SS Das put him down at deep backward square. He eventually went at the start of the last over of the innings, but with the score eventually sneaking into the 240s, India would have known they had been set no simple task.

The pick of the bowlers, by a distance, was the legspinner Kumble, whose comeback after an absence of nearly a year because of injury continues apace. Kumble's first spell of seven overs yielded only five runs for Rudolph's wicket and he finished the innings with figures of 10-4-15-1. It was a masterly demonstration of control and economy and it augurs well for his tour. He, and his fellow bowlers no doubt, might all appreciate a little more assistance from the fielders.