India v South Africa, 1st Test, Kanpur, 1st day November 20, 2004

Hall's innings supports Jennings's creed



Andrew Hall relaxed after Zaheer Khan was brought on © Getty Images

When Graeme Smith correctly called 'tails' at the start of the day it seemed a good bet that it would his most important contribution to the day's proceedings. It looked like he'd successfully turned a pretty sharp corner before the vehicle had even started moving.

But while he battled his way through an uncharacteristically tentative start and enjoyed a couple of huge slices of luck against that infamous new ball bowler Sourav Ganguly, it appeared that Smith would, after all, turn the game his team's way with bat rather than coin.

As it transpired the actual corner-turning moment of the match so far came before the vehicle had even left the garage, let alone made its way to the starting line: on Thursday, Smith had approved Andrew Hall as his opening partner. "It was a risk but we believe you have to take risks to do well in India and, thankfully, the first one has worked out nicely for us," Smith told journalists after the game.

Forget Hall's runs for a moment because, let's be honest, if he doesn't get much past his unbeaten 78 tomorrow, then South Africa are likely to fail to get past 300 and could still lose easily. What is far more important from the team's perspective is how, and why Hall scored his runs.

From a week before the squad left Johannesburg to the current moment, the new -and eccentric - coach, Ray Jennings, told the team to start believing in the impossible. The most obvious example was his bizarre assertion that extremely modest part-time spinners like Martin van Jaarsveld and Smith should treat themselves as front-liner ones and "put their hands up when the direction of the game needs to be changed."

There were those who bought every word of Jennings philosophy but there were also those who thought they'd heard it all before and sat back to see how the coach would handle his first dose of international reality. All the players, however, would probably have thought the notions of Smith taking four wickets in an innings and Andrew Hall batting through the entire first day of the series equally absurd. But now Hall has done it.

The innings was a grand display of self-denial from the burly, combative and mostly explosive allrounder and it has set an even mightier example to the rest of the squad. It was a slow day and the pace of South Africa's batting clearly displayed the fragility of the team's collective confidence. But Hall may well have placed a foundation stone for its rebuilding.

One of the surprises of the day came after Ganguly reintroduced Zaheer Khan late in the morning session, a bizarre move given Hall's background and preference for facing the quick stuff. And that was when Hall immediately started to play the spinners with comfort.

But even that surprise wasn't nearly as influential as the one two days before the match's start.

Neil Manthorp is a sports journalist based in South Africa and is a partner in the MWP Sports Agency