February 24, 2000

Despite Tendulkar's 97, South Africa claim first day's honours

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South Africa can look back with satisfaction on the opening day of the first Test against India. At the Wankhede stadium on Thursday, they dismissed the home team for 225 runs and replied with 27 for no loss when stumps were drawn. Even this total was made possible only because of a brilliant 97 by Sachin Tendulkar and a last wicket partnership of 52 runs between Ajit Agarkar and debutant Murali Kartik.

Tendulkar won the toss and India opened with VVS Laxman and another debutant Wasim Jaffar. Allan Donald, getting good lift off the wicket once again made it clear that he can be a handful on any wicket. Although he did stray down the leg side initially, the batsmen were forced to play at the ball, offering strokes and not making contact on more than one occasion. Shaun Pollock however came close to picking up the first wicket when Wasim Jaffer closed the face of his bat too early on a full delivery. The ball flew off the outside edge between first and second slip. Lance Klusener diving across to his right got his hands to the ball but could not hold on to the catch.

The batsmen were being squared up time and time again by the bowlers. Donald who had bowled well within himself in the match against the Board President's XI generated express pace. His bouncers virtually flew off the wicket, sending Jaffer scurrying for cover.

The first wicket fell in the fifth over, as a nervous Jaffer played around an in coming delivery from Donald. The ball clipped the inside edge before removing the bails. It was a disappointing debut for the Mumbai lad as he managed just four runs.

Pollock, who did not play the tour game did not have Donald's fiery pace but made up in accuracy and movement what he lacked in pace. The Indians were in all manner of discomfort and it took Laxman 20 deliveries before he could get off the mark by playing the ball thought the vacant third man area for four.

Rahul Dravid who had come in at one drop showed no intent of doing anything other than defending the ball. In an attempt to see off the new ball, Dravid crept into his shell. Though he looked far more unsure, Laxman at least looked to score when the ball was up for the shot.

Donald's first spell in the series was a tight one. His six overs cost just nine runs and included the scalp of Wasim Jaffer.

The first commanding stroke of the day came off a wide Lance Klusener delivery in the 13th over. Dravid got quickly to the pitch of the ball and drove it square of the wicket to the point fence.

India had somehow stumbled to 37/1 at the first drinks break. VVS Laxman after playing and missing endlessly was on 15 and a steady Rahul Dravid had 12 runs to his name.

After making his way patchily but quickly to 15, Laxman could add just one run to his aggregate before he played a loose shot and gave his wicket away. Playing away from the body at a delivery wide outside off stump, Laxman could only manage a thick edge. His foot was not to the pitch of the ball and the edge flew to Eksteen in the slip cordon. The South Africans don't miss catches like those and Laxman's 81 minute essay of 16 had come to an end.

At 39/2 with the crowd roaring behind him, Tendulkar walked out to the middle. Lance Klusener kept the ball right up to the bat and that is a ploy that often proves to be an expensive one. Dravid took to Klusener's bowling and was comfortable enough to pick consecutive boundaries off the medium pacer.

Tendulkar started quietly, but signaled his arrival at the wicket with a crisply timed drive through the off side that raced to the extra cover fence. All Jacques Kallis could do was watch with hands on hips as the ball beat the fielder on the off side.

Donald was summoned back into the attack in the 23rd over and found that bowling to Tendulkar and Dravid was not quite the same as bowling to Laxman and Jaffer. Tendulkar was unfazed by the bouncers Donald was sending down and was keen to make use of any opportunities to keep the scoreboard ticking over. When Donald drifted onto the leg stump, Tendulkar was quick to whip the ball away through mid wicket. After picking up two runs in this fashion, Tendulkar did one step better, timing the ball perfectly and picking up four off an identical shot.

The much talked about Tendulkar versus Donald battle began in earnest. Donald followed up every other bouncer with a couple of quick words. However, the fact that he let Tendulkar get so many runs through the on side eased the pressure considerably. Kallis on the other hand bowled a tight first spell and went in to lunch with figures of 6-4-6-1.

Shortly before lunch India got their first taste of spin in the form of Clive Eksteen. Relieved to face the spinner, the Indians took five runs off Eksteen in his first over. At lunch, India were making slow but steady progress at 69/2. Dravid had 22 runs to is name while Tendulkar looked comfortable on 21.

South Africa reverted to their ace fast bowlers straight up after lunch. Donald responded well to his captain's call by removing the rock solid Rahul Dravid soon after the break. Dravid playing down the wrong line was undone by an incoming delivery from Donald. The ball beat the Karnataka batsman for pace and he was clean bowled through the gate. His patient 22 took all of 111 minutes.

As his replacement at the wicket, the 'Prince of Calcutta' Sourav Ganguly walked out. He left the ball well alone more often than not and took 20 balls to just get off the mark. Having done that by elegantly turning the ball around the corner, Ganguly proceeded to gift Pollock his wicket. Driving uppishly at a full delivery outside off stump, he ended up hitting the ball straight down Strydom's throat at mid off.

Donald's second spell rivaled his first. This time around he was a bit more expensive, but 6-3-11-1 are figures any captain will settle for.

Tendulkar continued to go strong against the bowling. A viciously pulled six over mid wicket took him past the half century mark. His 50 came off just 61 balls and included seven boundaries and the one six - proof of the high percentage of runs in boundaries.

Jadeja who was initially not even in the 14 man squad came in next and got off the mark off the very first delivery he played. Trying to ease the ball through the off side, Jadeja began with a streaky boundary through the third man region. Soon after, he should have been making the long walk to the pavilion, but a bit of sloppy work by Mark Boucher let him off the hook. The ball flew off the edge and Boucher was very late in reacting. He got a glove to it, but could not hold on to the ball which ran away past first slip. When drinks were taken after 41 overs, India were in a less than convincing position at 111/4.

By tea, it was very much the Tendulkar show that kept India going. A totally unconvincing Ajay Jadeja was at the wicket with the Indian captain. Tendulkar had moved on to 78 and looked good for a long stay at the crease. He was especially good against the spinners, toying with Clive Eksteen, who went for 26 runs off his six overs. Against Allan Donald, Tendulkar was not as comfortable and was almost dismissed attempting an expansive drive. A ball well outside off stump tempted Tendulkar into the drive. While umpire Venkat declared Tendulkar not out, Donald was visibly agitated and believed he had gotten his man. Even television replays did not conclusively suggest that the ball had come off the edge.

Jadeja on twelve was barely keeping Tendulkar company. At tea India were 142/4.

The last session was a genuinely interesting one. Jadeja has made a career of promising much and delivering little in Test cricket. In another display that suggested that he may not be up to the scratch in the highest level of the game, Jadeja potted around for 12 off 59 balls before he fell to a gentle medium pacer from Cronje.

Nayan Mongia, who was spoken of as a possible candidate to open the innings made a duck as the probing line and length of Cronje got the better of him. Fending at the very first ball he faced, Mongia did not trouble the scorers. Boucher completed the easiest of catches behind the wicket to dismiss his Indian counterpart.

On a hat trick, Cronje almost had his prize when Kumble swished airily at the first ball he faced. Luckily for him and India, his foot was not close enough to the ball and he did not manage to edge the ball.

Tendulkar, who was batting well, fell just three runs short of what would have been a well deserved hundred. Unable to resist the temptation to flash, Tendulkar was caught behind off the bowling of Kallis. Tendulkar's innings was the backbone of the innings like countless times before.

It took only one ball for Kallis to clean up Javagal Srinath. A full, straight ball was more than Srinath could handle and the stumps were a mess before his bat came down on the ball.

Just when it looked like things would be over in a hurry, Ajit Agarkar, coming off a positively shocking series with the bat in Australia lit up the stands with a sparkling innings. Debutant Murali Kartik showed no sign of nerves and partnered Agarkar well. Agarkar drove and flicked with gay abandon, notching up an unbeaten, almost run a ball 41. Kartik was finally undone by a Pollock straight ball that pegged his stumps back. By this time he had stuck around for 51 minutes, made 14 runs and most importantly shared a 52 run last wicket partnership with Agarkar.

All out for 225, India left South Africa with eight overs to play out. Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs did that with consummate ease as Srinath and Agarkar bowled without purpose. The Indian speedsters bowled a majority of their deliveries wide of the stumps and the South Africans were hardly made to struggle.

Mohammed Kaif, T Kumaran and Nikhil Chopra were left out of the side. Wasim Jaffer and Murali Kartik were the debutants for India.

For South Africa, Nantie Hayward can consider himself unlucky to be left out after his good showing in the match against the Board President's XI. Boeta Dippenar and Daryll Cullinan will also have to content watching the match from the confines of the pavilion. Cullinan who sustained a groin strain at the beginning of the tour has not recovered in time.