February 25, 2000

India restrict South Africa, but squander advantage

At the end of an eventful second day during which 15 wickets fell for 224 runs, India dismissed South Africa for 176 runs in their first innings but the visitors struck back by taking five Indian wickets for 75 runs by stumps on the second day of the first Test at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on Friday.

Resuming at 27 for no loss, all the South Africans needed to do was play through to lunch without losing further wickets. Gibbs looked in superb touch and was the aggressor even as Kirsten rotated the strike well. Gibbs played the medium pacers well, standing tall on tip toes and working the ball effortlessly through the off side. Compensating for Gibbs' mastery over the off side, Srinath bowled a straighter line and found that Gibbs played the ball with equal felicity on the leg side.

Ajit Agarkar generated good pace and used the bouncer well. The fact that neither Srinath nor Agarkar could get the ball to move either in the air or off the wicket made it very difficult for them to trouble the batsmen. The one time Srinath got the ball to straighten off the wicket, he almost caught Kirsten's outside edge. Agarkar, realising very early that he could not get any assistance from the conditions bent his back extra and made it difficult for the South Africans to settle down to a rhythm against him.

When spin was introduced, the South Africans became circumspect. There was no way they could play the spinners with the ease with which they went after the medium pacers. Anil Kumble extracted good bounce from the very first ball he bowled and it was hardly surprising that Nayan Mongia behind the wicket immediately donned the helmet behind the stumps. The ball bounced awkwardly to the batsmen and they did not have a specific strategy to counter Kumble. Kirsten played the ball late and had a better chance of surviving. When he committed to the front foot, he really plonked his leg a long way down the wicket, making it very difficult for the umpire to give him out LBW. When he played back, Kirsten once again took a large stride, and this enabled his to let the ball bounce and turn before he played his shot.

Kartik gave the ball a fair bit of air and did not appear to be nervous in his first bowl in Test cricket. On the mark right away, Kartik was a good foil to Kumble as the Karnataka leggie attacked the South African batsmen. However, neither spinner could make a breakthrough.

As he has done so many times in the past, Sachin Tendulkar picked up the ball and came in to bowl at the end of the 31st over. There is always something in the air when Tendulkar comes on to bowl and today was no exception. Gibbs opened the face of his bat and guided Tendulkar's leg break straight to the waiting hands of Ganguly at slip. This was off Tendulkar's third ball, and just the second Tendulkar delivery that Gibbs had faced. Once again the Indian skipper had done what his frontline bowlers could not do for him. Gibbs' 46 had come in good time and though at times he seemed a bit confused about how he should approach the spinners he looked the better of the two openers.

Jacques Kallis came in next and gave Kumble his first dismissal of the match. Chasing a wide delivery going down leg side, Kallis tried to glance the ball away down the leg side. The ball came back in a shade and caught the leading edge of Kallis' bat. The ball flew to Laxman at silly mid off and he held a good reflex catch to get rid of Kallis for just five.

Hansie Cronje, arguably South Africa's best player of spin breezed in and out. Undone by a Kumble turner, Cronje inside edged the very second ball he faced onto his pad from where the ball ricocheted to Laxman under the helmet. Cronje walked immediately and made the umpire's job easier.

Pieter Strydom, who played the spinners quite well in the game against the Board President's XI came in next and took South Africa through to lunch without any further casualities. At lunch, the power balance was shifting towards India, with the South Africans at 103/3.

Whatever the Indians ate for lunch on the second day certainly agreed with them. Resuming after lunch, Murali Kartik picked up the first wicket of his career. Strydom was confident enough to attempt to come down the wicket. Attempting to clear mid off, Strydom hit the ball uppishly. Agarkar at mid off, threw his hands over his head and snapped up the catch. Strydom had made just two.

Lance Klusener and Gary Kirsten then continued the defiance for South Africa. Kirsten got to his fifty by turning the ball behind square for a single and was given a roaring ovation by the Mumbai crowd.

Unfortunately for him and South Africa, he was undone by Sachin Tendulkar soon after. Bowling off spinners to the left hander, Tendulkar tempted Kirsten into the sweep. The ball was pitched just outside the leg stump and Kirsten played all over it. Turning in just enough, the ball clipped the bail on its way to the wicketkeeper. Unsure of what happened, Kirsten stood around and waited for the umpire's decision. David Shepherd consulted Venkat at square leg and waved the dreaded finger at Kirsten. Television replays showed clearly that Kirsten was clean bowled.

Shaun Pollock has shown in the past that he can be a more than handy bat. However, playing spinners on dusty tracks is never easy. The second ball Pollock played ballooned off his boot to the on side. Wasim Jaffer ran back from silly mid on but could not make the catch. The loss however wasn't a great deal. Off the very next ball, Pollock attempted a vicious pull against the spin. The Tendulkar leg spinner jumped and turned and caught the top edge of Pollock's bat. Running across from mid on, Jadeja watched the ball carefully into his hands and completed a good catch.

Mark Boucher was the next man in and he too did not last long. Beaten in the flight and off the wicket, Boucher hung his bat limply in the air as a Kartik delivery turning away from him clipped the outside edge and went through to Nayan Mongia. The Indian stumper reacted quickly enough to glove the ball and South Africa were in serious trouble at 144/7.

Nicky Boje and the tail did not last long as Srinath finally found some rhythm and picked up the wickets of Eksteen and Boje and the South African innings came to a close right at tea time. The visitors were all out for 176, losing 10 wickets for a paltry 86 runs.

When India came out to bat in their second essay, things began well as Wasim Jaffer and Laxman looked confident. However, that confidence seemed premature and the Indians did not do justice at the crease. Laxman was the first to go as he gloved a fast, rising delivery from Donald straight to Boucher. Laxman did not stick around long enough to trouble the scorers.

Just eight runs later, Jaffer too made his way back to the pavilion. Leaving his bat hanging in the air, Jaffer allowed a perfectly pitched Pollock delivery to kiss the outside edge of his bat before it went through to Klusener at first slip. At 13/2 India were once again given a bad start by their openers.

Rahul Dravid came in and was bogged down from the start. As is often the case with Dravid, he simply could not find the gaps. Tendulkar on the other hand was in fine form once more striking the ball cleanly from the word go. He began with two strokes through the off side that left the fielders standing. Tendulkar did not even venture out of the crease as the ball raced across the turf to the boundary.

Unfortunately, that was all Tendulkar could manage as he made the fatal error of padding up to a straight ball from Hansie Cronje. Cronje had bowled a superb line and length, giving nothing away. The ball struck Tendulkar plumb in front and umpire Venkat had no hesitation in lifting his finger and sending Tendulkar on his way.

Sourav Ganguly looked in as good touch as we have seen him in the recent past and carved the ball through the off side with consummate ease. However, the game began to look too easy for him and the South Africans plotted his downfall to perfection. Lulling him into an entirely false sense of complacency, Pollock got the Bengal southpaw caught in the slips. A perfectly pitched delivery drew Ganguly into the drive and only resulted in an outside edge, which Klusener snapped up. Ganguly's entertaining innings of 31 came off just 42 balls and was studded with four boundaries and one big six.

Ajay Jadeja, who looked a misfit in the Test side in the first innings did nothing to change that when he had a second knock. After playing without purpose for 12 balls, Jadeja guided a ball slipping down leg side into the waiting hands of Mark Boucher behind the wicket. He made 1 run. As Allan Donald celebrated Jadeja's dismissal, Anil Kumble walked out to the middle ahead of Nayan Mongia.

Kumble and Dravid played for stumps, not scoring a single run in the last six overs that were bowled. While it is important to preserve one's wicket, Dravid will find himself in the strange position of having no one to bat with if he continues at this rate. At 75/5, India better score some runs if they want to stay in this game.