March 9, 2000

India win amid scenes of low farce

India won the first ODI against South Africa in a grandstand finish at Kochi's Nehru stadium which ended in a grotesque manner after the teams had walked off thinking the match was over and had to be called back to complete it a second time. The final over bowled by Pollock, with eight needed, saw frayed nerves as Pollock was called for overstepping by umpire MR Singh with his foot a clear two centimetres behind the line. It was left to Anil Kumble to streak the ball down to the third man boundary as Kallis made a despairing effort to save it. The match ended with the three that the batsmen ran being changed to four on communication from the 3rd umpire, as the players were preparing for the next ball. Or so we thought.

What happened next was utterly bizarre. The players left the field, the South Africans looking shattered and the Indians, especially Robin looking flustered by unwelcome attention from the fans who surged onto the ground. The dais for the presentation party was brought out onto the outfield. And just as quickly withdrawn. There was something fishy in the air and total confusion reigned before it slowly dawned on the crowd that the 3 which was ruled 4 was actually a 3. The stumps were put back, the umpires hovered on the edge of the field before finally deigning to step in. And sure enough the players soon followed.

Would the South Africans be motivated after having been emotionally drained? Would the Indians get over the extreme disappointment? Robin Singh managed to get bat on ball and the batsmen scampered through before the field could react. The disgruntled South Africans trooped off after losing the match a second time and the two batsmen did not even make a cursory display of emotion. At the end of the it all India had won by 3 wickets with 2 balls to spare.

The Indian reply to the target of 302 set by South Africa began on a suitably urgent note as Ganguly carved three fours off Pollock in the first over, all through the off side. Kallis opened from the other end and bowled a leg stump line trying to compensate for Ganguly's off side strength, even dispensing with the regulation slip. He did introduce two slips for Tendulkar when he first came on strike in the last ball of the over which the batsman slashed to backwardpoint for a couple.

Tendulkar got his first boundary with a cracking shot to the point fence in the next over by Pollock. But it was Ganguly who set pulses racing as he ripped into Kallis in the fourth over. Three more boundaries resulted, two to backward point and another off his legs past the square leg fielder. The chase was on in right earnest. The first five overs produced 38 of which Ganguly's share was 28.

But disaster was lurking round the corner as Ganguly tried to glide Pollock down the leg side and umpire Vijayaraghavan judged him to have got a tickle through to Boucher although the batsman was visibly disappointed by the decision. Ganguly's 31 had come off 28 balls and left India at 45/1. Rahul Dravid drove his first ball past Pollock for three and in the next over elegantly picked Cronje, who had come on as first change for Kallis, off his legs for four. At the end of the 10th over India were 61/1 with Tendulkar on 14 and Dravid on 12.

Dravid found the pickets again driving Pollock through mid on for four but he almost paid the penalty of chasing a wide one outside off stump which just failed to carry to Boucher. Tendulkar had been relatively subdued thus far but he had also got less of the strike, facing only 16 balls in the first ten overs. He signalled an aggressive intent in the 11th over, stepping down and swinging Pollock to the mid wicket fence.

India were in further trouble after Dravid failed to clear Henry Williams at mid off off Cronje with the score at 70 and his score on 17. Ganguly responded by tinkering with the batting order to send up Sunil Joshi.But Tendulkar appeared to be unfazed as he flicked Cronje past square leg for four in the same over. When Nantie Hayward came on for Pollock after the latter had conceded 48 in his six overs, Tendulkar greeted him with a glance off his legs to fine leg.

In the same over he tried the shot again but unerringly found the fielder at backward squareleg in Henry Williams.He'd made 26 in 25 balls and the score was 82. Sunil Joshi then strove to justify the captain's confidence in him by striking Cronje for two boundaries in the 14th over. The first just eluded the bowlers outstretched hands on its way to long on but the second was a classical straight drive.At the end of 15 overs India were 97/3 with Joshi on 13 and Azharuddin on 2.

Henry Williams, the 32 year old fast bowler playing his sixth ODI, had already impressed with some sterling work in the field before Cronje called him up to bowl. Azharuddin brought up the hundred of the innings (in 103 balls) with a trademark flick of the wrists that deposited the ball at the midwicket fence. But later in the over Joshi was run out in unfortunate circumstances after being sent back by Azhar. In collecting the ball the bowler Williams appeared to disturb the stumps with his elbow before the ball was in his hand. But the third umpire, LP Verma, was not impressed by the evidence and ruled Joshi out for 13 with the score at 101.

This brought together the old firm of Jadeja and Azharuddin to try and redress the imbalance created by the rash of wickets. It was not easy to break the shackles as Azhar found, playing and missing a couple of times outside off stump to Hayward and then edging one to third man. Williams almost had Azhar when he rapped him on the back pad in line with leg but the umpire was unmoved and moreover failed to signal leg byes. The first appearance of spin soon came in the form of Nicky Boje who replaced Hayward.

The singles were coming easily now but with the asking rate climbing above six, the batsmen needed a few boundaries to reassure themselves that they were still in control. Jadeja took up the challenge by wafting Williams uppishly to backward point for four and then sweeping Boje to the fineleg fence. At the end of 25 overs India were 137-4 with Azhar on 18 and Jadeja on 19. After a four over spell from Williams, off spinner Derek Crookes was introduced into the attack amidst a ball change.

The run rate had slowed down now and although the batsmen had applied themselves to the task of consolidating the innings, with 153 more needed from 132 balls they would have to show some more enterprise before long. Azharuddin took the cue and sent Boje soaring over cover point for six. The shot brought up the 50 partnership between these two off 81 balls. At the end of 30 overs India were 163/4 with Azhar on 33 and Jadeja on 27. South Africa had made 169/0 at the same stage.

Sensing that their best chance was against spin, Azhar and Jadeja tried to force the pace before the pacemen came back on. Jadeja had a life when Nantie Hayward lost sight of the ball as he was running in to take a sweep shot off Nicky Boje and worse, let it go through for four. Crookes also came in for punishment as Azhar thumped him straight over his head to the boundary.

Cronje took heed of the danger signals and inserted Kallis back into the attack. The move struck pay dirt as Azharuddin, playing that almost involuntary flick of the wrists of his, found the waiting hands of Pollock at short midwicket. Jadeja continued to live dangerously, whipping the ball over Pollock in the same position and just eluding him on its way to the fence. In the same over Jadeja found the gap on the off side as he sent Kallis to the cover fence.

Meanwhile Pollock had replaced Crookes at the other end as the South Africans tried to snuff out the Indian challenge. The asking rate had climbed to seven and a half now as India moved to 193-5 in the 35th over with 109 still needed off 90 balls. Robin Singh had come in at the fall of Azhar's wicket and was pushing Jadeja for the singles one of which brought up Jadeja's 50 off 81 balls, sparking a pitch invasion by a lone fan who presented him with the India flag. He celebrated by hitting Crookes, strangely restored to the attack by Cronje, over midwicket for six and followed it up by an even bigger hit in the same direction that left the fans delirious.

Crookes made a sensational effort to try and erase the memory of that over and punish his tormentor as he put down one on the third attempt after Jadeja ballooned Hayward to point. The Jadeja juggernaut rolled on as he cracked a four to point that brushed the hand of the hapless Crookes and then lifted Hayward just below the sightscreen for a straight six. The over had cost fifteen and suddenly the target appeared eminently attainable. At the end of 40 overs India was 243-5 with Jadeja on 76 off 92 balls and Robin on 15 off 14.

A double bowling change resulted with Cronje and Williams now handling the proceedings. The singles were being furiously run as the pressure got to the South African fielders and when the gift ball came Jadeja did not hesitate to put it away as he pulled a short one from Wiliams to midwicket. The asking rate was down to a run a ball now as the 250 came up in the 42nd over, the fifth 50 having taken just 30 balls. Robin and the crowd had their hearts in their mouths for a while as the third umpire debated a borderline runout decision. It seemed at first sight that Robin had thrown it away after turning back for a risky second run but the TV replay was too close to call and Robin stayed.

The South Africans nosed ahead after a tight 44th over by Williams who conceded just one leg bye. Indeed the over went down as a maiden in the bowling analysis, the first of the match. But the seesawing nature of the game continued as Robin and Jadeja set upon Cronje hitting boundaries to cover and midwicket respectively. Cronje came back well by getting rid of Jadeja in the same over, caught by Crookes at point off the bottom of the blade.

Jadeja's 92 had come off 109 balls (8 fours and 3 sixes) and the partnership with Robin was also worth 92. Samir Dighe walked in with the score at 272/6 and 30 needed in 31 balls. The pair added 15 runs in 4 overs but at 287, Dighe made a mighty effort but failed to clear Cronje at extracover. It was down to 15 off the last two overs. The tension soared as Kallis made a needless display of dissent to a ball that was called wide outside off stump. And then reached a thrilling climax as we all thought or a ludicrous anti climax as it turned out.

In the morning the undisguised enthusiasm of the Kochi crowd belied the fact that India had just lost the Test series as the two sides resumed battle after a three day break. The Indians would have been fired up by the support from the stands which more than made up for the minor disappointment of losing the toss. South Africa predictably chose to take first strike. The visitors went in for two spinners in Nicky Boje and Derek Crookes and picked Henry Williams over Steve Elworthy as the support seamer. For India Sunil Joshi made the final cut ahead of Nikhil Chopra with Kaif and Bhandari also being left out.

Thrust into the role of frontline seamer, Ajit Agarkar began erratically with two wides in his first over and a cover driven four by Gibbs. There was greater carnage to follow in Agarkar's second over as Gibbs leaned effortlessly into two deliveries pitched up outside off stump and slapped them over cover for sixes. Agarkar did come up with a good shout for leg bfore and also beat Gibbs outside off stump in the same over which only served to reinforce his inconsistency.

Kumaran at the other end was singled out for some treatment by Gary Kirsten who helped himself to three boundaries, two to midwicket and one over the bowler's head. The onslaught forced Ganguly to take out the lone slip as early as the fifth over and in a gesture of surrender, bring on the spinners in the seventh over. Agarkar's first three overs had gone for 28 while Kumaran, with 22 taken off him, escaped with only marginally less punishment.

The South Africans were unperturbed by the double bowling change and went about dissecting Kumble and Joshi with the same intensity. The spinners strayed on either side and were swept and cut for more boundaries. Both batsmen displayed delicate touch in cutting wide of slip for four in succesive overs. Joshi had a wishful shout for a catch by Robin at leg slip turned down. At the end of ten overs South Africa were 82/0 with Kirsten on 39 and Gibbs on 35.

The batsmen were beginning to take risks now and Joshi almost had Gibbs stumped when he danced down the pitch only to watch Samir Dighe fail to collect the ball cleanly. But these were mere straws in the wind. The sweep shot was used to particularly good effect and Gibbs brought up the hundred with one such shot off Joshi backward of square for four. The hundred came off just 13.1 overs leaving the Indians staring down the barrel of a huge total.

Kumble was removed from the attack after a four over spell for 30 and in a desperate nove Ganguly brought on Tendulkar for the 15th over. Bowling his gentle off breaks at 80 kmph, Tendulkar managed to put the skids on the run rate, giving a measly seven runs off his first three overs. But it was Sunil Joshi at the other end, given an extended spell by Ganguly, who repeatedly flustered the batsmen with well flighted deliveries turning across the face of the bat as the batsman sought to make contact.

Kirsten won the race to the individual fifties as he posted a run a ball half century that included six fours. Gibbs soon joined his company, taking 63 balls to reach the landmark. At the end of 20 overs South Africa were 122/0 with Gibbs on 54 and Kirsten on 55. The run spree had been checked considerably with only 42 runs being scored from the second ten.

Noting the efficacy of Tendulkar's off breaks, Rahul Dravid was brought on from the other end after Joshi had bowled seven luckless overs for 31. Having instructed Dravid to bowl at the nets yesterday, Ganguly decided to test him out in the middle and almost got an unexpected bonus. Gibbs pulled Dravid straight into and out of the hands of Robin Singh at deep square leg with his score on 62. At the 25 over mark South Africa were 142/0 with Gibbs on 66 and Kirsten on 62.

Samir Dighe's undistinguished display behind the stumps was capped by his second stumping miss, this time off th ebowling of Tendulkar. It was Gibbs, batting on 68 at the time, who was the recipient of the Indians' generosity once more. In the same over Kirsten stepped out and lofted the bowler over long on for four. South Africa reached the 150 mark in 27 overs.

Dravid was steady if not effective, bowling a shade flatter than Tendulkar. He was taken off after 4 overs for 21 as Kumble returned from the pavilion end. By now the South Africans had played themselves in and were comfortably taking the singles and rotating the strike even if the boundaries were not coming as frequently. Kirsten did despatch a Tendulkar full toss to the mid wicket fence but Tendulkar had done a terrific job to plug in for the inadequacy of the frontline bowlers. Robin Singh came on for Tendulkar after he had turned over a spell of 8-0-29-0. Ganguly was ringing in the bowling changse but has ben surprisingly reluctant to come on himself. South Africa were 169/0 from 30 overs.

Robin Singh was given just two overs before Agarkar was brought back on. Gibbs almost spooned a catch to Robin at mid off and then turned him smartly off his legs to fine leg for four.Agarkar bowled just the one over before Ganguly restored Dravid to the attack. Both the batsmen had entered the 90's now and the 200 stand was brought up in the 34th over. Kumble was unable to display anything of his reputation as strike bowler as Kirsten and Gibbs treated him with utmost ease. He returned figures of 4- 0-19-0 in his second spell following which Sunil Joshi

Kirsten reached his century off 106 balls (11 fours) with a push to long on. His buccaneering knock was so unlike his image in the Test arena of a gritty batsman who wears down the opposition.Gibbs reched the mark an over later off 119 balls (9 fours, 2 sixes) with a boundary to mid wicket off Joshi folloowed by another sweep for four. Joshi had the last laugh as he effected the breakthrough in his next over. Gibbs tried to hoick him over mid wicket and holed out to Agarkar on the fence. His 111 had come off 127 bals and the partnership of 235 for the first wicket fell only just short of the ODI record stand of 252 by Tendulkar and Ganguly.

Although Lance Klusener was also padded up it was Jacques Kallis who joined Kirsten at the wicket in the 40th over. Klusener did not have to wait long to step out as Kirsten lost patience after his long vigil. He came down to Dravid and tried to launch it into the off side but it went straight to Jadeja at cover. He'd made a frenetic 115 in 123 balls. The score was 249/2.

Klusener finally walked in to cheers and walked out after four balls to even greater cheers. In the same over he knocked one straight back to Dravid without opening his account. Tendulkar came back for Joshi from the pavilion end and rapped Hansie Cronje on the pads but the umpire reckoned it would miss off stump. Joshi was the first bowler to complete his spell finishing with 1-52.

Dravid was surprisingly replaced by Agarkar after the double strike in his 9th over having taken 2-43. Cronje and Kallis were unable tp pierce through the deep field but singles and twos were there for the asking as South Africa reached 261-3 in 45 overs. Tendulkar also finished his quota of ten to produce figures of 0- 43. After a long banishment to the outfield Kumaran finally returned to the attack in the 48th over and was despatched to the mid wicket boundary by Kallis. South Africa reached the 300 in the 50th over finishing at 301-3 with Kallis on 37 (30 balls) and Cronje on 19 (20 balls).