March 17, 2000

India take series honours after dramatic finish in Vadodara

India clinched the five match Pepsi one-day series against South Africa in a palpitating finish at the IPCL Sports Stadium in Vadodara today, winning by four wickets with just one ball to spare. Sachin Tendulkar's 25th one-day hundred and Saurav Ganguly's now predictable display of pyrotechnics at the beginning of the innings had taken India to the verge of a comfortable victory but the middle order messed it up so thoroughly that South Africa were in the hunt right until the last few balls.

It took a dropped catch by Lance Klusener in the last over to deny the visitors an improbable tilt at levelling the series. Hansie Cronje was left to rue the decision to bat first after winning the toss for the fourth time in a row. The time tested strategem of putting runs on the board to pressure the opposition would not have cowed an Indian team on a placid wicket and inspired by the memory of successfully chasing 302 in the series opener.

Ganguly is the man with the Midas touch at the moment and dominated a 153 run opening stand with Tendulkar in exactly 25 overs which gave the Indians a fantastic launch pad. Ganguly treated the South African attack with regal scorn as he rattled up a quickfire 87 in 84 balls that included 12 fours and two sixes. His favoured destination for depositing the ball was to go over the heads of the infield to the cover boundary. And when Cronje responded by putting the cover fielder back and bringing square leg up, Ganguly just slotted it coolly in the position made vacant by the fielder. He was the king of all he surveyed and became a victim only of his own impatience, holing out to long off.

Tendulkar carried on the baton as he notched up a priceless 122, lifting India to 256/2 in the 45th over before knocking a Kallis full toss into the hands of Elworthy at mid on. Putting behind him an indifferent run in the series, Tendulkar came good when it was most needed. Although he was not at his best, Tendulkar gamely inched India closer to victory with a patient innings but when he fell with 27 still needed in 29 balls, the panic buttons were pressed. Having added 80 for the third wicket with Tendulkar, Mohd. Azharuddin (39) fell soon after, also to a full toss, and the situation boiled down to 15 needed from the last 12 balls.

Then followed a most extraordinary 49th over from Pollock. After Robin Singh had dispatched a wide full toss to the point boundary, Pollock redeemed the reputation of that much maligned delivery by knocking Jadeja's middle stump out of the ground. Sunil Joshi swung one to the square leg boundary first ball but was then yorked to leave Robin Singh and Saba Karim with the task of scoring six off the last over from Kallis.

After two singles from two balls, Klusener dropped the simple chance at mid on to let India breathe easy. He gingerly felt his ankle afterwards as though trying to put the blame there but the deed was done and Robin went on to score the winning runs for the second time in the series with a most unconvincing stroke that landed over cover.

Earlier the Indians did not exactly distinguish themselves in the field as they allowed South Africa to run up a huge total. Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs may not be spoken of in the same breath as some of the legendary opening pairs of the past but they have developed a liking for this Indian attack and scattered the bowling once more with a briskly constructed foundation for the innings. The rustiness in Javagal Srinath showed as he was caned for 43 in his first five overs, struggling to find his length and overstepping the crease several times in the bargain.

The signs were looking ominous for India before they finally terminated the opening wicket stand for 99 by removing Gibbs in the 16th over. Gary Kirsten was setting himself up for another big score but a bad mixup with Kallis, who first called and then sent Kirsten back, spelt his doom. The innings was given its momentum by a breezy fifth wicket stand of 57 in 50 balls between Kallis and Dale Benkenstein.

Kallis who, as usual, took some time to play himself in, stepped on the accelerator later, mauling Sunil Joshi for 18 runs in the 46th over including two sixes. The late flourish, inclusive of two trademark cross batted heaves by Klusener to the midwicket fence took South Africa to 282/5 with Kallis not out 81. Anil Kumble was the pick of the bowlers for India with 1-32 from nine overs and Sunil Joshi was the most rewarded, with two scalps, although he spoilt his figures with that munificent last over.