March 19, 2000

South Africa hold their nerves to win another close finish

South Africa reduced the final margin to 3-2 after beating India by 10 runs with 1.1 overs to spare in the fifth one day international at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur today. It brought the curtain down on a highly entertaining series in which four out of five matches went down to the wire with both sides remaining in the hunt until the final moments. Lance Klusener was named man of the match after unveiling his potent striking power for the first time in the series and taking 3-59 in the bargain to pull the rug from under India's lower order.

It was always going to be an uphill struggle for India after they allowed the visitors to plunder 320 runs in 50 overs. But a roaring second wicket association between Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had the South Africans press the panic buttons as the bowling and fielding went to pieces in the closing stages. Although both Tendulkar and Dravid fell at 193 in the space of three balls, the lower order manfully strove to match a soaring asking rate that touched a high of 7.83 at the end of the 44th over.

Saba Karim and Robin Singh led a counter rally, putting on 31 runs for the seventh wicket, with the former showing icy cool nerves under pressure to make a sweet 22 in 17 balls with four boundaries. After Karim was out, a poor 47th over from Hansie Cronje that cost 13 runs gave India the edge with a couple of misfields by the visitors seemingly indicating that they were losing control of the situation. With 18 needed in as many balls, India lost Robin but a boundary by Kumble restored their hopes by keeping the asking rate at six. However India had already reached the limits of their endurance and ran out of steam in the penultimate over quite literally as Kumble and Chopra were thrown out to leave the visitors worthy victors.

Earlier Saurav Ganguly, the South African bete noire during the series, had fallen in the third over, pulling a widish delivery outside leg stump into the hands of short fine leg. But Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid then produced a magical 180 run stand in a little under 24 overs.

Tendulkar favoured the regions of long on and midwicket for special attention in his innings of 93 in just 89 balls, inclusive of seven fours and four sixes. When he reached fifty he also became only the second batsman to cross 9000 runs in ODI's after Mohd. Azharuddin. But the revelation was Dravid who went for his strokes with a rare flourish from the word go, without getting into a defensive mould at the beginning of his innings. His untypically bellicose knock was worth 79 in 70 balls and his dismissal probably the turning point of the match.

Ganguly won his first toss of the series in Nagpur, raising his arms in mock triumph and rolling his wrists to indicate that he was bowling. Two savage assaults by Herschelle Gibbs at the beginning of the innings and Lance Klusener at the end took South Africa to the towering summit of 320/7 on another perfect batting strip. Gibbs lost his prolific partner, Gary Kirsten, run out by Tendulkar in the second over when trying to steal a cheeky single to midoff. Hitting cleanly and with equal felicity on either side of the wicket, Gibbs made the Indians pay for two fielding lapses by Kumble and Tendulkar, which let him off the hook at 31 and 53. He found an enterprising companion in skipper Hansie Cronje whose contribution of 38 in 31 balls out of a fourth wicket partnership of 60 helped the innings gather terrific momentum.

After 20 overs, the South Africans had galloped to 160/4 but when Gibbs was thrown out in a smart piece of work by Sriram at cover for 74 in 53 balls (12 fours and a six), the batsmen lost their way in the middle overs. The four man Indian spin attack of Kumble, Chopra, Sriram and above all Tendulkar throttled the middle order with a flattish trajectory, wicket to wicket line and run denying length. Just 71 runs accrued to the total in the 20 overs from over 21 to over 40 and Tendulkar finished with the quite sensational figures of 1-31 in 10 overs on this featherbed strip.

But the South Africans were merely biding their time and a 114 run seventh wicket partnership between Boucher and Klusener firmly turned the match South Africa's way. Klusener started slowly, taking 29 balls to score his first boundary. He overhauled his highest score of 19 in 14 previous matches against India and then accelerated with breathtaking speed to end up with an unbeaten 75 in 58 balls that included 8 fours and three sixes.