March 20, 2000

Indians will go to Sharjah with confidence

The last one-day at Nagpur was more of a battle of pride for both the sides. The result of the match was of paramount importance psychologically for both India and South Africa as they are due to clash again at Sharjah shortly. As the series was already decided both the captains rested a few regular players, which was understandable. Yet both the teams were keen on maintaining the high quality they had set in the one-dayers.

Gibbs has been a thorn in the flesh for the Indians in both versions of the game. He once again played his brand of cricket right from the word go. He is the sort of player who does not sacrifice his natural game either due to loss of partners or personal form. Nagpur has been a good hunting ground for Gibbs as he had scored a double hundred on his last trip to India. This time around he is more experienced and also has the added responsibility of setting the tempo of the South African innings. He provided the impetus as he did in the earlier matches for the others to capitalise down the order.

Cronje was the only middle order batsman who got going before he was brilliantly caught by Dravid. The South African captain, in hindsight, may feel guilty of not converting his 30's into big scores. The departure of Cronje and Gibbs may have relieved the Indians briefly but they had to contend with Lance Klusener and Boucher. Their partnership proved to be crucial in the end and both of them displayed the right blend of caution and aggression. Klusener has not had a good run in the one-dayers but here at Nagpur he showed what a dangerous player he can be when he gets going. Besides bludgeoning the Indian attack, he ended up with three wickets to be named the 'man of the match'.

The target of 321 was a stiff one, regardless of the batting line up involved in chasing. Tendulkar blazed away in his forthright manner and it is better that he bats in his normal attacking manner. His sudden decision to go into his shell in the eighties contributed partly to his downfall. Dravid, batting like his old self, kept the run rate well above the required rate in the company of Tendulkar. The pair put up the highest partnership of the match before perishing in the same over which put the brakes on the Indians. The promotion of Srinath was bemusing, as Robin Singh is more than adept in tight situations. Jadeja dragged one back on to the stumps, which left Robin Singh along with the lower order to complete the chase successfully.

The South African fielders in the deep wilted a bit under pressure but the run outs were effected at the right time. Klusener beat Robin Singh with a well-disguised slower ball to be snapped up in the covers and with his departure the chances of an Indian victory evaporated. In the end, the Indians fell tantalisingly short of the target which is creditable for a team slowly trying to enhance their game and reputation after a none too happy period of a few months. The margin of a 3-2 victory in the series would do for the home side and they will travel to Sharjah in a far better frame of mind.