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India needed to show some initiative towards building a big lead, declare their intent and go for a win; Virender Sehwag went early and the rest paled in comparison when it came to setting the agenda
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan in Chennai
March 29, 2008
A score of 159 for 9 in 49.1 overs sounds exciting. Fast bowlers running in hard on the fourth day, extracting bounce and rattling stumps, ought to be entertaining. Batsmen looking to score, bowlers trying to restrict from one end and attack from the other, fielders charged up, a hundred, some gorgeous strokeplay ... all points to an exciting day's cricket. What a near-capacity stadium witnessed, though, was far duller. A game which had sprung to life yesterday was put to bed once again.
India needed to show some initiative towards building a big lead, declare their intent and go for a win. Virender Sehwag didn't last too long but the rest paled in comparison when it came to setting the agenda. Rahul Dravid preferred to continue his guarded approach, Mahendra Singh Dhoni couldn't summon his dashing side and VVS Laxman, stuck with the tail, scratched around towards the end.
South Africa bowled much better today - no doubt about it - but India must ensure against an over-reliance on Sehwag, a trap they fell into regularly four years back. There was a time, around 2004, when Sehwag used to stand out from the rest of the batting order. Against Australia in 2003-2004 and Pakistan in early 2005, a few games changed complexion the moment he was dismissed. The Bangalore Test against Pakistan was a classic example. As long as Sehwag was in, India harboured hopes of winning; once he left, the rest couldn't even bat out two sessions.
Several opposition bowlers pointed out to how tough it was to bowl to Sehwag compared to the others. The common refrain was: Sehwag rattled your plans, the rest at least scored more predictably. Mohammad Asif even went to the extent of saying it was comparatively easy to bowl to Dravid because he rarely tried anything different.
The happenings today was some sort of a throwback to the days of Sehwag-dominated shows. As long as he was around, India could dream of 700 in quick time. Once he left, the rest couldn't summon the unconventional methods to counter the bowling. South Africa did bowl well but they were probably made to look a little better by batsmen adopting the straightforward approach.
Nobody, though, will doubt the intensity levels. Makhaya Ntini, who's not been that potent a force in the subcontinent, nipped out two early wickets in six balls before Dale Steyn put together the spell of the match that read: 8-1-15-4. It was his sixth spell and was delivered in the demanding mid-afternoon session and came with reverse-swing of high quality. He cranked up speeds around 145kph and kept it dart straight.
The ball to dismiss Dhoni was particularly fearsome, making the batsmen look rather silly for trying to walk down the track. "I didn't really see him charging," said Steyn. "I had always made up mind that we would two bouncers with the new ball that we had just got. So he is a big wicket for the way that he plays he can take the game away from anybody on his day. He wanted to score quickly so that was a key wicket to get."
There was some deadly reverse-swing as well, giving the tailenders no chance. Once it was straight and swinging, Steyn was always going to win the day. It was the sort of spell that set up their win in Pakistan last year and he showed he could let rip in tough conditions. "These balls are different to the balls that we play with, the Kookaburra balls," he said. "The key is to find out what works. Reverse-swing is a big factor in the subcontinent. We were lucky to get a ball change and the new ball that we got was reversing from ball one basically. I think now what we have to do is to come up with a good plan on how to get the ball to do that."
It also helped that India were going for the runs. "The fact that we were trying to push it along probably cost us a few wickets," said Dravid. "The idea was to push it along, in the end Steyn came and bowled a good spell of reverse swing. We couldn't accelerate with wickets falling."
All of which meant that the match is back to square one. India need someone to do a Sehwag with the ball if they aim to win this one. South Africa need something even more special if they are to even get close. Expect a good crowd on Sunday but, unless you're going for broke in a lottery, don't expect a result.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth
Plays of the Day from the third ODI between India and West Indies, in Kanpur