Pathan stars on day of many turns
It says much about his talent that on a day when slowness was the operative word and The Byrds' Turn, Turn, Turn provided the soundtrack, we were left wondering just how good Irfan Pathan is, and how pivotal a role he may play in Indian cricket's future. An incisive opening spell set the game up for India, and after even Sachin Tendulkar had been stymied by the turgid pitch, he contributed a splendid 37 that ensured that few banana-skins came between India and pursuit of a modest 170.
Now a veteran of 46 one-day internationals, Pathan can point to 613 runs at 27.86 and 76 wickets at 26.33. More importantly, those runs have come at a rate of 85.26 per 100 balls - Tendulkar territory - and given India an allround option that they haven't had since Kapil Dev's heyday in the 1980s. To put things into perspective, Kapil managed 3783 runs at 23.79 (strike rate of 95.07) and 253 wickets at 27.45 from 225 matches. Pathan loses out only in the Scrooge stakes. Where Kapil finished with a phenomenal economy rate of 3.71, Pathan goes for 5.06 runs an over. Then again, Kapil didn't play in an era when openers flailed away like Viv Richards impersonators from ball one.
Pathan's early incisions sent South Africa into a defensive shell from which they never emerged, and the extra bounce that accounted for Jacques Kallis was a welcome sign that he can hit the deck hard enough when the occasion demands it. Bowling on pancake-flat, tortoise-slow Indian pitches will never be a fast-bowler's picnic, but Kapil's illustrious career should give him enough pointers as to how the odds can be overcome.
Another to bask in the partisan cauldron was Virender Sehwag, who had been stuck in a one-day rut since staring the series against Pakistan last April with scores of 108 and 74. In 27 subsequent innings, he had managed only 656 runs at 24.29 with a solitary half-century to show for his troubles. But back on the ground where he first showcased his allround ability, it was time to dust away the cobwebs and get back to his free-stroking best.
Back in March 2001, he had smashed 58 from 54 balls and taken the wickets of Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh to cap a memorable victory for the Indians, and the cavalier unbeaten 77 this evening swiftly shredded any illusions South Africa may have had of making a contest of an eventual mismatch.
The hard work though had been done earlier, with Gautam Gambhir especially impressive against a fired-up pace attack. Words were exchanged with the habitually foul-mouthed Andre Nel, and Gambhir then shut up South Africa's bully boy in the best possible fashion, with an array of shots that pierced or went over the inner cordon. By the time Pathan joined in, slamming a glorious straight six, Nel's dubious vocabulary had been well and truly stuffed down his throat.
Under Mickey Arthur, South Africa have talked a lot about "brave cricket". There was nothing but timidity in the afternoon though, with no attempt made to put the Indian spinners under pressure. Murali Kartik bowled beautifully, but was allowed to twirl away like Bapu Nadkarni in Test matches of yore as no batsman showed genuine aggressive intent. If South Africa have real aspirations of matching the Australians, they'll need to start walking the brave talk.
Consolation came in the shape of Johan Botha, who followed up a crisp batting cameo with a gutsy bowling display. Despite being thumped sporadically, he never stopped tossing it up and experimenting. And though neither he nor Justin Ontong threatened to do what Harbhajan Singh, Sehwag and Kartik had done earlier, the two deliveries that flummoxed Yuvraj Singh right at the end suggested that a new spin on things could be South Africa's best bet as the series heads to Chennai.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo