A woeful inattention to details
"The South Africans caught everything that came their way and we didn't," said Greg Chappell after the game, and that pretty much summed up a game that India had in their clutches before some devastating hitting from Justin Kemp and Andrew Hall wrenched it away from them. With the exception of two excellent run-outs affected by Anil Kumble and Mohammad Kaif, the fielding was atrocious. The ground fielding was sloppy, the catching howlers would have embarrassed schoolboys, and the apathetic attitude of some of those on the field towards the end of South Africa's innings must have infuriated Rahul Dravid.
Kemp had his share of good fortune, reprieved on five when there was a big noise as a delivery from Anil Kumble drifted past the bat and into Mahendra Singh Dhoni's gloves down the leg side. That could be termed unfortunate, but what followed was truly wretched. Sachin Tendulkar put down a caught-and-bowled chance when he had made just 9, Dinesh Karthik put down a tough chance to his right at midwicket when he had 34, and Kumble let one slip at cover when he was three short of a maiden century. By then, the damage had been done, with some incredible six-hitting lifting South Africa to a total beyond the scope of an Indian line-up struggling for form and confidence.
It didn't help that the death-overs bowling was as abysmal as the fielding. They bowled far too full to Kemp, a man who likes the ball in the slot, and he teed off as nonchalantly as Tiger Woods confronted by a wide fairway. Off the last 25 balls he faced, Kemp clattered 60 runs, an effort reminiscent of the magnificent 50-ball 80 that did for England back in 2004-05.
Till Kemp uncorked something special in wine-growing country, India had enjoyed a good morning, with Zaheer Khan bowling a magnificent spell and Kumble keeping the pressure on with some typically niggardly bowling on his return to the side after a 15-month absence. But in keeping with their recent mantra, South Africa played brave cricket. It's a measure of how well Kemp played that Andrew Hall's superb 56 went almost unnoticed.
Faced with a target as imposing as Table Mountain, the manner in which the Indian batting subsided was predictable. Both Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar played awful shots, while neither Mohammad Kaif nor Dinesh Karthik could build on positive starts. Karthik made only 14, but the technique and gumption he showed suggested that he's well worth persisting with as a batsman alone.
With the cause almost lost, Dhoni provided the silver lining, and further evidence of why he's a special talent. His technique may not be from the manual, but he finds ways to adjust to different conditions, and once he's set, he can dismember any attack. But for a stupendous catch from Loots Bosman, the game might well have had a close finish.
For much of a beautiful sunny morning at Newlands, this had appeared India's match to win. But their display over the last 15 overs in the field was so shockingly poor that they deserved what they got - nothing at all. Cricket matches are often won by the little things, the sliding stops and the pushed singles, rather than the big booming sixes. It's a lesson India will have to learn, and quickly, if this is not to deteriorate into another forgettable foreign expedition.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo