South Africa v India, 4th ODI, Port Elizabeth November 29, 2006

'The batting let us down' - Sehwag



Shaun Pollock, unlike Sachin Tendulkar, plays hard to get: 'I know the answer [to India's travails], but I won't tell you till the series is over' © Getty Images

Virender Sehwag tried to put a brave face on things following yet another embarrassing defeat, but after a third drubbing in a week, India's cricketers will be thankful that they're far from the brickbats and abuse that would have been their lot had they been playing at home. Sehwag pleaded for time to turn things around, but after defeats by 157, 106 and 80 runs, the reservoir of patience is in danger of running dry.

"When we get a good opening partnership, it will be a different game," said Sehwag, perhaps oblivious of the role he himself has played in India's disastrous starts in recent times. "I thought Dhoni, Pathan and Karthik batted well, but they were left with too much to do."

He shrugged off the suggestion that India were too reliant on himself and Tendulkar, pointing out how the middle order had bailed India out on many occasions last season. 'The middle order won us many games last year, so I don't think we're overly reliant on one or two people," he said. "If our top order clicks in the next two games [the Pro20 on Friday and the final ODI at Centurion on Sunday], we can go into the Tests with some confidence. The batting let us down. To restrict them to 243 was not bad. If one of the batsmen had stayed till the end, we could have won."

South Africa have had their own wobbles at the top of the order in this series, with Graeme Smith contributing just one run in three games, but Sehwag insisted that their greater experience had allowed them to recover from seemingly hopelessly situations, like the 76 for 6 at Cape Town last Sunday. 'Their middle order knows how to get out of pressure situations," he said. We've suffered as a result of Dravid's injury."

There were some pointed questions too about the inclusion of Karthik, ahead of the likes of Dinesh Mongia. "We see who's in form, and who's batting well at the nets," said Sehwag when asked about the team selection. "No one has been making runs, so we've given him [Karthik] a chance."

With the batting in such disarray, the decision to stick with five bowlers will be seen by many as utter folly. "We're sticking to the five-bowler plan," said Sehwag. "But if it's not working, we may change things."

Shaun Pollock, whose impeccable spell first up played such a huge part in the victory, elicited a chuckle or two when he was asked to pinpoint the cause of India's woes. "I know the answer, but I won't tell you till the series is over," he said. "We've also lost wickets early on, but we've bounced back better than them. In the past, South African teams tended to be conservative when they lost wickets. But now, even when we're five or six down, we've played our shots and managed to score."

When asked if he was surprised by India's inability to adjust to the conditions, he said: "It takes some time to adjust to these wickets. It was perfect for us that we played them in Durban first. The pitch there was doing something, and none of their batsmen got runs. If you don't get anything going your way early on in a tour, it can get very difficult."

Herschelle Gibbs was Man of the Match after a doughty and uncharacteristically subdued 93, and he was more than happy with his efforts after a recent lean trot. "We lost wickets up front again, and even later when partnerships started to develop, we lost wickets. Someone needed to stick around, and that was me today. The others could come in and bat around me."

He was also full of praise for Jacques Kallis, who made a superb 49 and got the run-rate going after a rocky start. "It was nice to watch," he said, when asked about the role reversal. "He hit some cracking shots. As long as he was hitting the ball so sweetly, I didn't need to do much."

Missing out on a century didn't bother him unduly. "Sreesanth bowled quite nicely at the death," he said. "It's irrelevant. It would have been nice to get a hundred, but I'm happy with getting 93 runs for the team."

With no Indian making a fifty, his 123-ball effort was certainly the difference. Kallis, Justin Kemp and Gibbs have stepped into the breach when needed over the past three games, and with no Indian able to respond, the series has been as one-sided as the 3-0 scoreline suggests.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo