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The Bulletin by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
December 16, 2006
A sensational spell of seam bowling from Sreesanth inspired a rampage like few others in India's cricket history, as South Africa were shot out for 84, their lowest total since readmission to the international scene. Only once had a home team capitulated for less against India - Australia collapsed for 83 at Melbourne in 1981, though that was the final innings of the match - as South Africa were positively outplayed on a day where 20 wickets tumbled at the Wanderers.
India's batsmen had a chance to control the game either side of the bowling carnage. Sourav Ganguly almost ran out of partners in the morning, before a surprising burst from No.11 VRV Singh boosted the total to 249 and allowed Ganguly to complete a pugnacious half-century. VVS Laxman's classy unbeaten 42 stretched the overall lead to beyond 300 as India inched closer to their first Test win in South Africa.
History might have pointed to India's batsmen crumbling against South Africa's pace battery but their fast bowlers reversed the trend dramatically at the Wanderers, conjuring up an incandescent spell in conducive conditions. And it was largely thanks to Sreesanth's glittering maiden five-wicket haul.
Starting with a peach of an inswinger to dismiss Graeme Smith, then replicating the delivery to the right-handed Hashim Amla, summoning a jaffa to undo Jacques Kallis, screaming past Mark Boucher's defences and swinging out Shaun Pollock with a fuller one, Sreesanth was simply unstoppable. The seam position rarely wavered, the swing was mostly controlled and the pace was up near the 140 kph mark. In ten overs, he administered to South Africa a dose of their own medicine.
Kallis's dismissal summed up the story. First over after lunch. First ball shaped away and ricocheted off the splice; the second shaped away and turned Kallis inside out; and the third one, the coup de grace, shaped away yet again, kissed the edge and flew to second slip. It was seam bowling of the highest class and South Africa's best batsman was made to look like a novice.
Sreesanth wasn't without support. Zaheer Khan's lifter that accounted for AB de Villiers, taking off from a good length and deflecting off the outstretched bat, was simply unplayable. The fielding - Virender Sehwag's superb catch at gully and Laxman's sharp takes at second slip -backed them up spiritedly as India entered unfamiliar territory in an overseas Test. Ashwell Prince and Andre Nel ensured against abject humiliation - Nel frustrated India with both his cross-batted swipes and cheeky outstretched tongue - but Kumble returned, removed the sticky Prince and blasted through Makhaya Ntini's defences.
It was a frenetic day, one that began with India losing their way and then recovering due to a battling effort from Ganguly and some hilarious slogging from VRV Singh. Ganguly, who continued his composed effort from last evening, appeared to be running out of partners at 205 for 9 but VRV Singh not only provided him valuable support but also crunched a quickfire 29.
Ganguly impressed in both attack and defence. A clattered pulled six off the ferocious Ntini was straight out of the memory bank and it was followed by a thumped straight shovel off Kallis. He didn't farm the strike, allowing VRV Singh a chance to free his arms, and was vindicated by some effective slogs that boosted India's total. It also allowed Ganguly a chance to get to half-century, a gritty effort in trying circumstances.
He played a role in the second dig as well, as India rode on several cameos. Sehwag's chancy, yet splintering, 29-ball 33 set the tone before Ganguly and Laxman steadied the innings. Laxman was regal in his strokeplay, making exquisite drives and even venturing some confident pulls. A couple of swished straight drives, with the bat in a horizontal position owing to the twist of the wrist, sent gasps around the Bullring.
South Africa's bowlers let them down yet again, favouring a short length on a pitch that demanded pitching it up. Incidentally, Pollock became the first South African, and tenth bowler, to reach the 400-wicket mark, a fully deserving milestone for such a champion peformer. South Africa were expected to have home advantage but they played their part in handing India the advantage on one of the most memorable days in their Test history.
Dileep Premachandran at Jo'burg
Highlight of the day: On any given Saturday, it would have been Shaun Pollock's 400th wicket, but today he was eclipsed by a young man who can point to a haul of 24 Test wickets from five-and-a-half Tests. Sreesanth was consistently the quickest bowler on either side, and he hit the seam as effortlessly as Glenn McGrath on a good day. Some atrocious batting helped, but this was a day that will live long in India's cricket lore, a day when the quick bowlers outgunned the opposition with their weapons of choice.
Lowlight of the day: Several of the South African batsmen could tussle for that accolade, but Herschelle Gibbs probably shades it for the half-asleep shot he played to get out. Lucky for him that it's Mickey Arthur and not Ray Jennings that's coaching the side.
Shot of the day: VRV Singh's swat off Jacques Kallis that screeched to the cover fence. He batted only 19 balls, but his 29 was still more than anything South African managed.
Ball of the day: It takes a special ball to get rid of a great batsman, and Sreesanth produced one to Kallis. It arced in a touch and then moved away just enough to catch the outside edge. That was half the job done. VVS Laxman did the rest, pouching a superb low catch, even as Ganguly dived across him.
Catch of the day: Pollock's stunner at mid-off to send off Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Most eyes were already on the boundary rope when the shot was hit, but Pollock threw himself to his left, stuck out the left hand and held on despite landing fairly heavily.
Message of the day: Should have been: "Can we change to coloured clothes?". South Africa have made tremendous progress as a one-day side over the past two seasons, but their Test displays have been embarrassing at times. Too many of the players seem to be stuck in a complacent second gear, a state of affairs that shouldn't be acceptable.
Off the park: All eyes turned to the Indian dressing room as Sourav Ganguly reached 50 in the first innings. Greg Chappell was on his feet and applauding, like everyone else. Those who expected anything else appear to have forgotten that Chappell needs a victory as much as every man in the XI. If they can pull it off, it will be an unparalled achievement.
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