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The Bulletin by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
December 16, 2006
Yet another fine exhibition of seam bowling from Sreesanth led India's inexorable march towards their first Test win in South Africa. Up against a history-defying 402-run target, South Africa limped to a shaky 163 for 5 and would hope for either inclement weather or a minor miracle to escape unscathed.
Once VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan had helped stretch the lead to beyond 400 the new-ball bowlers delivered an encore of yesterday's performance. Sreesanth's immaculate seam position, allied with impressive, yet unlucky, spells from Zaheer and VRV Singh reduced South Africa to 34 for 3. Ashwell Prince's doughty 53, involving moments of good fortune, held the middle-order together and stretched the game into the fourth day.
Zaheer followed up his handy 37 with an excellent spell of bowling, both with the new and old ball, as well as managing a sharp direct-hit to get rid of AB de Villiers. He got only one wicket, when Herschelle Gibbs drove recklessly in the solitary over he had to play out before lunch, but the movement he managed, both conventional and reverse, had all the batsmen in a tangle.
His new-ball partner, Sreesanth, matched him for accuracy - his ability to keep the seam upright on almost every occasion meant there was no letting up - and was rewarded with three top-order wickets. Graeme Smith flayed a wide one only to see Virender Sehwag latch on to a spectacular catch at point while Hashim Amla had no answer to a peach of an outswinger that kissed the edge on its way to the wicketkeeper. Jacques Kallis resisted with a fighting 24 but a near-perfect set up - the shorter one being followed up with a full, swinging ball - had him groping.
Prince cobbled together a dogged half-century, surviving a half-chance and a perilously close appeal for caught behind. His penchant for the pull shot almost cost him his wicket when on 21 but Wasim Jaffer couldn't latch on to a tough skier while running from midwicket. Sreesanth's darting off-cutter appeared to have nailed him when on 44, with the ball deviating after passing the bat, but Daryl Harper turned down a huge shout. Replays suggested that it was too close a call and Prince was probably given the benefit of the doubt.
South Africa's hopes of cleaning up India's lower order had earlier come to nought, with Laxman and Zaheer thwarting them with a 70-run stand. Laxman swooshed his way to an entertaining half-century but it was Zaheer who blasted India to an impregnable position. Zaheer walked in after South Africa had nailed two early wickets and took 25 deliveries to get off the mark, cautiously ducking and defending as Laxman ticked along, but he was suddenly stirred into action. Pollock's fuller deliveries were juddered across the line, piercing the gap between midwicket and mid-on, before Smith, sending down his innocuous offspinners, was carted for 26 off his three overs. Smith couldn't hold on to a ferocious Zaheer straight-drive but he was lucky not to have incurred a major hand injury.
Laxman switched between blocking and flowing. Anything on the pads was delicately clipped away and a couple of jaw-dropping straight drives demoralised South Africa further. He shepherded the lower order and his tentative poke at a probing ball from Ntini was one of the few indiscretions all morning. Zaheer fell soon after but the real entertainment was just about to begin.
Sreesanth decided to match Nel antic for antic - returning glares and sledges. Nel's aggressive salvo was met with a charge down the track, with the ball disappearing for six, but Sreesanth followed that up with a brand of hip gyrations that was accomplished enough to make it in the movies. There was a distinct needle in the contest and Sreesanth swirling the bat like a lasso with a pelvic thrust of a break-dancer was definitely the highpoint. For once Nel probably met his match.
By Dileep Premachandran in Jo'burg
Highlight of the day: The morning session saw the battle of the two nutters. After Sreesanth backed away to the leg side and tried to mow a delivery over the infield, Andre Nel strode up and pointed to his heart, perhaps suggesting that Sreesanth lacked the ticker to take him on. He may as well have donned a sequined suit, and waved a red cape. The next ball was given the charge and pummelled straight down the ground, and as he ran down the pitch, Sreesanth whirled his bat around mockingly in Nel's direction. Almost everyone watching had a laughter attack.
Lowlight of the day: Soon after that, Sreesanth revealed the unsavoury side of his game by giving Hashim Amla a send-off after having him caught behind. To mock and sledge the likes of Nel and Mark Boucher is one thing, but to pick on someone like Amla, and that too after dismissing him, was in singularly poor taste.
Shot of the day: VVS Laxman missed out on a century, but his 73 featured one glorious straight-drive off Makhaya Ntini. It wasn't a particularly bad ball, but the sound as Laxman's bat arced down to stroke it to the long-on fence was quite beautiful.
Ball of the day: Jacques Kallis was the beacon of hope for South Africa as they set off in pursuit of an improbable 402 for victory, and once again, it required a tremendous delivery to get rid of him. Sreesanth pitched one just outside off stump, enticed the drive, and the away movement off the seam took the edge to third slip. Sourav Ganguly took a superb catch in front of his ribcage, and it became a matter of when, rather than if, India would win.
Catch of the day: Graeme Smith's miserable season continued with a slice to point that was brilliantly taken by Virender Sehwag diving to his right. It wasn't a great delivery from Sreesanth, and on a good day Smith might have sent it thudding into the boundary boards at point. Such days, however, are proving increasingly elusive for South Africa's embattled captain.
Message of the day: A poll on the SABC Sport website asks viewers: Going by India's performance in South Africa, what will be the scoreline in the Test series. The options are 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 (all in favour of South Africa) and a draw. But after three glorious days for the Indians at the Wanderers, it's easy to forget what easy-beats they were thought to be going into the game.
Off the park: Kallis's failure to engage his vocal cords when the South African national anthem is played was highlighted in a Sunday newspaper, and while most agreed that it was a case of making Mount Kilimanjaro out of an ant-heap, the brusque nature of Kallis's emailed response will have won him few admirers. There's a perception that some of the world's best sportsmen live in a cocoon, utterly divorced from reality, and the feeling is reinforced by such events.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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