Kallis shepherds South Africa to victory
An impeccable half-century from Jacques Kallis ensured that South Africa overcame some spin-related jitters, scrapping to a 4-wicket win in the opening game of the Future Cup on a breezy day at Belfast. Building on a good performance from his bowlers, Kallis, leading his side, paced the chase neatly to steer them home with three balls to spare.
India, missing three of their main players to illness, lacked a fifth-bowling option after their spinners had brought them into the contest. A 158-run stand between Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had boosted them to a respectable 242 but lack of bowling options, with Sreesanth and Ajit Agarkar ill-disposed, cost them in the end. Piyush Chawla produced three openings with an impressive spell of wrist-spin but Kallis was unimpeachable in his matchwinning knock.
Chasing 242, South Africa needed some partnerships going and the openers, AB de Villiers and Morne van Wyk, set the ball rolling with a 56-run stand. India's new-ball bowlers struggled with their direction - probably because of the strong breeze that blew all day - and van Wyk, predominantly a bottom-handed player, latched on readily. de Villiers crunched a few through the off-side cordon too and India appeared bereft of ideas in the early stages. Sachin Tendulkar allowed him a reprieve - letting go a high chance at first slip despite getting his hands to it - but Dinesh Karthik ensured that it wasn't a costly lapse, diving to collect a splendid catch when RP Singh induced an edge.
However, 99 for 1 soon turned into 124 for 4, with Chawla, all of 18, unveiling his repertoire. A well-flighted legspinner accounted for van Wyk before a tantalising straighter one sneaked through Herschelle Gibbs's bat and pad. JP Duminy, who began his innings in a busy fashion, was tempted by a loopy one from offspinner Ramesh Powar, holing out to deep square leg and India were back in it.
Kallis surveyed the mini-wreckage and set about rebuilding with customary efficiency: a forward defence here, a clipped single there, an eager boundary here, a cheeky two there. It was classic Kallis - knowing exactly what to do in the situation and figuring out which bowlers to score off and how. There's nothing that ruffles him and he made sure he was there till the end, urging the lower order on. The scorecard will tell you that there were just three balls remaining but Kallis in the middle was always going to take them home.
His knock overshadowed a couple of vital fifties earlier in the day. Tendulkar and Dravid overcame a two-paced pitch and a threatening pace attack to keep India afloat but South Africa's bowlers ensured that there were no final-over heroics. By keeping India to 242, with some tight bowling towards the end, they were always ahead in the contest.
Tendulkar's, though, was a fighting knock. Never before in his 137 Tests and 385 one-dayers has Tendulkar fallen for 99 and it was an anti-climactic way to end a fighting knock. Covered in several layers of protective clothing against the chill breeze, looking all puffed up, he scrapped it out. It took him 16 deliveries to get off the mark, with the new ball moving around, but he was soon to latch on to the loose ones.
Forty five of his runs came behind the wicket, all through dabs, glances and gentle manoeuvres, but it was the crisp straight drives that drew the gasps. The cover region was peppered, with drives struck from an upright pose, and midwicket was regularly targeted, especially when the line was astray. The strike-rate wasn't rapid, as 87 dots reveal, but that was largely because of the tricky period he had to endure early on. His attempt to increase the tempo, going for the second run when on 98, proved costly and it perceptibly slowed India down in the final overs.
Dravid proved the ideal partner, unhurried and confident. He too scored a bulk of his runs behind the wicket, as many as 54 of them, and made the most of the bowlers spraying it either side of the stumps. Full deliveries on middle and leg were easily clipped to the fine-leg fence and Dravid, angling the bat cannily, kept the scoreboard ticking along.
At 194 for 3 in the 44th over, India appeared on course for a 250-plus score but Kallis, that man again, picked up a couple of quick wickets and reined in the run-rate. Andrew Hall and Andre Nel, who'd lured both Sourav Ganguly and Gautam Gambhir into airy drives earlier in the day, was also effective towards the end and their attitude pretty much summed up South Africa's effort today: determined, scrappy and pit-bull like, enough to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan assistant editor of Cricinfo