Yuvraj takes India to series win
On a day when three batsmen engineered rescue acts in bowler-friendly Belfast, India prevailed, sneaking a thrilling six-wicket win to clinch the Future Cup. Damp conditions reduced the series-decider to a 31-over affair but two charged-up teams played out a fitting climax for what's been a closely-fought series.
It was India's first one-day series triumph outside the subcontinent since their memorable Natwest Series win in 2002 and will provide them a big boost ahead of the England series. South Africa made a match of it, thanks largely to the crackling 99-run stand between Herschelle Gibbs and Justin Kemp, but both those innings were overshadowed by a sizzler from Yuvraj Singh, nudging India towards the champagne moment. India won a good toss, making good use of the pitch early on, and had the advantage of chasing in a curtailed game but it still required a spirited effort to pull it off.
South Africa's fielding, despite having its moments of brilliance, let them down: the slip cordon was often a sieve, throws were fired in at random angles and singles were often too easy to pick off. Jacques Kallis fluffed a tough chance at slip, apart from watching one whiz between him and the wicketkeeper, and Hall muffed a similarly tough low chance before watching a ball fizz to his right. India's batsmen kept edging, yet it was only Mark Boucher who provided some sort of inspiration - a spectacular diving catch to his right and a street-smart run-out later.
Yuvraj entered with India on the wobble. For the first time in four games, India's top order failed them - Sachin Tendulkar edged to the wicketkeeper, Gautam Gambhir played on while trying to pull while Sourav Ganguly flashed one fatally. Yuvraj had managed a scratchy 49 not out in the previous game and began in similar fashion, struggling to middle the ball. It took 47 deliveries before the first signs of confidence, clattering Kallis behind square for four, before the drives began to flow. Yuvraj in full flight usually means booming drives and he unleashed a powerful array of strokes to seal the deal.
He received good support from Rahul Dravid before settling the issue with the fearless Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Andrew Hall and Andre Nel kept sending down tight overs, keeping South Africa in the hunt, but it was just a matter of a few good overs before India crossed the tape.
South Africa didn't surrender without a fight, one that was led by Kemp and Gibbs in the middle order. Ajit Agarkar had knocked back Morne van Wyk early, trapping him plumb in front, before sending down the ball of the tournament - a peach of an outswinger to Jacques Kallis that moved from middle and knocked back off. AB de Villiers lived a charmed life - he'll go down as one of the few batsmen to edge to slip and not be given out - before Sourav Ganguly nailed two in two deliveries and opened up a cracking encounter.
Coming together at a perilous 28 for 4, with India's medium-pacers all fired up, Kemp and Gibbs hit their way out. They were both handed lucky breaks - Kemp was dropped by Dinesh Karthik on 11, Gibbs survived a run-out chance on 43 - but they made most of their fortune, ransacking 74 in the last nine overs of their stand.
Kemp, who missed the first two games to leg injury, returned with a vengeance. He entered with Ganguly on a hat-trick, with India's disciplined attack threatening to scythe through the underbelly of the South African batting, but he bided his time smartly. He pottered to 10 off 28 deliveries before opening up, bunting RP Singh's over-pitched offering in the 20th over, through the covers.
It was the start of a mini-carnage, one which Gibbs joined with relish. The spinners were tonked without mercy and Gibbs, who had also endured a barren period early on, chose the right moment to kick on. It could have been the defining act of the match but Yuvraj chose to write another script.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo