A spirited bowling performance from Dilhara Fernando in conditions that tested fast bowlers complemented a wholesome batting display from his teammates as Asia sealed the second edition of the Afro-Asia cup with a degree of comfort. It was another tall scoring match but Asia were always in control.
As in the first ODI at Bangalore, Asia won the toss, elected to bat on a flat pitch and batted the opposition out of the game, only this time the victory was more comprehensive. Mark Boucher and Boetta Dippenaar showed their mettle with fluent half centuries but their untimely dismissals ultimately dictated the course of the match, as their side fell 31 runs short of the target.
Requiring 338 to square the series, Africa needed one batsman to go the distance and play a big innings, and the loss of three wickets within the first 15 overs didn't help their cause, despite a healthy run rate. AB de Villiers, sliced in half by a Mohammad Asif away swinger, fell to a brilliant take by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, diving to his right. Vusi Sibanda, a player starved of international cricket, showed no signs of rustiness as he managed to get nicely behind the line of the ball and caress it past the infield.
Dippenaar, often given the cold shoulder by the selectors in the South African one-day squad, found his feet and piloted the chase with Sibanda for company, adding 60 for the second wicket. The trump card for Asia was Fernando, and he rewarded his captain almost immediately, sending back Sibanda and Justin Kemp in the same over. Both dismissals were characterised by intelligent seam bowling - Sibanda succumbed to the pull after being softened up by a vicious lifter off the previous ball, while Kemp was squared up by an inswinging yorker which knocked back his middle stump.
Like in the first ODI at Bangalore, Asia won the toss, elected to bat on a flat pitch and batted the opposition out of the game, only this time the victory was more comprehensive. Mark Boucher and Boetta Dippenaar showed their mettle with fluent half centuries but their untimely dismissals ultimately dictated the course of the match, as their side fell 31 runs short of the target
Dippenaar carried on, reaching his half century with an effortless straight drive past Fernando. Boucher, let off by Harbhajan Singh at midwicket, rotated the strike and played the supporting role. Just when the pair was beginning to cast doubts among the Asians, Dippenaar holed out to deep midwicket, leaving the repair work to Boucher and Shaun Pollock. Boucher relieved the pressure, carting boundaries off the part-time bowlers, including thundering sixes off successive balls off Virender Sehwag.
However, Boucher chanced his arm once Fernando returned and a skier was taken easily by Mohammad Asif at long-on. Pollock entertained, albeit briefly, with a fluent 35 but his dismissal took the fight out of the Africans. Fernando prised out Johan Botha and a flurry of boundaries by Morne Morkel were only of entertainment value as the innings folded up for 306.
Earlier, Sehwag laid the foundation with a typically belligerent half-century, allowing Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Yousuf to propel the side in conditions where the batsmen were hardly tested, given Africa's inexperienced attack. The pitch was a front-foot thumper's dream and Sehwag merely had to hit through the line and bisect the gaps on the off side, forcing Kemp to make some early bowling changes and field adjustments. Sehwag's dismissal - lobbing a catch to deep mid-on - immediately slowed the scoring rate as both Ganguly and Dhoni, earning a promotion in the batting order, seemed prepared to graft it out.
Ganguly began with a silken drive past the covers and grew in confidence, targeting Botha on quite a few occasions, using his feet and getting to the pitch of the ball. Dhoni added the spark in the middle overs, treating himself to two sixes. However, he succumbed to another of Kemp's intelligent bowling changes, playing all over an Albie Morkel-yorker.
The conditions were such that the batsmen needed very little time to get their eye in and unleash strokes to all corners of the ground. While Yousuf, Mahela Jayawardene and Sehwag took the attack to the bowlers, Ganguly played the steadying hand. The plan was probably for him to stay till the end but he fell 12 short of the ton that has eluded him for a while and it was Yuvraj Singh who added the finishing touches with a 13-ball blitz that yielded 30 runs. Having amassed a solid total all it needed from the Asian bowlers was to be patient and slowly tighten the noose around the Africans. In the event Fernando's incisive bowling made the Asian task even more easy.
Plays of the Day
George Binoy at Chennai
Brothers in arms
A sibling rivalry - in good spirit or not - is an extremely effective motivator. The older one is generally under greater pressure for it's not pleasant to be outdone by the kid. The brothers Morkel - Albie and Morne - shared the new ball at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Albie, three years older than Morne, got hit by Virender Sehwag for three fours in his first over. Morne, on the other hand, began with a maiden. Albie was the first to take a wicket when he bowled MS Dhoni with a yorker but Morne ended the day with the scalps of the Mohammads - Yousuf and Rafique. Bigger isn't always better.
Insignificant for most, but not Botha
It's difficult to take the Afro-Asian Cup seriously. The number of last-minute withdrawals, because of injuries or just plain whims and fancies, is a clear indication that the players don't either. But for Johan Botha it was a rather big deal for he was playing his first international game since the tour of Australia in 2005-06 when he was reported for a suspect action. He had an encouraging start with a close shout for lbw against Sourav Ganguly with his second ball. Thereafter the only moments of excitement in his spell was when MS Dhoni got stuck into him for two sixes, one of saw the ball land on the roof.
You're in my way Mr Umpire
If a team-mate somehow stops you from getting a wicket, you could be forgiven for venting your spleen (in a respectable manner) on the field. But what do you do if it's an umpire? Ask AB de Villiers. Rafique pushed the ball towards mid-off and charged for a single, de Villiers sprinted across from cover, picked up, took aim and fired at the stumps. Had he hit, Rafique would have been out by a long way. He didn't hit, because umpire Tony Hill, instead of running towards the leg side, ran between de Villiers and the stumps and promptly intercepted the throw. Imagine if this had happened in the 1999 World Cup semi-final.
AB gets his man
The umpire might have saved Rafique once but he would have had to out-run de Villiers to do it again. Rafique slashed at a wide ball from Morne Morkel and got a top edge high and far over the infield. de Villiers sprinted after it from cover, reached the ball just in time and, with arms outstretched, took the catch while running at full tilt. He tumbled to the ground as soon as the catch was taken but the ball was as safe as the snitch in Harry Potter's hand.
In the first ODI at Bangalore, de Villiers began Africa's pursuit of 318 with a four off Mohammad Asif but lost his off stump the very next ball when he shouldered arms to one that cut back in. Today, chasing 338, de Villiers hit his first boundary off Asif - a powerful golf-swing over cover. The next ball was pitched on a good length on middle stump, seamed away from de Villiers, squared him up and took the outside edge. Dhoni, who was initially moving the wrong way, dived low and to his right to take a stunning catch inches above the ground. Remember to be careful after you hit Asif for four on Sunday AB.
Sweet chin music
The last thing you expect on a flat batting pitch is to see a ball that is potentially life-threatening. Vusi Sibanda, having cruised to 35 off 37 balls, was batting with minimum fuss. In the 13th over, Fernando jolted him out of his comfort zone with a brute of a delivery. It was short-pitched on leg stump and it rose so sharply that Sibanda, in his hurry to get his head out of the way, arched backwards, lost his balance and hit the turf. He was shaken no doubt, and when Fernando let him have another short one next ball, Sibanda top-edged the pull and was comfortably caught by Dhoni.