I was expecting a closely contested final at Durban on Friday but even as the Indian innings drew to a sorry close, I knew that my hopes were going to be dashed.
After both Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly fell cheaply, only Sehwag looked capable of taking the fight to the South African camp. The Delhi lad impressed me a great deal during his sweet cameo. The way in which he played some of the shots gave me the impression that he will be ready to lead the Indian batting when Tendulkar and Ganguly hang up their boots.
Sehwag has modeled himself after Tendulkar and on occasions the similarity between the two is striking. He is a pronounced backfoot player and a side-on batsman, which makes his batting look very impressive. Sehwag's partnership with his idol following the dismissal of the Indian skipper sure made for interesting viewing.
Ganguly was dismissed when he tried to break the shackles that Shaun Pollock and Nantie Hayward had imposed. The two South Africans quicks bowled with great discipline, keeping the ball where the fourth stump would have been. This made it difficult for the Indian duo to unleash their wide array of shots. Starved of any width for six overs, Ganguly in desperation tried to make room for himself and hit over the top. But on a pitch where the ball was not coming on to the bat, he only succeeded in edging a catch to Boucher. Pollock, for his part, couldn't contain his joy when his policy of denial finally worked.
Tendulkar too was not allowed to dominate - he only made 17 off the 40 balls he faced despite stroking three elegant boundaries. He too fell to a desperate shot; trying to cut a ball that was not quite there for the shot to be played. The South Africans had done excellent groundwork and they carried out their plans to a T on the day. Once they had silenced the two big guns the match was theirs for the taking.
Rahul Dravid again made a fighting 77, displaying his solid batting technique and cool temperament. But then his innings was never going to win us the match. His technical excellence is going to be more important in the Test series that is to follow. If you were to ask me, Rahul should bat at No.3 in the three-match series ahead of VVS Laxman.
This also brings me to another important point I would like to make. Considering the vital role that my fellow Karnataka statemate will play as a batsman in the Tests, I was baffled to see him 'keeping in the final two one-dayers. Was the risk worth the gains; I, for one, definitely don't think so.
In my opinion, Deep Dasgupta should have done the job that was entrusted to him by the selectors. The young man from Bengal is a specialist 'keeper and only by giving him greater exposure can we turn him into a better player. Dasgupta is also in the Test side and by telling him to warm the benches, the team management was not doing his confidence any good. The think-tank would do well to remember that two of the world's finest 'keepers - Rodney Marsh and Ian Healy - were also never thought to be any good during their salad days. It was only with experience gained by greater exposure in the international arena that they matured into the world-beaters they later proved to be.
As for the squad announced for the Tests, I feel that the selection of five seamers was totally unnecessary. In any case, we can play only a maximum of three seamers and so I felt that five were one too many. The selection of Connor Williams as an opener too was a huge surprise to me. The Baroda Ranji captain has no experience playing in the international arena and I feel that it is not a very clever idea to expose him to the South Africans quicks.
Coming to the selection of Sameer Dighe as the first-choice 'keeper, I feel it must serve as a wake-up call to Dasgupta. Nayan Mongia would most definitely have been the best choice but then it is common knowledge that he is not in the good books of either the Indian captain or the senior players.
Before signing off, let me say that that though the tri-series might not have not given much joy to the Indian team it has at least underlined the fact that our best chance of winning the Tests lies in playing both our spinners. All the South Africans have struggled to read both Harbhajan and Kumble. I can therefore confidently predict that if we play the duo and if our batsmen do their bit, India will at last have the chance to savour their first win in the rainbow nation. Here then is wishing Sourav Ganguly and his men the very best ahead of the Test series.