First Test Match

India v South Africa 1999-2000

Toss: India. Test debuts: M. Kartik, Wasim Jaffer; N. Boje.

A pitch made to order could not mask India's shortcomings, but highlighting their weaknesses would not do justice to South Africa's achievement, particularly that of their fast bowlers, in winning with two days to spare. From its appearance - the surface was not just shorn by the mower but also scraped with a wire brush - it was clear that the ball would turn wickedly, and South Africa were persuaded to include both left-arm spinners, Eksteen and Boje, at the expense of the speed of Hayward. Instead it was Donald, Pollock and Kallis, backed up by Cronje, who determined the course of the match with skill and swing more than sheer pace.

Donald struck quickly to spoil Wasim Jaffer's debut, and vitally when he went through Dravid's "gate". Pollock's slower ball, inviting Ganguly to his doom, had India 96 for four, of which an unbeaten 44 came from Tendulkar. The captain kept the innings breathing until, three runs short of his century, he half-heartedly glanced at Kallis and was taken low down by Boucher. Batting responsibly, yet without being inhibited, he hit 12 fours, as well as two sixes off Eksteen; if his bat was passed on occasions, all credit to the bowlers, who harnessed the breeze that got up with the afternoon tide. A gallant last-wicket stand of 52 between Agarkar and newcomer Kartik helped the total to minor respectability, with Agarkar making 41 not out off 42 balls in his first Test outing since his five successive ducks in Australia.

South Africa failed to build on the splendid start of 90 given them by Kirsten and Gibbs. Tendulkar, bowling a medley of off and leg-spin, made the initial breakthrough and took two more wickets in a later brief stint. Between these strikes, Kumble also made inroads and, although Klusener batted defiantly, all ten South African wickets fell for 86 more runs. India's lead of 49 was substantial, considering the rate at which the pitch was deteriorating, but generally woeful batting against Donald, Pollock and Cronje stretched it only to 162.

Kirsten, batting staunchly, and Gibbs, using his feet to attack the spinners, took South Africa almost a third of the way there. Kumble removed them both and, in having Kirsten caught behind, became India's second-highest wicket-taker ahead of Bishan Bedi (266). But it was the run-out of Cronje at 107, an agile piece of fielding by Jaffer at short leg, that triggered a collapse. Three more wickets went in the space of 21 runs, leaving South Africa 128 for six and turning the finish into a fierce test of nerves. Kartik, playing his first Test, could not rise to the challenge. His brief, as the slow left-armer, was to bowl into the rough from over the wicket, but when Boucher, the new batsman, took his courage in his hands and swept him for four, Kartik lost control. Under assault, he was swept and pulled by Boucher for three more fours to narrow the gap, and the final runs came easily. Kallis, unbeaten for 129 balls, could reflect on a job well done, having kept one end stable when the innings was at its most turbulent.

© John Wisden & Co