First Test

South Africa v India

At Bloemfontein, November 3, 4, 5, 6. South Africa won by nine wickets. Toss: South Africa. Test debuts: D. Dasgupta, V. Sehwag.

Though the margin of victory did not flatter South Africa, it did understate the strength of India's opposition. For the first three days of this Test, the cricket was combative and, for the most part, spectacular.

The pitch, relaid not many months earlier, was liberally grassed. It was not fast but initially provided bounce and lateral movement. By the fourth day, it became awkward, developing a mosaic of wide cracks at one end. Pollock's decision to bowl earned good returns in the short term - four wickets in 90 minutes - although his own hostility with the new ball brought him less reward than he deserved. However, South Africa's advance was halted by the awesome mastery with which Tendulkar scored his 26th Test hundred, and his partnership of 220 with Virender Sehwag, who made a flawless century in his maiden Test innings. Sehwag might not have played had Harbhajan Singh not been taken ill on the eve of the match.

Tendulkar became comfortably the youngest player to score 7,000 Test runs, at 28 years 193 days in his 85th Test, beating David Gower (who was 31). The range and power of his shots took him to his hundred in only 114 balls; when, to his immense annoyance, he got himself caught off a short delivery, he had hit 23 fours and a six. Watching ball after ball hit the middle of Tendulkar's bat can only have been reassuring for Sehwag, but his composure and the manner in which he shaped his own innings, 105 in 173 balls, including 19 fours, testified to a sound temperament. The adorning feature was his delightful cover driving. He was finally bowled by a true beauty, the first of three victims Pollock claimed with the second new ball.

South Africa's reply began early on the second day and ended six overs after tea on the third. Their eventual 563 beat their previous best against India: 529 for seven at Cape Town in 1996- 97. It was founded on a third consecutive century opening stand between Gibbs, who was allowed the freedom to hit 16 fours and two sixes in 107 off 145 balls, and Kirsten. They departed in successive overs but Kallis and McKenzie, both watchful, kept the innings on an even keel.

India fought back and had the better of the third morning: Kumble and Zaheer Khan restrained Kallis and Dippenaar for 50 minutes before three wickets in six overs with the new ball suggested Ganguly should have taken it before the 95th over. When Kallis was caught at second slip, it was his first dismissal in 1,241 minutes of batting (spread over three matches) - then a Test record. Srinath accounted for the next two with consecutive balls to reach 200 wickets in his 54th Test.

With four wickets left, South Africa were still two runs behind. From that point, however, they took decisive control, thanks to Klusener and Boucher, who put on 121. Klusener's bat was more edge than middle to start with but, once his eye was in, it became a lethal bludgeon. He made 108 off 124 balls, with 18 fours and a six, to set up a formidable lead of 184.

India cleared 96 for just one wicket by the end of the third day. But on the fourth there came a sudden and sharp decline, as Pollock's accuracy and incisiveness conspired with the deteriorating pitch and a fair number of batting errors. Nine wickets went down for 129 runs and Pollock earned a Test haul of ten for the first time. Chasing 54, South Africa settled the argument by tea.

Man of the Match: S. M. Pollock.
Attendance: 13,896.

Close of play: First day, India 372-7 (Dasgupta 29); Second day, South Africa 327-3 (Kallis 49); Third day, India 96-1 (Das 54, Laxman 25).

© John Wisden & Co