South Africa made heavy weather of a modest target of 165 but held their nerve to win a third successive match in the Coca Cola Cup and their eighth in eight appearances at this venue. An unbroken 71 run partnership between Jacques Kallis and Hansie Cronje took them to a six wicket victory over India, with 7.2 overs to spare, that confirmed South Africa's place in the final and did Pakistan a favour by all but putting the Indians out of the tournament. With India's net run rate plunging even further to -1.01 as opposed to a healthy +0.31 for Pakistan, the latter are virtually assured of making the final even if they lose to South Africa tomorrow. Nantie Hayward won the MoM award for his lethal spell of 4-31.
The South Africans reached 30 without loss after seven overs and it looked as though the match was taking the pattern of the earlier encounter between these two when, chasing an identical target, the openers knocked it off on their own. But the drama began to unfold in the eighth over when Gibbs gave Prasad the charge a trifle prematurely and failed to clear Ganguly at mid on. Lance Klusener walked in, presumably to strike a few blows and ease the pressure, but the situation hardly merited such a response and when Prasad trapped him first ball in front of the wicket, it left the Indians sniffing at an outside chance of victory.
Anil Kumble was the ace up India's sleeve and he had Kirsten caught at slip by Ganguly in his second over to leave South Africa at 50/3 and the cat firmly among the pigeons. Kumble and Chopra then strangled the run rate with some relentlessly accurate bowling that gave just 11 runs away in 7 overs. Neil McKenzie decided to hit his way out of trouble and got two boundaries off Chopra in one over to seemingly break the spell that had been cast on the batsmen.
But Chopra was not done with and foxed McKenzie in the flight as the batsman miscued one into Jadeja's hands at cover. India missed a golden opportunity to tighten the screws further when Kallis played Agarkar low into and out of Jadeja's hands at square leg with the score at 100/4. The South Africans never looked back after that as Kallis mauled Chopra for two sixes over long off in the 30th over to virtually put India out of the sweepstakes. Cronje finished the match with aplomb with two fours and a six from successive balls off Robin Singh.
The Indian batting has had some unflattering moments in the past but today's performance was particularly galling. India went into the match knowing full well that a mere win might not suffice because of their inferior net run rate. They had to win in convincing fashion if they were to put pressure on the other two teams who had the advantage of playing the last match of the league and thus knowing exactly what the requirement was to qualify. But the sense of purpose was lacking as the Indians began the innings after winning a good toss. Ganguly once again fell cheaply and although he professes to be unfazed by the responsibility of captaining the side, the pressure may just be getting to him.
Azharuddin came in at No. 3 in an effort to give the inings some momentum at the top and he and Tendulkar put on 70 in the next 18 overs as the Indian supporters leaned back into their seats and relaxed. It turned out to be a false sense of security as Azhar was guilty of throwing it away after playing himself in. Calling for a quick single to midon, Azhar was thrown out by the fleet footed McKenzie and there was more trouble to follow when Jadeja went leg before two balls later.
Tendulkar had never looked like dominating the attack but he had weathered these storms and India were looking to him to provide succour by batting through the innings. He also fell run out in even more reckless fashion. The ball ballooned off the edge of Tendulkar's bat as he played defensively and Tendulkar looked up at the ball and started running without waiting to watch where it landed. Dravid sent him back and Herchelle Gibbs at point swooped on the ball in classic predatory fashion and threw down the stumps before Tendulkar realised what was happening.
Dravid had struck two boundaries fairly early in his innings which, considering his general approach, seemed to be more by accident than by design, and his dismissal was greeted with a welcome sense of relief. He finally decided that he had reached the limit of his contribution and picked the man at midwicket almost by deliberate intent. Towards the end, just about any runs would have been a bonus but the lower order batsmen were in no mood to oblige when their counterparts at the top had failed and the innings folded up for 164 in the 49th over.