That horrible sinking feeling

Over the years, watching India play in South Africa has been a lot like watching David Lynch's Lost Highway, a movie that its co-writer described as being "about a man who finds himself in a dire situation, and has a kind of panic attack". This was their 13th defeat in 17 games against their hosts, but the manner in which it was inflicted suggests that this could be another long and painful odyssey to the Cape of No Hope.

Till this debacle, India's lowest total against South Africa was 147 at Port Elizabeth in December 1992, a match in which Brian McMillan's 4 for 32 was the standout performance. And despite having to bowl on a batsmen-friendly pitch, the bowlers had done their bit by restricting South Africa to 248. Jacques Kallis's 119 may not have been your typical one-day dash, but ultimately, it was way more than India could muster, with only three men managing double figures in the face of some relentless pace bowling.

South Africa aren't ranked second to Australia for nothing, and it's worth remembering that they beat the world's best 3-2 last March. But even they can't have expected it to be so easy. Once Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid departed to two stunning deliveries, the rest were little more than plastic ducks in a shooting gallery, with Andre Nel and Kallis picking them off one by one.

Suresh Raina's woes summed up the miserable experience. A year ago, he was being hailed as the new face of Indian batsmanship. He turns 20 on Monday but has been going through the proverbial season in hell. However to pick on the likes of Raina is easy. Offering up a solution based on reality, rather than sepia-tinted sentimentality, isn't.

It didn't help that South Africa bowled nearly as well as they did when they knocked over Australia for 93 in Cape Town not so long ago. Makhaya Ntini was made to look fairly ordinary as Tendulkar reeled off some wonderful strokes, but Shaun Pollock once again demonstrated the virtues of bowling an impeccable line and length. He may be a couple of yards slower than in his prime, but as he showed with the lifter that surprised Mohammad Kaif, there are still enough tricks up the sleeve to befuddle most international batsmen.

Nel was sensational, knocking over Tendulkar and bowling at ferocious pace. Over the years, he's become notorious for stares and the sledges, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that he can be a real handful in such conditions. When he gets the ball to jag back in from short of a length at close to 90mph, he can be almost unplayable.

Though they toiled hard, India's pace trio wasn't in the same class. Munaf Patel and Ajit Agarkar were excellent in patches, while Zaheer Khan's spell embodied the best and worst of his bowling. When he hit a good length and moved it, he got two wickets, but too often, balls that were too full or too short were carted around the park, with Kallis in especially severe mood.

The record books may show that Kallis's was the slowest one-day hundred (143 balls) by a South African, putting Boeta Dippenaar in the shade, but it was an invaluable effort after India made early inroads to the tune of 63 for 3. He drove the ball with rare majesty, and though the second 50 took 75 balls, there was never even a frisson of panic. In the end, 248 was more than an ocean away for an Indian team that must fight a horrible sinking feeling tonight.