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Seizing the moment

Today's was an inconsequential game that both sides took seriously. India and South Africa were already through to the final, but both teams played with intensity. India were determined to keep winning, and to not allow South Africa to regain their confidence. South Africa wanted to seize the moment, and the momentum.

Both teams were full of relatively inexperienced players, and it was a keenly fought contest. India were testing only their bench strength, of course, but South Africa were trying to come to terms with their new-look first XI. And how did the youngsters pan out?

The most impressive of the South African newcomers has been Jacques Rudolph. The first look India had at Rudolph was in the unofficial Test at Centurion in 2001; Rudolph did not make too many, but handled the spinners with an ease that none of his team-mates displayed.

Today, again, he played Harbhajan Singh and Sarandeep Singh well, with assured footwork and good timing. He had played the Bangladeshi spinners extremely well during his matchwinning 81 in the last match, despite a shaky start to that innings. He paces his innings well, and will be an ideal middle-order anchor for South Africa in the future, batting at either No. 3 or at No. 4, below the other Jacques: Kallis.

Neil McKenzie is no spring chicken, but he hasn't quite been a fixture in the South African team. But he has marked his return well. Though he was all at sea against Harbhajan early in his innings, he hung in there grimly to make his second fifty of the tournament, as was the need of the hour, and got the job done. He is known to tape his bat to the ceiling of his dressing room for luck; like all good players, he is beginning to make his own.

India, despite losing the game, would be happy with how some of their reserves performed. Avishkar Salvi was superb today, bowling with the control that has already earned comparisons with Glenn McGrath, and with a fire that brings McGrath's pacier compatriots to mind. He generated good pace and bounce on a slow Dhaka pitch which is no fast bowler's delight.

Ajit Agarkar bowled well too. Known for his profligacy, he displayed good control in his first spell, and got significant awayswing. There were a couple of loose balls - a short one followed by the typically over-compensatory half-volley - but five overs for 20 runs was a decent first spell against batsmen like Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith.

The youngster who was most noticable today, though, was Parthiv Patel. His appealing was excessive, but his enthusiasm was infectious and his wicketkeeping is outstanding. He is far and away the best wicketkeeper in India, and has both the basic technique and the temperament to be a useful batsman. Of all the young men on view today, he will be around the longest.

Amit Varma is assistant editor of Wisden.com in India.