At Kanpur, November 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 2004. Drawn. Toss: South Africa. Test debuts: Z. de Bruyn, T. L. Tsolekile.
Two utterly disparate innings grabbed the headlines in a match that meandered to a predictable draw, on a pitch where eternity might have been too short to produce a result. Virender Sehwag careered past 1,000 runs for the year with an innings of staggering virtuosity and impudence, while Andrew Hall - whose big-hitting credentials were amply displayed in the Headingley Test of 2003 - eked out a painstaking 163 after being asked to open.
In the absence of Herschelle Gibbs, Hall - who had never opened even at provincial level - was expected to provide a similarly cavalier approach at the top of the order. He did anything but, exterminating any trace of flair to construct an innings remarkable for its patience and cast-iron discipline. By the time he was finally bowled behind his pads by Kumble, Hall had thwarted the Indians for almost ten hours, allowing South Africa to reach a total that virtually ruled out defeat, and declare on the third morning. Only three batsmen had spent longer at the crease for South Africa.
But Hall was not the only one whose attritional approach frustrated India. Zander de Bruyn, the all-rounder from Easterns, produced a stolid and composed 83 on debut, and even the indefatigable Kumble could only make intermittent inroads on a surface that gave few signs of life.
If South Africa's innings had been a methodical crawl, India's burst into life with a fusillade of strokes. Sehwag carved the bowlers apart, as is his wont, but the fact that Gambhir, playing only his second Test, matched him shot for shot unnerved even the usually metronomic Pollock. It didn't help that Thami Tsolekile, picked in place of Mark Boucher, goofed a stumping off Peterson when Sehwag had just 29. The two openers, team-mates for Delhi, had put on 218 when Gambhir edged a Pollock delivery and fell four short of a maiden Test hundred. It was India's best opening stand in 49 years. Sehwag carried on and on, thumping 46 from three overs after lunch on the fourth day with some exhilarating drives and hoicks. But once he departed for 164 off 228 balls (Hall faced 454 for one run less), the momentum was lost, and a fiery burst from Ntini helped South Africa take six wickets for 65, giving them the satisfaction of a 44-run first-innings lead.
But by then it was already the fifth morning, so it meant nothing. As the South African batsmen withstood some fine left-arm spin from Kartik, the bored crowd were left to serenade Tendulkar to amuse themselves, though not everyone found such innocent distractions. With the match dribbling to a draw, a TV cameraman spotted a young man sitting near the boundary, cradling a .38 calibre revolver. When he was apprehended, the authorities were embarrassed to discover he was Taslimuddin Pasha, son of the president of the Kanpur Cricket Association, and had been granted an accessall- areas pass. His intentions remained unclear - he claimed carrying a gun was simply the done thing in that part of the world - but police confirmed he had breached ground regulations by bringing in a firearm. It provided a late frisson in a game that neither Sehwag's ebullience nor Hall's obduracy could raise from a morass of mediocrity.
Man of the Match: A. J. Hall.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo