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Not the real thing

Given the circumstances it was almost inevitable that the cricket would be overshadowed by all that had gone before

Peter Robinson
Given the circumstances it was almost inevitable that the cricket would be overshadowed by all that had gone before. Even so there was a curious emptiness about the first day of the, as we now have to call it, five-day match between South Africa and India at SuperSport on Friday.
For a start, it has been difficult to find an appropriate label for the game. Quite obviously it does not have the blessing of the ICC and is therefore not a Test match (and the ICC, incidentally, managed to get quite sniffy about a reference to an unofficial "Test"). A tour match? Well, yes it is, but that seems to miss the target as well.
The prevailing wisdom at Centurion on Friday was that at least one of the competing teams, India, will attempt to have the match upgraded to full Test status some time in the future when emotions have subsided and the parties on all sides of the issue are better prepared to listen to rational argument.
Whatever the case, the first day produced another patchy batting display from India who were sent in to bat by Shaun Pollock, ending the day on 221 for eight. The Indians left out Virender Sehwag (presumably to better strengthen their case if and when the reinstatement case is argued), had skipper Sourav Ganguly out with back and shoulder spasms and left out seamer Ajit Agarkar.
All of this made space for Ashish Nehra, Venkatesh Prasad and Connor Williams who has probably spent last month or so wondering what he was supposed to be doing in South Africa.
But when he finally found himself on the field, not for a Test match, but for a reasonably close approximation) he might have wondered whether it had been worth the wait. He was hit around the body by both Pollock and Nantie Hayward before falling leg before to Lance Klusener for 5 as India crawled through to lunch at 44 for one.
The batting perked up after the interval, but so too did the Indians manage to get themselves out: Rahul Dravid for 5, Shiv Das for another dogged 46, Sachin Tendulkar for 27, carelessly flicking at one down the leg side, and VVS Laxman for 14, well caught in the gully by Gary Kirsten.
At 107 for five, India were in trouble and South Africa already into the tail, but here, interestingly, the tourists began to display rather more resolve.
South Africa had generally bowled tidily with Jacques Kallis as effective as at any stage during the two official Test matches, but Deep Dasgupta and Anil Kumble then dug in to add 51 for the sixth wicket (a record partnership, incidentally, for five-day matches that are not Tests between the two countries).
Dasgupta was eventually undone by a short one from Nantie Hayward that he poked off his ribs to square leg for 36 and then Harbhajan Singh flapped happily around until he was run out for 29. Even then, South Africa couldn't quite finish it off despite Javagal Srinath having to retire hurt after being struck on the hand by Hayward.
Hayward, in fact, was to finish with best figures of the day after bowling Kumble for 27 off the last ball of the day. His return was three for 70 while Kallis took two for 15 and for once Pollock went wicketless.
It was, in the end, a hollow day, dressed in the trappings of Test cricket but not quite the real thing. Some would argue that this match should never have taken place in the first place - and there are strong reasons to pay heed to this point of view. For all this, though, we have a game of cricket, if not quite a game of Test cricket.