India end RSA streak

Slow pitches are a rarity these days, especially for ODIs. So, when a batting side encounters one, it is imperative that they will falter. India couldn’t have asked for a better surface than the one at Bangalore to end South Africa’s streak of 21 matches without a loss.

To say it was a slow pitch would be an understatement. The batsman had to wait eons for the ball to come to him, and even when he did play a shot at the end of it, it still startlingly felt as if he had rushed into it. Add to that some vicious turn, and it is a nightmare for any visiting side coming from hard, bouncy home tracks.

It wasn’t as if the demonic pitch was the sole reason for South Africa’s loss; their batsmen, especially the top-order fell to some very substandard shots off some very substandard deliveries. Having lost the toss, and being put into bat first, the openers gave India just what they would have been hoping for before the spinners could rattle the batsmen – some cheap early wickets.

AB de Villiers was caught at square leg off a misdirected half-volley, Graeme Smith was found in front off his wickets off a straight delivery and Jacques Kallis edged to the wicket-keeper off a delivery which he could easily have left untouched, all to Irfan Pathan in just four overs of his. 20-3 and chances of getting to 250-270, which was suggested as a reasonably good score before the match, looking bleak.

Andrew Hall and Ashwell Prince battled out in the middle for almost 10 overs, during which they managed to get the score past 50. Hall scored 32, before falling to Harbhajan Singh who was introduced in the 14th over, caught at short-leg off a sharp off-break.

Both Harbhajan and Murali Kartik frustrated the batsmen to their demise. Although Kartik didn’t pick up any wickets, his miserly spell, in which he gave away only 16 runs in 10 overs which included four maidens, was instrumental in getting the batsmen to succumb under pressure. Virender Sehwag was soon asked to bowl on the basis of the exploits of the regular spinners, and obliged with the wickets of Prince and Mark Boucher, reducing South Africa to 96-6 in the 30th over.

Justin Kemp, who has grown into being the new Lance Kulsener, had to play uncharacteristically, as he and Shaun Pollock tried to rebuild the innings. But just when it was time to stop caring about the malignant pitch and blast the bowlers, no matter what, Kemp fell to Harbhajan, a result of a stunning catch at deep square leg, by RP Singh.

There followed a tumble of wickets, separated by a six off Pollock’s bat and a couple of boundaries by Johan Botha, with the Proteas completing the innings at 169-9, which seemed entirely the wrong score to make when you are wishing to increase your streak to 22.

The pitch troubled the Indian batting too, especially early on. Sachin Tendulkar, playing in his 356th match equaling him with Wasim Akram as the most capped ODI player, found the going a bit tough, scoring just two runs off 22 deliveries, before falling to Pollock’s miserly bowling. He mistimed a lofty drive off a slower delivery, and lobbed to substitute fielder Robin Peterson at mid-on, with the Indian score 13-1 in the 9th over.

Gautam Gambhir on the other hand, given a chance to open, set off on a different approach after Tendulkar fell, riding his luck by pulling out some extravagant shots, in midst of some purely eye-catching cover drives. Pathan, promoted up the order once more, made sure that the South African bowlers didn’t make any more in-roads immediately, but sticking up at the other end.

Pathan is often compared to Akram, and quite frustratingly, a lot of people complain. It seems as if Greg Chappell is on his way to make those irksome a bit calm; he is not only trying to convert Pathan into an all-rounder, but an all-rounder who bats higher up the order than Akram did. Pathan’s innings this time around, was starkly different from previous ones at the top of the order. It was a more solid, risk-free sojourn in the middle, which included some captivating strokes as well.

Gambhir got out in the 17th over, with the score at 52-2. But any iota of a chance South Africa had to startle to a win was snatched away by Sehwag. Sourav Ganguly must be feeling rather depressed on not getting a chance; more so though, he would be feeling a bit funny. Just when some batsman isn’t doing well, and his hopes of returning are uplifted a bit from underground level, he comes out and reduces Ganguly’s chances by batting superbly. Yuvraj Singh did it last match, Sehwag did the same this match.

Sehwag was brutal on anything bowled anywhere, and despite Pathan’s dismissal with 64 runs still to score to level the series, he continued on in his own nonchalant way. He was particularly severe on Botha and Justin Ontong. A flurry of fours took India to an easy win, setting up an interesting three more matches to come in the series.

South Africa 169-9 in 50 overs
AJ Hall 32 (43), AG Prince 30 (69)
IK Pathan 3-23 (6), Harbhajan Singh 2-33 (10), V Sehwag 2-29 (8)

India 171-4 in 35.4 overs
G Gambhir 38 (50), IK Pathan 37 (58), V Sehwag 77* (62)
SM Pollock 1-10 (6)

India won by six wickets and the level the series 1-1

Man of the Match
IK Pathan (India) – 3-23 (6) & 37 (58)

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