Tendulkar scripts India victory

After the World Cup, many were calling for their dethroned hero to be dragged to the chopping-block. Some thought, even after a pair of hundreds in Bangladesh, that it was Sachin Tendulkar the deity rather than Tendulkar the batsman who was being selected. For today in Stormont, read Sharjah or Chennai or Colombo in the late nineties: here, stroking a sublime 93 and breaking the 15,000 ODI runs barrier, was the Tendulkar that sits among the Hindi gods back in the Mumbai suburbs.

Salivating aside, Tendulkar’s innings, coupled with scores from Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh, who had earlier done the damage with the ball, led India to a comfortable six-wicket win over South Africa to level the three-match series at one apiece.

Chasing 227, Tendulkar and Ganguly opened up with a well-paced stand of 134 for the first wicket, dominated by Tendulkar’s panoramic strokeplay as he hit 13 fours and a pair of sixes in his 106-ball innings. He was selective rather than outwardly aggressive, yet anything slightly short, wide, full or legside was sweetly struck to the boundary with Tendulkar’s signature aesthetics. The moments of brilliance naturally jostle with each other for pride of memory, although a cracking pull of Andre Nel that cleared the ropes perhaps stands out above all.

Ganguly was more restrained, his 45 taking 75 balls, but was still able to loft Thandi Tshabalala’s offspin over mid-on for six. However his dismissal – slashing Charl Langeveldt straight to Herschelle Gibbs at backward point – triggered a mini-collapse that saw the loss of Tendulkar, sandwiched between those of Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as India briefly teetered at 142-4 in the 33rd over. Dravid was undone by Langevelt’s bouncer and departed caught-and-bowled, Tendulkar chopped on off Tshabalala for consecutive scores in the nineties, while Dhoni drove loosely at Makhaya Ntini and was clean bowled.

It took two calm heads in Yuvraj and Dinesh Karthik to apply themselves after the clatter of wickets and see India home with an unbroken partnership of 85. Although both survived a handful of near-misses, the pair ran well as India scampered home with five balls remaining. Yuvraj finished unbeaten with a 63-ball 49, containing three fours and a whipped six off his legs, while Karthik hit just a solitary boundary in his innings of 32 from 37 balls.

Earlier, South Africa had compiled 226-6 from their 50 overs despite a ragged display from the top order, thanks to Morne van Wyk’s 82 and a thumping half century from Mark Boucher. Jacques Kallis played on via an inside edge to RP Singh for two, joining team-mate AB de Villiers in the pavilion, who ran himself out for a duck just a couple of overs into the innings.

Left to play the anchoring role, van Wyk struggling against the movement of the new ball in the hands of the Indian left-armers early on, but a series of cuts and pulls set him in motion. Once Gibbs had slashed hard and been caught behind off Zaheer Khan for 17, van Wyk found an able partner in Jean-Paul Duminy and the innings gained momentum. For once Piyush Chawla’s legbreaks made little impact and Ishant Sharma was disappointing on ODI debut, leading Dravid to turn to Yuvraj’s often-ignored left-arm spin. He immediately had Duminy caught at short third man for an attractive 40 – perhaps the young batsman’s most impressive international innings so far – then accounted for van Wyk eight overs later, after the Eagles batsman had sturdied the innings with a 126-ball 87.

As is so often the case, Mark Boucher turned a fairly unthreatening total into a challenging one with his usual whirlwind approach. Clouting the spinners around, Boucher smashed an run-a-ball 55 not out, with 4 fours and a clubbed six off Chawla to wrest some of the momentum away from the Indian batsmen. Sadly for South Africa, the tried-and-tested partnership of Ganguly and Tendulkar rolled back the years to take the series to a decider on Sunday.

South Africa 226-6 (50 overs)
Morne van Wyk 82, Jean-Paul Duminy 40, Mark Boucher 55
Yuvraj Singh 3-36

India 227-4 (49.1 overs)
Sourav Ganguly 42, Sachin Tendulkar 93, Yuvraj Singh 49*, Dinesh Karthik 32*

India won by 6 wickets
Man of the Match: Sachin Tendulkar

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