February 10, 2010

Dhoni’s boys whipped by Smith’s men


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Who would have believed after watching the first hour of the Test match that the hosts India were to lose it so decisively inside four days. That was the story of the Nagpur Test where South Africa overcame a nightmarish start on the opening day to record their most emphatic of victories in the recent times.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni would have dearly loved to bat first too, had he won the toss on a dry pitch that was to be full of runs on the first couple of days before breaking up gradually.

But Dhoni must have considered it a blessing in disguise when Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma bowled with fire to have the South Africans on the back foot from the outset. Zaheer in particular was truly outstanding to the extent of being unplayable at times. His opening spell accounted for the opening pair of Graeme Smith and Ashwell Prince in quick succession.

Prince was touch unlucky because the replays were not conclusive in determining any contact of the ball with bat or glove but what a delivery it was. Zaheer got it to lift from the good length spot and the left-handed opener was in all sorts of trouble in saving his skull.

The one that got through Smith was another beauty. Zaheer was moving the ball both ways and none of the South African batsmen were confident against him. Both Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were not off the mark yet and the pressure was on the visitors to see off the new ball.

Not for the first though India surrendered the initiative far too quickly and the field had to be spread out to stem the flow of runs instead. Amla and Kallis were allowed to build a partnership that in fact was the highest for any wicket in the South African history.

Harbhajan Singh failed to provide the breakthrough that denied Amit Mishra the opportunity of attacking the batsmen. Neither of the two spinners bowled anywhere near to their best and Dhoni had a tough task up his sleeves.

The ineffectiveness of Ishant Sharma compounded India’s problems and they were forced to play the waiting game. Their bowlers were milked and the runs kept on coming almost effortlessly. They somehow prevented Kallis from reaching his career best score but they had no clue how to get rid of Amla who played the innings of his lifetime.

The inexperienced Indian batting line-up was to be put to more stern examination after South Africa, by posting a huge first innings score, had more or less ensured that they were not going to lose the match.

The fancied quartet of Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendukar and M S Dhoni, had greater responsibility to come good because they had to cover up for the lack of experience of as many as three newcomers in their side with two of them making their debut.

It could have been a different story to relate in the presence of Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman and Yuvraj Singh but they were not there. Sehwag and Tendulkar did score a century each but that they needed to score many more under the circumstances.

As Dhoni admitted in the post-match ceremony, India were well and truly outplayed with Dale Steyn being the standout bowler, returning a haul of 10 wickets to power South Africa to an innings victory.


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