By Syed Khalid Mahmood
Any other team would have been considered victorious if they dismissed Jacques Kallis at that stage when the asking rate was in the double digits and two tail-enders were crease for the last seven or eight overs. Not India.
India for ages have had this tendency of losing their way in the end after being in the driving seat for the better part of the match. That’s why while the others thought it was all over for South Africa I considered ‘Game on’ even after the dismissal of Kallis and didn’t miss a single delivery.
People around me wondered how I was anticipating a close contest when it was appearing a one-sided affair for all practical purposes. My reply was simple. You never know with India. Trust me I would have given it up too if South Africa’s opponents were Bangladesh or Zimbabwe.
The record books will show that India emerged triumphant in the first One-day International against South Africa at Jaipur. What these score sheets might not be able to tell how much frustration and humiliation the hosts had to endure after having dominated the day.
India should have been well and truly home after removing Kallis, who had earlier been missed by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni of all people. The lapse didn’t prove costly but Yousuf Pathan was denied a wicket he so richly deserved after bowling an outstanding spell with the dew factor taking its toll.
But the tail-enders Wayne Parnell and Dale Steyn came up with their career-best knocks. Not only did they score far too many but they also got them very quickly against an attack whose discipline had made life miserable even for the top-order.
Parnell and Steyn had fun with the Indian bowlers and the crowd that had been shouting all day was brought to silence in a matter of few overs. The festive mood of the spectators turned tense and there was more of disbelief and amusement at what really was going on in the field of play.
It was complete chaos for India. The bowlers started getting punished by the tail-enders. Initially it was being believed that a few hits here and there would have little bearing on the outcome but Dhoni was alive to the situation and he was not taking any chances. He immediately took off part-timer Suresh Raina after being clobbered for two straight sixes in three balls.
Dhoni’s problems were compounded because of the lack of control over line and length on part of Shantikumaran Sreesanth, the replacement of Zaheer Khan. Sreesanth did take two key wickets but he was far too expensive to be risked for the final over.
Dhoni made the right decision to entrust Praveen Kumar the job of sending the last over from which South Africa needed only 10 to complete the unlikeliest of victories. Kumar somehow kept his cool and didn’t let his team down. The dramatic over, that also included an off-side wide, yielded eight runs that ensured India at least won the match.