Cricket's best serve up a treat as finest swing bowling meets timeless mastery

2011-01-05 00:00

THIS series, despite being the battle for top spot in the ICC tree, has ludicrously lived in the shadow of the Ashes scrap between an emerging England side and a declining force.

But yesterday again proved where the real stars are, as some of the finest swing bowling seen in recent years met the timeless brilliance of a living legend.

Sachin Tendulkar and Dale Steyn exhibited the finest skills the game of bat and ball demands, with the Indian titan marking what is almost certainly his final Test on these shores with a right royal array of strokes.

Steyn, meanwhile, showed he was streets ahead as the finest leather-flinger in the game today.

His combination of swing and speed yesterday was jaw-dropping.

“Who do you think won that contest, then?” he asked the media when he was asked what he made of the contest with the finest batsman of the modern era.

Sadly, Tendulkar wasn’t offered to the waiting media mob to share his thoughts on his latest dose of delight.

The Little Master only speaks to the press occasionally these days, much preferring his infinite number of records to do the talking.

“Sachin’s knock was unbelievable,” Harbhajan Singh said.

“He’s done it again, and he told me to go and play my natural game, because Steyn was bowling some great deliveries.

“If I had tried to defend that with my technique, I wouldn’t have lasted. But when it’s in my area, I know that I can make the ball disappear,” he added mischievously.

Disappear it did — twice even — as Harbhajan hit Steyn over long-on for a quite magnificent six, after he had almost pulled Lonwabo Tsotsobe onto the adjacent train station.

Steyn used that six by Harbhajan to illustrate how the game of cricket is a great leveller.

“Rankings and what people say about you means nothing to me, it’s what you do out there that counts,” he added.

“Look, even Harbhajan hit me for a six today,” he chirped.

Beneath this fine, fine series there has been a competitive fire that has threatened to bubble over at times.

At the centre of it has been S Sreesanth.

Steyn said he was “entertained” by the Sreesanth’s antics, but it wasn’t something that he would do.

“We’ve had guys in our side, like Andre Nel, who needed to do that to perform. I just find it funny.”

Harbhajan said it was a matter of doing what you had to in order to deliver for your country.

“It’s number one and two, so of course there will be passion. You do what you have to to win the match for your country.”

The match, and the series, is sumptuously poised.

Tellingly, the Proteas spoke of making the game safe before looking to set a target.

“We will have to bat well [today] and then look to set a target at some stage,” Steyn cautioned.

India, though, are looking to go for the kill.

They have never won a series here — never even shared one. They know that a decisive burst this morning will land them one heck of a chance to deliver the holy grail.

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