Feast of drama ends with famine

2011-01-07 00:00

THE buffet of brilliant cricket ended rather abruptly on the final day at Newlands yesterday, as India batted out the day to leave a thrilling series all-square after three contrasting contests.

“We are a bit disappointed that we couldn’t get over the line today,” Proteas captain Graeme Smith lamented.

“I was surprised there wasn’t a bit more in the wicket for us, but on the other hand we are relieved to have come back from 130 for six on the fourth day,” he pointed out.

India were given a day to chase 340, making the draw the most likely outcome. The tourists’ hopes of victory hinged on opener Virender Sehwag producing a whirlwind at the top of the order, but it wasn’t to be.

Sehwag fell early, caught at first slip by Smith during a hostile opening spell from Morne Morkel.

Dale Steyn got the ball swinging on the other end, but not with the same dizzying effects of day three.

The combination of Sehwag’s early demise and the new ball not striking a few more blows meant that the day was destined to be a turgid affair.

Tellingly, South Africa’s spin option didn’t have nearly as much impact as Harbhajan Singh had on the previous day, as he helped himself to seven wickets.

“It was a pity that our spinner couldn’t have as much impact as Harbhajan had for them, and once the ball goes past 40 overs, it becomes really hard work for the fast bowlers,” Smith said.

Gautam Gambhir, playing with a sore elbow, was struck on the very same place by Morkel’s first ball of the day, but he showed great character to chisel out a gritty 64 in four and a half hours.

That innings, plus Rahul Dravid’s painstaking 31, really broke the back of the South African effort.

Paul Harris, with some pressure on him thanks to events on and off the field, served up a large helping of negative bowling, as he came over the wicket for large periods.

Had the Proteas been trying to save the game, those tactics would have been easier to fathom. But bowling into the rough outside leg-stump, with wickets needed, defied all logic.

While Harris was unlucky not to get Dravid leg-before, and Gambhir also offered a sharp chance to AB de Villiers at silly point, he was not as influential as a Test spinner should be on the last day.

With the next Proteas Test only in October against the Australians, it is not pushing the boundaries of speculation too far to suggest that Harris may not be an automatic selection for that.

While Harris was wicketless on the last day, Imran Tahir was busy taking six first-day wickets for the Dolphins against the Warriors.

Sachin Tendulkar (14 in 146 minutes) and VVS Laxman (32) saw out the match, as South Africa tried valiantly until the second new ball arrived.

Their lack of penetration means it has now been four years since they won a major Test series at home.

After beating Pakistan in January 2007, they have shared this series with India, last year’s tussle with England, while Australia defeated them in early 2009.

The Proteas had mixed feelings about the series, with Smith saying they had played well generally, with one exception.

“Obviously Durban was a poor performance for us, where we didn’t show enough fight. But the series was so tight, and I think we were the first team to really pull away on the fourth day here.”

MS Dhoni, though, took pride in the manner that his side had not only bounced back from the terrible start at Centurion, but they had come pretty close to doing the unthinkable.

“I think we were one wicket away on day four, and then we could have done something very special. If we had got rid of Jacques Kallis or Mark Boucher, we could have had a target of 260-280, which we would have backed ourselves to chase.

“But it wasn’t to be, and chasing anything over 300 on a last day is very difficult,” the Indian skipper emphasised.

Dhoni reserved special praise for outgoing coach Gary Kirsten, whose quiet demeanour has seen the Indians finally realise their potential.

“We’ve had a fantastic time under him. He came into the dressing-room, which has an aura with so many great players, and made a plan for us which has obviously worked. We all love and respect him for his devotion to us during his time. I think he has been one of the best things to happen to Indian cricket,” he concluded.

The Proteas, with a pending vacancy in that role, will be doing all they can to get him to take them to the next level.

SCOREBOARD

South Africa first innings 362 (H. Amla 59, J. Kallis 161; S. Sreesanth 5-114)

India first innings 364 (G. Gambhir 93, S. Tendulkar 146; D. Steyn 5-75)

South Africa second innings 341 (J. Kallis 109 not out, M. Boucher 55; Harbhajan Singh 7-120)

India second innings

G. Gambhir c Boucher b Steyn64

V. Sehwag c Smith b Morkel11

R. Dravid c Prince b Tsotsobe31

S. Tendulkar not out14

V. Laxman not out32

Extras (b-7 w-5 nb-2)14

Total (for 3, 82 overs)166

Fall of wickets: 1-27 2-106 3-120

Bowling: Steyn 18-6-43-1 (1w), Morkel 15-6-26-1 (2nb), Tsotsobe 13-4-29-1, Harris 30-19-29-0, Smith 4-0-27-0, Petersen 2-0-5-0

Result: match drawn

Series: drawn 1-1

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