| Man-of-the-Match Virender Sehwag en route to his half century Wednesday. (AFP)
Colombo: Give an inch, the Indians will grab a yard. Team India is alive and kicking.
Harbhajan Singh’s ninth over (39th overall) dramatically changed the script of this semi-final. An indisposed Herschelle Gibbs had walked off on an unbeaten 116 a couple of overs earlier with South Africa sailing smoothly at 192 for one. The Indians sensed a chance as Bhajji forced Jonty Rhodes into an uppish sweep and Yuvraj Singh brought off a splendid acrobatic effort at short fine-leg .
Three balls later, Boeta Dippenaar was dismissed and the Indians were determined not to let the opportunity go. The drooping shoulders gave way to a tigerish aggression and South Africa never recovered.
Shaun Pollock’s men lived upto their reputation of chokers. Mark Boucher was taken coolly by Yuvraj again, his third catch of the innings. Jacques Kallis’ promise ended when he miscued a swipe after hitting a six off the previous ball of Virender Sehwag.
Lance Klusener’s presence in the middle still gave the South Africans a chance, as they needed 21 of the last over. But Zulu is now only a shadow of his former self. He perished of the last ball of the innings. But the 10-run victory had been sealed by then as India made their second consecutive ICC Champions Trophy final.
Due credit should also go to Sourav Ganguly who marshalled his resources efficiently in the final stages. He kept his faith in the slow bowlers, especially the spinners in the closing stages. Man of the Match Sehwag returned best figures of three for 25 from five unchanged overs that followed his superb 59. He was bowling just short of driving lenghth, making full use of the uneven bounce and slowness of the wicket.
The heart went out to Herschelle Gibbs. He was the unfortunate hero of the Greek tragedy who did all until cramps in his hands brought an untimely end to his innings and had to return a loser.
Gibbs has a special liking for the Indian attack. His ninth career century and second of the tournament reconfirmed his appetite for runs on the barren pitches of the sub-continent. He was not perturbed by the circumstances as he shared an unbroken 178-run partnership with Jacques Kallis.
No harakiri was committed. Playing each ball according to its merit, the pair gave the right momentum to the innings.
In many ways, the Premadasa never seemed India were playing away from home Wednesday. It was the batting that seemed out of place as it stuttered from the good to the most ordinary during the course of the innings.
The disciplined line of the bowlers and the silver quick reflexes of their fielders did come in the way but that was no reason for the Tendulkars, the Laxmans and the Dravids to struggle to find the gaps. Given the slowness of the wicket, it was only desirable that the batsmen cut down on the boundaries and look for the singles.
None, except for Yuvraj and Kaif, looked to go about it sensibly, but rather played into the hands of the South African quicks. Sourav, Sehwag and Laxman sacrificed their wickets instead of falling prey to the bowlers’ guiles — only Dravid’s leg before decision had a shadow of doubt. Sachin, after an unimpressive stay in the middle, chose to settle for a suicidal run to Rhodes in an attempt to step up the run-rate in the middle overs. The Little Master had taken 29 balls to reach his 16.
The 15 overs of grace had produced 94, thanks largely to Sehwag. Initially there were some explosive strokes, like the ferocious cut off Pollock and the pulled drive against Donald, as he took 58 balls to reach his 59. The Proteas struggled to stop him square of the wicket on the off side, with a three-man cover that included Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs.
Only 89 runs came in between the 15th and the 35th over and it needed the discretion of Yuvraj and Kaif to take India past the 250-mark. Their 47-run partnership in 44 balls for the sixth wicket was a flashback of sorts to the Natwest final at Lord’s, only the quality of the attack was superior.
That, however, did not deter their run-scoring spree as they ran the singles sharp. Yuvraj’s (62 off 74 balls, 6x4) flamboyance in the death overs did spell chances of a total in the region of 270 but Pollock’s 49th over put paid to such hopes.