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Musing just a bit, on match-eve, Hansie Cronje had observed the first innings of both teams would have the biggest influence on the opening Pepsi Test.
The South African captain has been dead right: If India manage to drive home the wafer-thin advantage they appear to enjoy, going into the third morning tomorrow, they will have to thank Ajit Agarkar and Murali Karthik for their 52-run last-wicket partnership last evening.
With wickets crashing quicker than the proverbial nine pins on a Wankhede pitch with dual bounce, that one partnership may actually prove to be the difference between victory and defeat.
A decisive result awaits us and, already, questions whether the Test will go the distance are being asked. With 25 wickets falling in two days, 15 of them today (as many as 12 after lunch itself), only the elements can force play on the fifth day, too.
As is evident bowlers have dominated like nobody�s business but, in the fourth innings when South Africa kick-off their chase, the catching could prove as decisive. It wasn�t an error-free day, in that department, and the Indians must quickly learn from mistakes.
That they must do straightaway, as the South Africans will throw in everything as they seek an unbeatable lead in the two-Test series.
�Irrespective of the target, we�ll give it our best shot� And, yes, we will take it session by session,� promised Graham Ford, their extremely low-profile (quite like Australia�s John Buchanan) coach.
Whatever the yardstick, it was a stunning six hours-plus play.
Resuming at 27 for no loss, South Africa were bowled out minutes before tea � their quick �demise� coinciding with Mohammed Azharuddin�s �designer� appearance at the amphitheatre. Then, instead of consolidating the 49-run lead, the Indians again batted poorly and were reduced to 75 for five at (delayed) stumps.
Of the South African openers, Herschelle Gibbs was the more enterprising while stodgy Gary Kirsten dropped anchor. Of course, Gibbs was helped by not only some loose bowling, but misplaced overenthusiastic fielding as well. For instance, a Wasim Jaffer overthrow fetched four.
The pair was unseparated till well into the second hour when Sachin Tendulkar introduced himself and tasted instant success. Misjudging the length, Gibbs was cleanly taken by Sourav Ganguly, though the batsman mistakenly believed the ball went on the half-volley.
Gibbs scored 47 (129 minutes, 101 deliveries, 6x4) and the partnership was worth 89, the biggest in the Test. But if that gave the South Africans much comfort, the next few overs tormented.
Jacques Kallis� leading edge off an attempted glance was pouched by V.V.S. Laxman, off Anil Kumble, while Cronje was taken bat-pad, again by the same combination. With three ducks in-a-row, the South African captain is yet to �open� his Test account in 2000.
The double success on successive balls helped Kumble, who often extracted bounce that would be the envy of quicks, join Bishan Singh Bedi on 266 wickets � among Indians, only current coach Kapil Dev has more victims (434).
Three wickets in under four overs saw India, belatedly, gain some of the initiative. After lunch (103 for three), the tables turned completely.
Pieter Strydom gifted his wicket to debutant Karthik � not that the left-arm spinner didn�t deserve one. Incidentally Bedi, sitting in the VIP enclosure, was as pleased as Karthik himself � he promptly jumped and gave the thumbs-up salute.
An absolutely wonderful gesture.
Next out was Kirsten, deceived by the turn from Sachin. Instead of a swept boundary, he found the leg-bail dislodged. Like his opposite number yesterday, Sachin made a killing by reposing much faith in his own bowling.
Kirsten, a big innings player, contributed 50 (192 minutes, 139 deliveries, 5x4). He had a �life� on 42 when Sourav dropped him off Kumble.
Shaun Pollock followed Kirsten, playing a cavalier shot, one not worthy of a vice-captain. And, he was followed by Mark Boucher.
The South African �keeper became Karthik�s second victim and that catch to Nayan Mongia helped him join the very exclusive 100 or more victims� club. He is only the third Indian among 23 �members�.
Lance Klusener would probably have preferred going for the leather but, with nobody offering resistance, was forced to play safe. He had a let-off, a joint effort from Sourav and Mongia, when both didn�t react to an edge off Jawagal Srinath. However, Klusener couldn�t prosper.
His innings ended when Laxman, having witnessed the earlier standing-still-act, dived in front of first slip to effect a brilliant catch. Srinath, introduced in an inspired move by Sachin, finally got a wicket. In fact, within minutes, he closed the innings by pegging back Clive Eksteen�s middle stump and firing out Nicky Boje, too.
Even if Srinath didn�t provide the breakthroughs he did, in the end, complete a strike bowler�s task. Most of the kudos, though, were garnered by 23-year-old Karthik. He has a neat, high-arm action and possesses an excellent temperament.
It will be surprising if one doesn�t hear of him for quite some time to come. Also, the selectors should do everybody a big favour by keeping him out of the one-day squad.
India�s second essay got off to an equally bad start, only this time, Laxman left first. Allan Donald got one to lift and Laxman, whose berth is in jeopardy, cut a sorry figure. Jaffer, too, didn�t last long � he gave low catch (off Pollock) to Klusener and the latter made no mistake.
Having already done the star-turn, Sachin had the perfect opportunity to make the day even more memorable. Instead, he offered no stroke to Cronje and up went Srinivas Venkatraghavan�s index finger.
It�s baffling why somebody of Sachin�s class gets into this no-stroke mood, specially when umpires worldwide are ruthless whenever the pad, and not the bat, is offered.
Sourav, otherwise batting beautifully, forgot some of his footwork and left for a handsomely composed 31 (58 minutes, 42 balls, 4x4, 1x6), while Ajay Jadeja embarrassed not just himself but all those who preferred him over Mohammed Kaif.
Like Laxman, Jadeja fell to a lifter from Donald, whose tally now stands at an awesome 294. Sourav was a victim of Pollock, the most cunning South African, according to quite a few in the Indian dressing room.
Rahul Dravid and Kumble, sent as nightwatchman, remained unbeaten � the last five-and-half overs producing no runs � and will resume afresh in what will remain the series� most important session.
They shouldn�t be blamed if they don�t sleep tight.
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�That will be high up in the recommendations I�ll be tabling, at the ICC�s annual meeting in June,� Dr Bacher, who is also the United Cricket Board of South Africa�s (UCBSA�s) managing director, informed this afternoon.
As Dr Bacher is himself very influential and the Test-status bit has ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya�s support, it�s quite likely the recommendation will be approved.
Bangladesh, therefore, will become the tenth Test-playing nation, and fourth in the sub-continent. Incidentally, Bangladesh already has one-day status (with Kenya) and is currently being coached by former South African stalwart Eddie Barlow.
Asked by The Telegraph whether the ICC was rushing ahead, in granting Test status, Dr Bacher countered: �Well, a beginning has to be made� Bangladesh has 130 million people and each one of them is cricket crazy. When we talk of development, Bangladesh has an ideal market to tap.�
Well, the ball should soon be in Bangladesh�s court and, hopefully, it will learn from the lessons imparted by the Sri Lanka (1982) and Zimbabwe (1992) experiences.
Dr Bacher, meanwhile, confirmed that Bangladesh and Kenya have both automatically qualified for the 2003 World Cup, in South Africa.
For the first time, then, the tournament will feature 14 teams � the nine Test-playing nations, Bangladesh, Kenya and the top three finishers at next year�s ICC Trophy in Canada.
�The 2003 World Cup will have 54 matches, of which 48 will be in South Africa, some in Zimbabwe and, possibly, a couple in Kenya� Despite the increase in teams, the tournament won�t go beyond the five-six weeks period,� Dr Bacher added.
According to Dr Bacher, who will soon be stepping down as managing director to wholly concentrate on the World Cup�s organisation, all 12 stadiums shortlisted are being upgraded.
Commenting on the debate, which erupts every now and then, on the selection of more Blacks in the national team Dr Bacher, who played a significant role in the unification of the two bodies in South Africa (1991), remarked: �While there should be more representation, in keeping with the national trend, standards must also be kept high.�
Typically, without treading on many toes, Dr Bacher did make a point.
Incidentally Dr Bacher, himself a former captain, saluted Sachin Tendulkar by putting him on the same pedestal as the legendary Barry Richards. �For me, he was the most complete batsman. Yet, today, Sachin has all the same qualities.�
But, if it came to that, who would he bet on to save his life? �In the current scenario, Steve Waugh.� It�s one choice few will disagree with.
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Lessons are never learnt in Bengal cricket. Some wanton batting on Day II of their Ranji Trophy Super League match against Rajasthan, after yesterday�s indisciplined bowling and amateurish fielding, established that.
The undying urge of some batsmen to ignore what the situation permits almost undid the good job done by the bowlers earlier in the day. It left Rajasthan with a strong chance of clinching the crucial first-innings lead.
After restricting Rajasthan � who started the day at 295 for three � to 377, Bengal slipped to 76 for four before being rescued by Devang Gandhi and Srikant Kalyani. Devang was on 81 and Kalyani had 23 as Bengal ended the day at 151 for four.
The stage was set for Nikhil Haldipur to produce a knock of substance � on a pitch which is not favouring bowlers too much � to revive his chances of making it to the higher level.
The left-hander casually followed an Anshu Jain (a part-timer who opened the bowling in place of an indisposed P. Krishnakumar) delivery outside leg to give an easy catch to the wicketkeeper.
Alokendu Lahiri paid the price for watching Devang�s drive race to deepish mid-on even as the striker had taken off for a single. It was Devang�s call, as he was running to the danger end.
Alokendu was stranded in the middle of the pitch as substitute Anup Dave made a smart stop and hurled the ball to �keeper Rohit Jahl-ani.
The tale of errors assumed ridiculous proportions when Rohan Gavaskar, after spending just 17 minutes at the wicket, decided to lift off-spinner Rahul Kanwath out of the ground. The left-hander ended up ballooning the ball towards mid-on where Kuldeep Singh took a diving, one-handed catch after initially misjudging the flight.
Rohan�s penchant for adventure was unjustified as the team needed somebody to stay at the wicket. Both he and Haldipur had gifted their wickets in the previous match too.
Skipper Utpal Chatterjee wasn�t amused and without identifying individuals, said he was disgusted at the level of commitment shown by some players.
Saba Karim fell soon after and it was then left to Devang and Kalyani to avoid further damage. Devang was unimpressive in the beginning, struggling outside off stump, but punished the loose ones with characteristic power.
Earlier, Bengal bowlers put up a remarkably improved show to dismiss Rajasthan for the addition of a mere 82 runs to the healthy overnight score of 295 for three. The plan was simple � stick to a line and let the batsmen commit mistakes.
Utpal, once again, was the pick of the lot, returning his 19th five-wicket haul. And Sourasish Lahiri showed he has learnt from yesterday�s mistakes and was rewarded for bowling the ideal line � middle and off � just outside off at times.
Their teammates, however, didn�t seem keen to capitalise on that good work.
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Nattily dressed as ever, Azhar headed for the VIP enclosure where he congratulated Polly Umrigar for receiving the Board�s C.K. Nayudu award last night. A few words with Raj Singh Dungarpur � the gentleman who took the lead in appointing him captain for the first time, in 1990 � and Azhar moved to where Dr Ali Bacher was sitting.
Azhar spent around 15 minutes with Dr Bacher and then sat with the selectors for a while longer. As tea neared, Azhar took leave and parked himself next to Asif Iqbal.
�There�s nothing from my side... I�ve never had a problem with anybody,� was Azhar�s response when Asif sought �details� of the reported differences between him and the present captain and coach.
As was to be expected, there were many queries on the state of Azhar�s right thumb, which was hit by a Mornantau Hayward delivery last Sunday. It put him out of the on-going first Test but, to confirm availability for the second (in Bangalore), Azhar had a knock after the day�s play.
Originally, the selectors were to meet on the fourth evening (Sunday), but could do so tomorrow itself. Azhar should return, which means his replacement Ajay Jadeja will be out.
It fit, back too will be opener Sadagopan Ramesh. Either V.V.S. Laxman or Wasim Jaffer will then get the axe.
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A copy of the February 23 meeting minutes, available with The Telegraph in a February 24 record, relates parleys between the four RCTC unions and the assistant labour commissioner. It states: �...It is agreed by the unions that they are ready to settle the issue in respect of the charter of demands and the notice U/S 9A of the I.D. Act within 45 days at tripartite level... As per request from the government all of the unions representatives agree to postpone all of their agitational programmes including strike notice for the said 45 days.�
�The labour department is trying to pull a fast one on us. Negotiations broke down at 5.30 pm on February 23. We are taking up the matter with the concerned authorities,� said Vineet Verma, secretary & CEO, RCTC.