Goes without saying the crowd was waiting for the Indian team’s bus and, specifically, for a look at Mohammed Azharuddin. Even a fleeting glance at the day’s hero would do.
When it mattered most, after all, it’s the 37-year-old who ensured the second (and final) Pepsi Test versus South Africa went to the fifth day, tomorrow. There’s even the absolute outside chance of India averting defeat and a 0-2 scoreline.
The series, in any case, is lost but arresting the string of defeats could just make one hell of a difference. Just as important, it will give the Indians some confidence ahead of the one-day series which begins Thursday in Kochi.
At stumps on Day-IV, the equation read thus: India require 126 runs to make South Africa bat a second time, but five wickets have been lost and Nayan Mongia indisposed.
Late this evening, Mongia did inform The Telegraph he would bat, if necessary, but his contribution may not be much as a “gastric attack” has made him bed-ridden.
Resuming battle will be Azhar and Anil Kumble, the first innings’ highest scorer. The pair has added 52, the (joint) best by India in the series and, if their confidence is a pointer, many more should come.
The million-Rupee question is: Just how many more?
“We’ve got to keep trying... I’m sure the not out batsmen and those to follow will give off their best,” remarked Sachin Tendulkar, hours away from relinquishing captaincy with a series defeat.
Azhar, playing his 99th Test, is not out on 73 (198 minutes, 144 balls, 10x4, 1x6) with Kumble on 14 (84 minutes, 76 deliveries, 2x4). Kumble joined Azhar at 144 for five and with 20-plus overs remaining, anything could have happened had their partnership not taken off.
In the event, Azhar and Kumble staved off the ignominy of yet another defeat with the last day rendered redundant.
“It’s not just the first hour or the first session that will be important (tomorrow). The whole day will be so...” maintained Azhar, playing his first Test after a year.
Day-IV began with South Africa 468 for eight, but the last two wickets (shared by Kumble and Murali Karthik) were snapped up in 11 minutes. More than the others Rahul Dravid, standing-in for Mongia, would have been most relieved: He had to open, too.
The first over, from Allan Donald to Dravid, was a maiden but thereafter, Dravid and Wasim Jaffer were refreshingly positive.
In fact, probably aware this could he his last India innings for quite sometime, Jaffer boomed like never before and his first 16 runs were all via boundaries. Indeed, he flicked, drove and pulled with passion.
Dravid, though not as extravagant, was as effective — in blunting the initial attack, that is. Yet, for the umpteenth occasion in recent times, Dravid fell after getting set.
This time, he allowed a Nicky Boje delivery to spin across the face of his bat and take the edge to Shaun Pollock in slips. It’s significant Dravid hasn’t had a fifty in his last 14 Test innings. Obviously, that must be hurting him, but his poor run is hurting India even more.
If Dravid’s dismissal wasn’t bad enough, Jaffer himself undid all his good work by almost doing a repeat. Only, this time, the catcher (Jacques Kallis) had it easier. And, unbelievably, on the last ball before lunch.
Boje added Sourav Ganguly’s wicket after the break, but the first two wickets alone positioned him as frontrunner for the MoM award.
Lunch was taken at 48 for two and though the captain and captain-designate forged a partnership, Sourav’s unusual dismissal — leg-before, being struck on the back pad after padding-up — forced a quick end.
Opinion on umpire A.V.Jayaprakash’s verdict was divided.
Like Dravid, Sourav has been getting out after getting entrenched. Incidentally, he hasn’t had a fifty for nine innings now.
With the score 71 for three, circumstances again brought together the two most talked-about Indian cricketers of the present era: Sachin and Azhar. However, as it was with the Sachin-Sourav combine, even this partnership got unstuck just when optimism had begun to displace pessimism. Even cynicism.
Sadly, in his last innings as captain, Sachim himself engineered all the damage. He chased what nearly was a wide, from Donald, and Herschelle Gibbs made no mistake at point.
So devastated was Sachin it required an effort to haul himself (he was down on one knee) and begin the painful walk back to the dressing room. Azhar sought to comfort him by saying “tough luck” but, at that moment, it may have accentuated the disappointment. Sachin himself told this correspondent: “I shouldn’t have gone for it... I thought...”
Mohammed Kaif joined Azhar, somebody he idolises, and the pair even forced Hansie Cronje to begin exploring the defensive-option.
Sans arm-guard and the chest protector, Kaif cut a confident look and his positive approach earned him a berth in the one-day XIV, picked after stumps.
For India’s U-19 captain (who plans moving to Lucknow from Allahabad, as facilities in the UP capital are better), the past few weeks have simply been fantastic.
Kaif, though, was adjudged leg-before shortly after tea (taken at 123 for four) to Kallis. It appeared the ball would have missed leg stump, but umpire Jayaprakash thought otherwise, albeit after some hesitation.
Kallis, who got the ball to swing both ways, and the South Africans didn’t conceal their joy but, soon enough, Cronje had to spend more time on strategy. Thanks wholly to Azhar, who exploded in the manner he did at the Eden (109) and Newlands (115), back in 1996-97.
Azhar had begun with a rasping four off Pollock and, soon enough, picked on Boje. A bowlers’ back drive, which fetched four, was worth travelling miles to see. Later, even off the quicks, there were cover drives and a six over extra cover (off Boje) got Azhar his 22nd fifty.
As the electronic scoreboard delayed recording the fifty, Azhar’s response to the cheers was belated. “I wanted to be sure and also checked with the umpire,” he informed, smiling.
Though stumps were drawing near, Azhar didn’t move into lower gear and Mornantau Hayward (who injured his right thumb in the tour-opener, knocking him out of the Mumbai Test) and Donald, in particular, were punished with a vengeance.
It was as if Azhar was unleashing his anger of the season on them. It was also one way of ‘settling’ the embarrassment meted out to him in innings No.1. Today, with the bounce nowhere near what was generated on the first day, Azhar was actually well-placed to settle scores.
Cronje, who surprisingly became defensive during Azhar’s onslaught, effected a million bowling changes — and even took the second new-ball — but the breakthrough didn’t materialise.
The prodigious turn Boje, who used the crease well and never quite bowled at the same pace, extracted, must have made Cronje miss a second spinner (Clive Eksteen). But, then, no captain can have all combinations at his disposal.
Should India pull it off, though (as was done at the Brabourne in 1948-49, against the West Indies, despite a 356-run deficit), the absence of a second spinner will probably have made the biggest difference.
Score INDIA: 158, 196/5 SOUTH AFRICA: 479
Bengal managed just 35 more runs today as the innings folded up for 316 one hour 15 minutes before lunch. Karnataka’s strike troika of Venkatesh Prasad, Dodda Ganesh and Sunil Joshi shared the last five wickets.
Bengal hit back in the very first over of the Karnataka innings, Laxmi Ratan Shukla trapping the dangerous J. Arunkumar leg-before but, by stumps, the visitors had crawled to 119 for three.
On a wicket that occasionally is showing signs of wear and tear but can hardly be described as being vicious, the stage is set for an absorbing battle over the remaining two days of the match.
Utpal Chatterjee was again the pick of the Bengal bowlers, and has already taken two wickets. The key to which team grabs the crucial first innings lead will depend largely on how the visitors tackle his left-arm spin.
Karnataka have shown that they are willing to wait for the runs but, with 198 more to get for the lead, they cannot afford to be too bogged down. Bengal will see their chances in the fact that this is a pretty inexperienced side, and there is not much batting left.
Utpal’s problem is the lack of support from the other bowlers. They did manage to stop the flow of runs today, but they will have to do more than that. They will have to knock a few wickets too.
While off-spinner Sourashish Lahiri and veteran left-armer Vishal Yadav look the best bet if one considers the nature of wicket, Shukla and Abdul Masood would do well to take a leaf out of the two Karnataka medium-pacers’ book. Prasad and Ganesh, who took seven wickets between them in the Bengal first innings, showed well how one could still make an impression on an ‘unfriendly’ track.
It was Ganesh who paved the way for a quick end to the Bengal innings when he trapped Utpal and Shukla leg-before in quick succession. Prasad and Joshi then had lbw appeals upheld against Yadav and Sourashish, respectively, before a lifting delivery ended Masood’s brief resistance.
Saba Karim was left stranded on 129. He was at the wicket for over five hours, faced 216 deliveries and hit 19 fours.
Karnataka’s reply suffered a huge jolt when Shukla, after a few wayward deliveries, got one to land in the right line and Arunkumar was trapped in front of the wicket. The next delivery — a half-volley that new batsman Rowland despatched to the boundary — was a fair comment on the immaturity that surfaces in Shukla’s bowling every now and then.
From there, the game fell into the familiar pattern with Utpal looking the most likely to get a wicket.
Score BENGAL: 316 KARNATAKA:119/3
Be it ODIs or Tests, South Africa can rely on both Boucher’s ’keeping and top-bracket batting. And, already, he is being talked about as one of the potential stars at the 2003 World Cup.
Perhaps just a wee bit moody, Boucher spoke to The Telegraph the other evening. He was, of course, candid and came through as someone whose feet are firmly on the ground.
Following are excerpts
On what encouraged him to take to wicketkeeping
Nothing in particular. For instance, there wasn’t anybody in the family who was heavily into cricket and, in whose footsteps, I followed. Though I started off as a batsman, in school, I switched and now wicketkeeping is a career.
On what prompted the switch
The suggestion came from Richard Pybus, during my last year in school (Selborne College, East London, 1994). He felt a cricketer should be able to play a double role, being a wicketkeeper-batsman is one such.
On his role model
Ian Healy. The way he specially kept to Shane Warne, arguably the best spinner ever, was remarkable... I’ve also admired cricketers who haven’t been wicketkeepers — Steve Waugh, Jonty Rhodes, Sachin Tendulkar... Hansie Cronje as well.
On having been the cool and efficient Richardson’s understudy
It was part of the learning curve. Bottomline is I gained by interacting with Dave.
On what makes a tidy wicketkeeper
The way cricket is today, I don’t think there’s room for a purely specialist wicketkeeper. He must be able to bat and, so, when we talk of wicketkeepers their batting has to come into the picture... But, yes, he’s got to collect whatever comes his way. If wicketkeepers only get noticed when they slip up, then I wouldn’t like to get noticed!
On wicketkeeping generally being a thankless job
That’s only one side of the coin because, if you do your job, you won’t be denied your share of praise. That’s reasonable.
On having emerged the fastest-ever to 100 victims (in 23 appearances, bettering Wally Grout and Richardson’s record of 24 Tests)
I was conscious of the record when I was approaching it, but I wasn’t too excited... Obviously I’m happy, but the luck element has played its part. I have, for example, largely kept in conditions where the ball does ‘carry’ and, so, have had the advantage of conditions. It’s different in the sub-continent where, normally, you wouldn’t expect many catches.
On whether the current tour is his sternest test
Like I’ve said, conditions are different, but I’m good enough to do the job. I’ve been backing myself.
On ’keeping to Allan Donald
It’s quite tough, because Allan’s so sharp and can swing the ball even after it has passed the stumps. But, one gets used to it. It’s like riding a bike. The more you ’keep, the more comfortable you feel.
On world record-holder Healy recently telling The Telegraph that, should he (Boucher) maintain his exceptional strike-rate, he will be the one to break his record (395 victims)
(Smiles) That will be a dream come true... In time to come, though, I do realise my strike-rate could drop... I may get to play more in the sub-continent, our bowlers could change... Allan may not be around... Of course, if I get to play as many Tests (119) as my idol, I should certainly be close to what he achieved.
On how he concentrates
I switch on-and-off before and after each ball. If not, there’s no way I can survive the whole day. In the switching-off period, I stroll around... Perhaps, even joke with close-in fielders. It’s important to stay relaxed. Incidentally, my preparation for a game doesn’t begin days in advance — generally, it’s on match-eve only, when I imagine myself ’keeping and batting.
On whether he follows a specific set of exercises
Well, there are a few... The hands, for example, are kept ‘soft’ by catching a whole lot of balls... As I see it, rest is the key (to being fit). Therefore, whenever I get the chance, my break from cricket is complete.
On how he unwinds
Depends which part of the world we are in... Here, for example, we don’t go out much. But, in England or Australia, it could be different. I don’t mind a round or two of golf, though.
On his batting which seems so natural
That’s probably because I was first a batsman and, only later, did I also take to wearing the big gloves... Though I didn’t get runs in England (1998), because I was working so hard on wicketkeeping, my batting is now back on track (two hundreds this season as nightwatchman).
On whether he should be going up the order (in Tests)
I’m happy with whatever is decided by the captain and coach. I can do more damage batting where I currently am (No.8). Indeed, one of South Africa’s strengths is that we bat down the order. It’s our USP. For Border, though, I bat at No. 5.
On the similarities between him and Adam Gilchrist
(Smiles again) He’s very positive, very aggressive. That’s a nice attitude to have.
Finally, his thoughts as he walked out at the Wankhede that sensational third afternoon (South Africa six for 128 requiring 163 to win the first Test)
I knew (Jacques) Kallis would stay rooted at one end, while somebody would have to give the charge at the other... It was my day (27 not out off 32 deliveries)... I remember picking on the debutant (Murali Karthik) as I knew he would, because of the pressure, be nervous.
The Tondo-I.M. Vijayan combination leading the Kochin attack was well fed by the solid half line, and the general weakness in the Tollygunge defence helped. In the sixth minute, Mahesh Gowali was up the left and goalkeeper Bivash Ghosh spilled it off a dive.Gowali returned for a second shot which was sent back from the goalline by Nilanjan Guha, but Vijayan was at hand to tap in quickly.
The pace of the match was good and the counterattack came in two minutes. Seriki Abdulateef snatched the ball from his policeman Jo Paul Ancheri and was in, way past goalkeeper Sunday Seah and into the goal.
Tollygunge failed to build on the initiative and Kochin were back, in the 12th minute. Bivash fumbled, and a Tondo volley was brilliantly saved right on the goalline by Soumen Sarkar. Things could have been worse in the 22nd, but Gowali shot straight into Bivash.
Bivash did let go a few anxious moments — he slipped on an Eugene Gray move in the 34th minute, but Gray shot wide. A late first-half burst of adrenalin did not quite help Tollygunge, especially with Ancheri manning the defence well.
Tondo, hailing from Morovia in Liberia, has the gift of anticipation, which he mixes well with speed. The kid who started playing junior league back home at the tender age of ten, also possesses a rare quality: confidence. That made him the man to watch for the Tollygunge defence today.
In the 25th minute of the second session, Kochin coach T.K. Chathunni brought on his goalkeeper, Sunday, as a forward. Sunday is hyperactive, and that, more than any stock of talent, tends to unsettle the defence.
In the 76th minute a casual Vijayan shot came back off the defence and Ancheri forwarded charge to Tondo who quickly moved into the box and scored.
The icing on the cake came seven minutes later when Srikanta Dutta failed to stop a Gray centre and Tondo took over. With the defence waiting for a non-existent off-side call, Tondo rolled in and tapped home his fifth goal of the League with confident ease. Tondo has played only nine matches for Kochin.
Interestingly, this result puts East Bengal ahead of Tollygunge via goal difference.
FC KOCHIN: Sunday Seah, K.V. Dhanesh (Saji Joy, 66), A.S. Firoz, Jo Paul Ancheri, Mir Farooq Hyder, Eugene Gray, Noel Wilson (Mohammed Shafeeq, 46), Mahesh Gowali, K. Noushad, I.M. Vijayan (Ram Rai, 82), Isaac Tondo.
TOLLYGUNGE: Bivash Ghosh, Rashmohan Mallick, Soumen Sarkar, Partha Sarathi Dey, Jayanta Sen (Prodyut Roy, 74), Chandan Das, Sasthi Duley, Srikanta Dutta, Nilanjan Guha, Moses N. Owira, Seriki Abdulateef.
Referee: S. M. Balu (Karnataka).
Fazal was scheduled to play an ITF Futures tournament in Japan this week. But Davis Cup captain Ramesh Krishnan, it is learnt, instructed him to play the nationals so that he gets some practice on grass prior to next month’s crucial tie versus South Korea in Delhi.
Neither Prahlad Srinath nor Sunil Kumar, the two other Davis Cuppers, are playing. Fazal, who opens against a qualifier, is seeded to meet Nitin Kirtane in Saturday’s final.
With Nirupama Vaidyanathan and Manisha Malhotra pulling out due to injuries, the ladies’ field will be spearheaded by Sai Jayalakshmi and Rushmi Chakravarthi.
Jeev will be back after 1995, having reached a high of 142 in world rankings last July. He is now ranked 32 on the European Tour.