Somebody had to do an Inzamam-ul-Haq. As it turned out, nobody even did a Yousuf Youhana.
Worse, the two most experienced batsmen (Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar) ran themselves out and Ajay Jadeja, among the sharpest of fielders, dropped a sitter. With such extraordinary gaffes India, who began as favourites in the eyes of many, have been pushed into the exit-road of Coca-Cola Cup 2000.
A target of 165 � exactly the same set in the tournament-opener � wouldn�t ever have tested South Africa, though they did lose three wickets quickly, and with zero points from today�s game, even a miracle won�t be enough to place India in Friday�s final.
Pakistan, after all, have a match in hand (versus South Africa, tomorrow) and already enjoy a much superior net run rate (+0.31 vis-a-vis -1.01) which will come into play should they lose and finish on par with India: Two points.
It�s only reasonable to as-sume the last league fixture will be a dress rehearsal for Friday.
While South Africa confirmed their place in the title-round, for the Indians, it was a self-inflicted disaster of Titanic proportions. It left captain Sourav Ganguly fuming.
�Technically, we could still make it but, realistically, it�s difficult to see that happening... Sharjah has the flattest wickets, yet our batting failed in every outing... I don�t know why... You can�t defend 164,� he said.
After beating South Africa 3-2 at home, India lost both times in this competition. �I don�t think South Africa have improved tremendously �- they have always been very competitive, it�s just that we�ve played badly,� Sourav added, not caring to mince words.
Venkatesh Prasad did bring India back, albeit briefly, when Herschelle Gibbs gave him the charge and Lance Klusener was plumb leg-before first ball, but the cool and competent Jacques Kallis (53 not out in 93 deliveries, 2x4, 2x6) ensured the early wickets remained a mirage for India.
Captain Hansie Cronje lauded Kallis for always �using his head.�
Perhaps, the bottomline would have been different had Jadeja pouched Kallis (off Ajit Agarkar) with the score 100 for four (27th over). He stayed rooted, instead o taking the one step forward which could have meant a big advance for the team.
Kallis featured in two partnerships �- 46 for the fourth-wicket with Neil McKenzie and an unseparated 71 for the fifth with Cronje, yet another stalwart who isn�t flustered even by the most daunting of situations.
Actually, Cronje authored a beautiful innings (42 not out in 69 balls, 5x4, 1x6), complementing Kallis� anchor-approach.
All the talk in session No.1, of course, revolved around the in-form Azhar and a struggling Sachin running themselves out as if tomorrow wouldn�t come.
But, before that, Sourav again fell cheaply, done-in by the bounce and an error in judgement. Later, nobody even regularly cleared the 30-yard circle. It was pathetic, though overcast conditions did aid the South African quicks.
Bowling to a plan, the South Africans kept faith with basics without attempting variations out of the ordinary. The dividends it paid would attract the envy of those who swear by the Jo�Burg bourse.
MoM Mornantau Hayward returned career-best figures (four for 31) and proved he isn�t just a tearaway, while Klusener did an excellent job in the latter stages.
In between, everybody else delivered as well �- be it Kallis, Makhaya Ntini or Steve Elworthy.
Additionally the fielding was, as usual, brilliant. The crippling run outs apart, no less than 25 runs were saved. The South Africans choke, and choke real hard.
Everything, then, �conspired� to negate whatever advantage Sourav could have had by winning the toss. The positive move of promoting Azhar and pushing down Rahul Dravid, too, came a cropper.
Yet, cheers and not jeers would have greeted the Indians at the break, had the second-wicket partnership between Sachin (39 in 68 deliveries, 3x4) and Azhar (36 in 65 balls, 5x4) realised its potential, instead of closing with the addition of 70.
It ended when Azhar drove Ntini to mid-on and took off for a single that was never ever going to be comfortable. And, well, he couldn�t beat McKenzie�s throw. Till then, though, Azhar and Sachin had taken some sharp singles.
Next to go, as quickly as two deliveries later, was Jadeja. However, he appeared to have been done-in by John Hampshire. Not only did Elworthg hit him pretty high, chances are the ball would have missed leg. That can be debated, but it reduced India to 80 for three.
It was then time for Sachin, who took 25 deliveries to hit his first boundary �- an indication of just how miserable this visit has been for him �- to depart.
He dug out a yorker-length ball from Elworthy and, inexplicably, did an Azhar. It was too late by the time Sachin realised he would be heading not at the other end, but to the pavilion. The formal damage was done by Gibbs.
The former captain�s exit, in the 28th-over, signalled curtains. Even though Dravid and Robin Singh were around, neither could force the pace by taking liberties against the disciplined fare on offer.
Clearly, in agony were the Indians out in the middle; thoroughly disgusted were the couple of thousand fans who took a working day off in the hope India would do a Pakistan.
Dravid himself ended his painful stay and, then, Robin gave Mark Boucher another catch. It was abject surrender. Syed Saba Karim, Anil Kumble... All could have become heroes, but while Saba Karim fell to Hayward, a Klusener yorker fired out Kumble.
The rest followed, predictably very quickly. At the break even coach Kapil Dev, who qualifies as a living legend, was the target of barracking: �Coach the boys, don�t just sit down...�
It must have hurt Kapil. The fans, for their part, only gave vent to frustration that took root last night.
Indeed, by his own admission, Jacques Kallis was a �good� rugby player but, when it came to choosing between cricket and rugby, he chose the former. Obviously, Kallis has no regrets and fans across the world of cricket are happy with his choice.
Be it Tests or ODIs, Kallis, 24, has made himself indispensable. Adjudged Man of the Series in the recent Test engagements in India, the reticent Kallis spoke to The Telegraph the other evening. Incidentally he has been joined by girlfriend, Tammy, here.
The following are excerpts
On his background
Like the other kids, I took to cricket while in school. In fact, I was a good rugby player, too... However, when I had to choose, I opted for cricket... In life, you�ve got to stand by the choice you make and, really, I don�t have any regrets. Of course, some of my former schoolteachers may still feel I would have made a better rugby player, but...
On his father, Henry�s influence
Enormous. He, too, played both cricket and rugby, but left it to me to make my own choice.
On whether somebody else�s influence was as significant
No... Because we were isolated when I was growing up I didn�t, for instance, get to see a great at close quarters and then possibly begin to idolise him. Obviously, it was different for youngsters in other parts of the world.
On whether he was an allrounder in school as well
(Laughs) Then, too, I was a better batsman!
On what makes a complete allrounder
The ability to make the XI purely as a batsman or bowler. There aren�t many around who fit this bill today, and so if I�m to act as judge, I�ll list those who are either specialist batsmen or bowlers but who can also be regarded as being above-average in the other �trade�.
On the paucity of quality allrounders
Because there is too much cricket, specially the one-day variety... It takes so much out of you that, in time to come, we may only have specialist batsmen and bowlers, not allrounders. It just won�t be possible to focus on both bowling and batting.
A return to the days of Botham and Hadlee, Imran and Kapil, is out.
On whether he is under more pressure because he is expected to deliver both with bat and ball
(Smiles) I reckon it makes it easier � if I don�t do well with the bat, I can always make amends as a bowler.
On making his debut, and blossoming, when Bob Woolmer � himself a former allrounder � was coach
I learnt quite a bit from Bob, as also from Duncan Fletcher (current England coach who handled Kallis� home team, Western Province). Both were fantastic, though their styles differed.
On whether the two had a �meeting� point
Well, yes � both kept reminding that you�ve got to enjoy the game. Also, both kept reminding you can�t ever give less than hundred per cent.
On being a fitness freak
(Grins) I do quite a bit of gym work and, when I can afford a break, I simply switch-off (cricket)... A round or two of golf helps � currently, I�m playing off seven.
On the need to switch-off
One has to... Anything away from the game will do.
On handling the pressures associated with top-notch cricketers
It�s easier when the enjoyment is there. Indeed, the enjoyment-factor plays a big hand.
On his temperament, which allows him to either drop anchor or hit bowlers to all corners of the park, with remarkable ease
You�ve got to back yourself � that�s what I do. You�ve got to be aware of the gameplan and, more important, play to your strengths. Bottomline is, at stumps, you�ve got to walk off with that I�ve-given-hundred-per cent feeling.
On whether he sets targets
I play ball-by-ball, match-by-match, series-by-series. If one gets too involved with one�s own goal, the larger target could get clouded.
On what has made South Africa the force it is
Hard work, discipline. As a nation, we are very disciplined... Whether at school or elsewhere, discipline gets priority. If you cross the line, you�ll either be kicked out or fined. We learn this from a very young age.
Finally, on how he would describe himself
(Laughs again) One who gives hundred per cent... It could even be off the field, playing golf.
This was their 13th championship win and third in-a-row. They finished joint winners with Madhya Pradesh and Air India, in 1993 and 1997, respectively.
After clinching a first-innings lead of 145, Railways made 166 for seven in the allotted 45 in their second innings. Air India, needing 312 to win, could manage no more than 189 for seven.
Resuming at 13 for two, Railways openers Rajini Sharma (25) and Rajani Venugopal (37) added 29 before the former fell leg before to Air India skipper Purnima Rau.
Balbir Kaur, who came in at the fall of the fifth wicket, hammered 62 off 75 balls. She added 43 for the sixth wicket with Deepa Kulkarni. Kusumlata was the most successful Air India bowler, claiming three for 46 in 13 overs.
Air India started positively, with Purnima and Anju Jain rotating the strike before the skipper was dismissed by Renu Margaret with the total on 26.
Anjum Chopra then made a quick 39 to take her meet aggregate to 208 in four innings. She was later adjudged Player of the Tournament.
Bagan, the defending champions, were scheduled to play their match against Howrah Union today. This will now be held at a later date.
The BHA informed that though Bagan had requested for postponement till April 15 due to �certain problems�, BHA has agreed to keep the side off their itinerary till the end of this month. A decision will be taken at a BHA meeting Wednesday.
The organisers clarified that Bagan�s earlier game in which they did not field a team, will be considered a walkover as the club had not sent any intimation.
Meanwhile, the Bagan ground continues to host matches with Punjab SC beating Real Sports Friends 3-0 in a first division group B match played there.
The most impressive player of the day, however, was R. Lakra of FCI whose hattrick helped his team beat Mohammedan Sporting 5-1 in group A. J. Kiro and S. Minz added the other goals for FCI. Mohammedan Sporting scored a consolation goal through Azam Ali.
The third match of the day had Calcutta Customs beating SAI Training Centre through a solitary goal in a group A match at East Bengal ground.
However, results of the 12 events held since the March 22 restart hardly justified their allegations. Richard Alford has picked up three events, while Vijay Singh has bagged four in the last two meetings. The balance of five races have been won by the likes of Bharaths, Baths, Lockes, Javeds and Soheils.
With regard to the performance of horses, one is hardly in a position to judge. All the runners could not be expected to retain their known form from where they had left off on February 23, when the season came to an abrupt end owing to labour problems in the RCTC. Racing in the next three meetings � in April � may, however, take a different shape.
Racing was good on Sunday. The effort of two horses � Fame Star in the Duflaing Trophy and Desert Force in the Governor�s Cup � was pleasing. While Fame Star gave a good weight and a sound thrashing to her 10 rivals, Desert Force asserted his superior Mumbai class in the hands of an unheralded jockey Salim Khan over a gruelling trip of 2,800m.
However, Desert Force�s three rivals in the field, more importantly Milano, is best known to be a middle-distancer rather than a stayer. Chief of Staff and Dominate, on the other hand, have been struggling to regain their past form.
Alyssum a hot-favourite in the opener, the Rising Bell Cup, was pressed by Jayaashva. Kept on a light-work, Aflicker was a good third in the race.
Flying Power made every post of the Mauritius Belle Cup a winning one, thanks to Avionic�s tendency to come with a run when the race is normally over.
Too Soon To Tell and Storm Centre advertised their fitness when each of the two won his respective event.
Earlier on Wednesday, Richard Alford picked up two winners rather in a hurry and missed one narrowly. Starting the day with an effortless victory of Noble Canonire, Alford pulled off a smart gamble on Scarlet Raider in the next event, the Pure Gold Handicap.
A close third till 600m from home, Amyn Merchant sent the Foyer-daughter into the lead and kicked clear of the debutante On The Bit who may soon make amends for his failure.
Aquaria was tipped as a vastly improved horse but the Vijay Singh-trainee was hard-pressed by Alford�s Remember The Day to win.
Two horses who played spoil sport on the day were Bharath Singh�s Dancing Fire and brother Vijay�s Falconhead. The former made it a practically start-to-finish affair, while the later came with his customary finishing run, albeit along the rails, to end Adventure�s aspirations to win without a race gallop this season. Both of them were friendless in the betting.