| Harbhajan Singh gestures after dismissing Ashwell Prince in Hyderebad on Wednesday. The Indian off-spinner was fined 25 per cent of his match fee for breaching Code of Conduct
Hyderabad: The Indians got a dose of their medicine (administered recently to Sri Lanka) when the South Africans opened up with everything at their disposal ' a quality pace attack and more ' to send Rahul Dravid and Co. hopping on a seaming track at the country’s newest big-time cricket venue.
Such was the start to the five-ODI series that the hosts were five down for a mere 35 before MoM centurion Yuvraj Singh and some from the lower order ' Irfan Pathan (46) and Harbhajan Singh (37 not out), in particular ' ensured respectability.
A target of 250, though, wouldn’t ever have been beyond reach and the visitors got there with seven balls remaining. Dravid took comfort from the “close finish,” but the national selectors will have to end Sourav Ganguly’s exile if the top order again crumbles as quickly.
Incidentally, vice-captain Virender Sehwag’s disappointing run continued and in 17 ODIs this season, he has only managed one fifty for India ' nine matches ago.
Besides going in arrears, the Indians conceded much ground by the desperate use of super sub Gautam Gambhir. That even he failed is another story. Given the option, Dravid would have fielded and, then, brought him on for Rudra Pratap Singh.
However, the collapse after Graeme Smith chose to chase compelled Dravid (and coach Greg Chappell) to take Murali Kartik off the XI. It left India one specialist bowler short. Indeed, the left-arm spinner could have been useful in the afternoon when Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag and Yuvraj were pressed into action.
“The super sub issue can get tricky... I chose to play the card early and, today, it didn’t work... There’s talk that an allrounder be nominated, but teams are usually placing specialists in that position,” Dravid explained.
He added that the defeat, coming just days after the historic 6-1 win over Lanka, wouldn’t serve as a damper. “I don’t think we’re going to be affected very much... We fought and the ODI went till the 99th over... I expected a tough series and that has been confirmed.”
What has also been confirmed is that few batsmen of the present times have more class than Jacques Kallis and that Justin Kemp has the potential to mar reputations. Besides, of course, enhancing his own.
While blaming his batsmen, Dravid gave the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium wicket (and hosts Hyderabad Cricket Association) a clean chit. “It was good and around 280 would have been par for the course...”
The four remaining matches will all be day-night and dew may come into play in a big way.
Smith, who told The Telegraph that he was “so much more at ease” leading South Africa rather than the World (Test) XI, was delighted at the unbeaten sequence getting extended to 20, one short of the awesome record held by Australia.
“It has been one hell of a run and the record is there at the back of our minds. Yet, we aren’t getting overawed,” he said. South Africa’s extraordinary sequence began at the Wanderers, against England, on January 30.
“Stability and the communication within have worked very well for us... Chasing in the sub-continent can be a gamble, but my players were up for it... Yes, the wicket did have juice, but my bowlers deserve credit for extracting it by being aggressive and landing in the right areas,” Smith contended.
He continued: “The first 15-20 overs, I think, have set the tone for the series... At the same time, I realise it’s going to get tougher in and after Bangalore (venue of the second ODI, on Saturday)...”
Smith acknowledged that the early introduction of super sub Gambhir gave his team more confidence as India would struggle with the fifth bowler. They did.
Meanwhile, Match Referee Jeff Crowe has fined Harbhajan 25 per cent of his match fee for breaching the Code of Conduct when he dismissed Ashwell Prince who, by the way, briefly batted like a Nizam.
Harbhajan got away lightly as he’d immediately apologised to the batsman himself and the on-field umpires after an uncalled for gesture. Later, at the hearing, he quickly accepted his mistake.
Crowe, a former New Zealand captain, was impressed enough to act leniently.