| Virender Sehwag hits one as Mark Boucher looks on during their second one-dayer in Bangalore on Saturday. (Reuters)
Bangalore: Australia and Ricky Ponting will remain in the record books ' for now, certainly, as the South Africans’ undefeated run in ODIs has stopped at 20, one short of what the Australians achieved in early 2003.
At a packed Chinnaswamy on Saturday, the South Africans hardly looked a team threatening the winners of the last two World Cups. They scored too few (169 for nine) and, then, their limited bowling got exposed.
With Nicky Boje preferring to rest in Bloemfontein instead of lending the attack quality and variety, the South Africans are wholly dependent on former captain Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini.
Once they’re seen off at the start, the rest can be milked. That’s how the script unfolded under floodlights as India won by six wickets to make it 1-1. If the wickets for the three remaining matches are also on the slower side (with a distinct bias towards spin), the South Africans may finish 1-4 losers.
Gautam Gambhir (he faced first) and Sachin Tendulkar didn’t score in the first three overs but, eventually, Team India won with as many as 14.2 overs remaining. Sachin didn’t manage more than a couple, but has equalled Wasim Akram’s record of the maximum ODI appearances ' 356.
Captaining India for the first time on a turf where he learnt much of his cricket, Rahul Dravid did well to win the toss. Knowing that dew would be a factor, he chose to field thereby allowing his spinners a crack when the ball was dry.
It proved decisive as the South Africans were clueless. “In a five-match series, one has to quickly bounce back... We’ve done that,” remarked a visibly elated Dravid. The win was emphatic, yet the fare was absolutely bland.
“I knew the toss would play a role, but it played a bigger role than expected. With dew around, batting second is easier... Even I would have fielded and backed my bowlers to dismiss India for 200 or thereabouts,” observed Graeme Smith.
[Dravid, quite rightly, felt winning the toss alone never made the difference, unless backed up by “good cricket.”]
The South African captain, though, clarified he wasn’t making excuses and said: “We didn’t have a particularly good day, but are looking forward to Chennai (third ODI, on Tuesday)... We fell short of Australia’s record, but the 20 wins are still going to remain special...”
If the South Africans are to look for positives, it would be the character shown by young off-spinner Johan Botha. The lad has a future.
Irfan Pathan, who struck three quick blows and, then, batted sensibly (at No. 3) to score 37, was adjudged the Man-of-the-Match. Be it with bat or ball, he’s having a terrific time since the start of the 2005-06 season’s home engagements.
Indeed, he has been the MoM in two of the last three ODIs. “Everything is working for me and I’m enjoying the rewards of hard work... My primary job is to pick wickets and I did so (without significant movement either in the air or off the wicket) today, too,” he pointed out.
Virender Sehwag, demoted to No. 4 once super sub Gambhir made the XI, finally came good to remain unbeaten on 77 ' his first fifty-plus score since the tri-series final in Harare more than two months ago.
Coach Greg Chappell and Dravid can call it strategy, but the change in the batting order was also meant to convey a message to the vice-captain: It’s time you performed, mate.
Dravid, by the way, failed to get a big score at the Chinnaswamy yet again. He confessed it was disappointing and added: “Hopefully, I’ll get a Test hundred here some day.”
Incidentally, nobody from Dravid’s family was present. “My parents are in Indore and Vijeta couldn’t come,” he told The Telegraph. Samit, who is all of five weeks old, couldn’t come either.
The teams leave for Chennai on Sunday morning.