| Greg Chappell before the match. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Nov. 25: Prasun Mukherjee paced anxiously as South Africa neared victory. The “we want Sourav” chant at the Eden could, of course, have carried to Pune where the ousted Team India captain continued to embarrass the national selectors.
Responsible for ensuring ODI No. 4 of the latest series didn’t see anything untoward, the police commissioner’s concern was understandable. Everybody expected Sourav to be omnipresent; nobody expected a 10-wicket thrashing for Team India.
Sourav, in fact, loomed bigger than he otherwise would have as word got around ' even before the day-night match began ' that he’d scripted an under-pressure 159 against Maharashtra.
But if Sourav scored big at the venue where Rahul Dravid and Co. sealed a series win versus Sri Lanka earlier this month, it was disaster here.
The Indians got trapped on a seaming track for the second time in under 10 days and wickets fell quicker than sticks at a bowling alley. Anything under 250 couldn’t have been defended ' 188 was much below par.
The South Africans, mind you, were sans spearhead Makhaya Ntini who reported sick late last night.
It’s debatable whether early wickets would have made an impact, but captain Graeme Smith played the innings of his career (an unbeaten 134 off 124 balls) to ensure South Africa can’t lose this five-ODI series.
He now has the highest individual score at the Eden and an MoM award to cherish.
Accustomed to being applauded, over the past month especially, Dravid had to face jeers ' and at least one nasty (‘Rahul, you are not a good team man, but a good politician’) banner.
Later, he said: “I’m not really surprised (by the crowd’s) behaviour.... I’ve played for 10 years and the adulation and jeering is part of life.... You’ve got to accept it and move on.... I’m certainly not the first and the last captain to be booed....”
Coach Greg Chappell, widely held responsible for Sourav’s exclusion from the limited overs team, wasn’t spared either.
Indeed, the searing “go back Chappell” roar cut across the stands divide. The coach, though, walked out erect to the MoM award ceremony. Nothing, perhaps, would have pleased Chappell more than a win here as it would have been a vindication of what he has set out to accomplish.
Instead, he was a witness to poor batting, bowling and shocking fielding. Yet again, India slipped on dew.
With the nearly 80,000 turnout barracking the home team, Smith acknowledged: “It’s not always that the visitors get the crowd’s support in India, but we got it today.... The Indians recognise good performances.”
Dravid has promised to “bounce back” in Mumbai, which hosts the last match on Monday, but the momentum is with South Africa. They’ve never won a one-day tournament or series in India, so history beckons Smith.
At the start of the face-off, in Hyderabad, a relaxed Smith had told The Telegraph he was so much more “at ease” leading his national team as opposed to the World (Test) XI.
The captain’s comfort level makes a difference.
Bizarre, by the way, was India’s decision of opening with Irfan Pathan (as Gautam Gambhir’s partner).
The move was meant to surprise the visitors. Actually, Chappell and Dravid were in for a surprise ' courtesy Shaun Pollock.
The Eden has seen many outstanding first spells, but Pollock’s (three for 21) will rank among the finest.
The Indians were to leave tomorrow evening, but one learns “most” now want to make a quick getaway.