Calcutta: In the mist that surrounded Eden Gardens on Friday night, Team Chappellís dream vision got blurred in a dramatic way, at the hands of Graeme Smith & Co.
The South African captain led from the front with a marvellous unbeaten 134 helping the visitors roar back to take an unbeatable 2-1 lead in the five-match one-day International (ODI) series for the Pepsi Cup.
The 10-wicket victory was not only professionalism par excellence, but the manner in which it was achieved dealt a serious blow to the honeymoon time Team Chappell have been going through of late. The stark reality is bound to raise its head somewhere, and rather paradoxically, it did under the long silhouette of the proud son of the soil. Itís ironic also that Sourav Ganguly could not find any better occasion than this to remind his worth with a knock of 159 far away in Pune.
This is time for amendment of life and asking for an answer to explore the other side of the tennis set-like 6-1 build-up to the current series.
Smithís highest ODI score, coupled with his partner Andrew Hallís 48 en route to stitching the best opening stand at the Eden meant South Africa cantered to the target with a whopping 85 balls to spare. K. Srikkanth and Raman Lambaís 120 ' against Pakistan in 1989 ' is history now.
It was, however, a small part of the whole story on Friday.
The Eden welcomed Rahul Dravid & Co., sent in to bat first, with a seaming wicket. That was where Shaun Pollock marvelled at accuracy in line and length and the Indians became mesmerised in dealing with the ball taking unexpected elevation.
As the big guns failed to deliver, the experiment never met with the exigency. Yuvraj Singh (53 off 78 balls, 4x7) and Mohammed Kaif (46, 63 balls, 4x4) showed, though briefly, how to deal with it and then, that discipline was taken to another level by the South African openers.
In the end, Smithís run-a-ball century ' the highest ever here, surpassing K. Srikkanthís 123 against Pakistan in 1987.
Since Irfan Pathanís departure in the second legal ball of the innings (Pollockís opening delivery was called wide), till Harbhajanís departure, there was a clear lack of discipline in their approach and application in dealing with a seaming wicket. If Pathanís promotion was a surprise move and conscious attempt to match Smithís bold decision to send the opponents in, the whole process was sordidly exposed to a point of no return.
Sachin Tendulkar, expected to bring order to the situation, struggled, and the fear of another exit became a reality in no time when the well-pitched Pollock delivery found a thin edge of the maestroís bat. Itís two for 20, and instead of a grafter in the form of Dravid came the bulldozer, the unexpected again being the step from the thinktank.
Virender Sehwag has been the type who loves to tide over a crisis in his own terms. Every ball, every part of the innings is a power play for him. He made his intentions clear by challenging the bowler in the same over with a beautifully struck cover-drive.
It was now Gautam Gambhirís turn to make his way to the pavilion, succumbing to the continuous nagging line in and around the off-stump from the most successful South African bowler. That set the stage for Dravid, who was immediately welcomed to the crease with a vicious bouncer.
Sehwag spanked Andrew Hall for 10 runs in his first over after Andre Hall was asked to recharge his batteries in the deep. The damage was already done by then, though. With the vice-captain living dangerously with his ambitions, one could only expect the situation to get worse. The inevitable took place in the second ball of the 12th over ' an attempted drive away from his body found a place to reside in the safe hands of Mark Boucher.
The Team India policy suddenly appeared vulnerable to the disciplined line of attack from Pollock & Co. and started looking for clues to stay afloat in the impending doom. Pollock ended his breathtaking first spell with figures of 8-3-21-3. Yuvrajís classical, caressing drive through point had something to suggest that itís now time to repair the damage with new confidence.
Dravid, however, put paid to such an ambition. The way he played the wrong line against Charl Langeveldt ' Pollockís replacement at the High Court end ' leaving a world of gap between his body and the ball, and his off-stump tumbling away to almost the wicketkeeper, was absolutely uncharacteristic of a man known for his discipline in defence. Perhaps his cool cricketing brain had found his colleaguesí show in the top-order too bitter to digest.
Itís was eventually left to the Yuvraj-Kaif stand to take India past the 150 mark. Surprisingly, that composure came to an end once Yuvraj reached his half-century. A Johan Botha delivery came slow and low, Yuvraj being unable to read it properly. Kaif followed soon, marking a premature end to the Indian innings ' 188 with 25 balls to go.
In search for a far-reaching mission, this capitulation, one hopes, remains one of the passing moments of the campaign as a whole.