|(Top) Sreesanth took five wickets and Sourav Ganguly hit an unbeaten 51, setting India up for a possible win at the Wanderers in Johannesburg against South Africa. India was all out for 249 on the second day. In reply, South Africa collapsed for 84. India then put 146 runs on the board for five wickets. (AFP pictures)
Johannesburg, Dec. 16: Sourav Ganguly couldn’t have hoped for a better comeback; Team India couldn’t have aspired for a more spectacular bowling effort; late in the day, the South Africans couldn’t have hoped for a better fightback.
The start of this three-Test Castle series would inspire even the No. 1 masala scriptwriter in Hollywood or Bollywood. Twenty wickets fell on a bewildering Day II, with India 311 ahead at stumps (five wickets in hand).
The surface, of course, is two-paced. Apparently, the use of electric dryers before the Test got under way has contributed. At this stage, though, one team has the best chance — India. After months of despair, that’s a terrific position to be in.
Cries of “Ganpati Bappa Moriya” and “Jo Bole so Nihal” rent the air as the shadows lengthened at the Wanderers. It added to the gloom in the South African camp. After all, they aren’t used to being at the receiving end of new-ball bowlers from the sub- continent.
If much of the morning belonged to Sourav, who top-scored in the first innings with an unbeaten 51 (179 minutes, 101 balls, 4x4, 1x6), his only fifty-plus score since 101 in Bulawayo seven outings ago, Sreesanth captured centre stage thereafter.
The Kochi lad struck the perfect length and got the cherry to swing, too. That earned career-best figures of five for 40. In and out for many months, today’s effort should remind the powers-that-be that somebody with his attitude is needed.
Zaheer Khan also had a beautiful spell and with Anil Kumble and Vikram Rajvir Singh joining the party, South Africa were bowled out for their lowest against India — 84. It’s also the least scored in an innings since 1956-57.
As a performance it was surreal and gave India a lead of 165. It’s difficult losing with such a surplus in the bag.
“Full marks to the Indians. They bowled the right length, at least a foot-and-half further than our bowlers, and let the wicket do the rest,” one-time tearaway Allan Donald told The Telegraph.
The team management kept Sourav under wraps, probably fearing he may candidly answer an awkward question, but Sreesanth met the media. “I’m very happy, but it’s not a dream come true as I have many dreams to realise,” he said, grinning.
The South African innings lasted a mere 25.1 overs. Had Ashwell Prince and Andre Nel not collaborated to put up 39 for the eighth wicket, the embarrassment would’ve been greater.
Sourav, who helped himself to a six off Makhaya Ntini in the morning, played a decent part in the afternoon as well — 25 off 38 balls (4x4) to average 76.00 in the Test. With India set to force their first Test win in South Africa, his effort will stay special.
No comeback is easy and Sourav had to take guard at a critical moment. An innings of character was called for and he didn’t let anybody down. That coach Greg Chappell led the standing ovation when he got to 50 put everything in perspective.
Still, Sourav has just won a battle, not the war.