| Sourav Ganguly in action on Day IV of the third and final Test against South Africa in Cape Town on Friday. (AFP) Report, scorecard on Page 10
Cape Town: The Indians need eight wickets; the South Africans 156 runs. Unless the elements interfere — there actually is chance of rain — a decisive result is on the cards at Newlands.
“It’s anybody’s game,” former captain Sourav Ganguly remarked shortly after stumps on Day IV. He didn’t forget to add that “scoring becomes difficult as the ball gets old.”
The wicket has seen much wear and tear and reverse swing will be a factor. Not to speak of Anil Kumble. The rough at both ends is significant and once the ball lands there, well, anything is possible.
The day, mind you, wasn’t short on drama.
It featured Sachin Tendulkar at the start and, then, last man Munaf Patel’s dismissal on what was the seventh ball of a Dale Steyn over. “I didn’t complain,” the speedster quipped. The fault, as it turned out, was of the official scorer and not Asad Rauf.
Till Day III, the South Africans alone were wary of the wicket. Overnight, the Indians got diffident when the surface ought to have brought back memories of somewhat designer wickets at home.
Sourav, who was in his track suit when asked by coach Greg Chappell to head for the middle, is the only one who batted with panache. His was an outstanding knock and the innings spluttered once he departed for 46 (131 minutes, 89 balls, 5x4).
Asked by The Telegraph if it was his best in the three-Test Castle series, Sourav replied: “No... I would pick my unbeaten 51 in the first innings at the Wanderers... That wicket was difficult...”
Whatever, he has finished the series as the highest scorer (214 runs at an average of 42-plus). More than just creditable for somebody who made a comeback after ten months in the wilderness.
Returning to India’s effort (some may be tempted to call it a lack of effort), no more than 22 runs were scored in the first 15 overs after Sourav’s departure. And, at the crease were captain Rahul Dravid and Sachin!
Unbelievable, but debutant left-arm spinner Paul Harris was given the respect usually shown to the Kumbles. If India lose the Test and series, Sachin and Dravid must take much of the blame.
Also, collectively, the thinktank for ignoring Harbhajan Singh. Had he been around to complement Kumble, few would have put any Rands on the South Africans.
Dravid, by the way, exited in soft manner and there were two run outs. According to Sourav, Laxman’s (115 for five) was the “turning point.” He was being modest, but the reality is that once he’d departed, the next seven wickets fell for 79.
“It’s an open game, but I reckon it’s going to be easier bowling than batting... One partnership can change equations, but the South Africans have a big challenge ahead,” is how ‘neutral’ Ian Bishop, the former West Indies quick, put it.
In the opinion of South Africa’s assistant coach Vincent Barnes, the team with “more patience” will carry the day (or “take the cake” as Steyn said, laughing).
Captain Graeme Smith, who has struck form from the second innings at Kingsmead, is going to have deputy Jacques Kallis for company when the final day gets underway. The rock-like Ashwell Prince will follow.
While the attention has to be on Kumble, part-time spinners Sachin and Virender Sehwag (the move to give him back an opener’s berth flopped) may emerge big threats, too. As important is going to be the catching.
The Western Province Cricket Association, meanwhile, has reduced ticket prices for Saturday and, so, a capacity turnout is expected.
Footnote: Sourav and Dravid featured in an 84-run partnership for the third-wicket, but the captain didn’t appear very pleased with his predecessor’s over-involvement with the bowlers, particularly Sreesanth. “Jyada nahin, dadi... jyada nahin” is what a stump mike picked up. Sourav was heard responding “maine bowling ki baat nahin ki... bowling ki nahin...” Hopefully, there’s nothing more to it.