INDIA'S NIGHTMARE CONTINUES 

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By FROM LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI in Bangalore
  • Published 4.03.00
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Bangalore, March 4 :     INDIA 158-SOUTH AFRICA 472/8 Alien conditions, lack of experience... Many reasons were offered for our debacle in Australia. Now, even the 'Tigers At Home' label needs alteration. No one expected the two-Test Pepsi series against South Africa to be a cakewalk. Equally, nobody could have envisaged India being on the verge of a rout, that too at home. With two days remaining, South Africa have opened a mammoth 314-run lead. It's significant that of the five other Tests India conceded a lead in excess of 300, at home, one was drawn and four ended in defeats: The last being at the Chepauk in 1984-85 against David Gower's England. At stumps on Day-III, Hansie Cronje wasn't forthcoming on when, if at all, he would declare. "Wait and watch," he said, enigmatically. However, with just Mark Boucher, among the recognised batsmen around, it's possible Cronje may not get to exercise that option. Even if he wishes to. Resuming on 254 for three, South Africa added 218 (90 runs in the first session itself) losing five wickets. It didn't make for attractive cricket, but South Africa had a purpose and that took priority over entertaining a decent turnout at the Chinnaswamy. In any case, the home team should be more concerned about fulfilling that role. Asked by The Telegraph whether he was at least hopeful of India saving the Test, Kapil Dev replied: "I can only answer that tomorrow (after stumps)." The reply was sans the coach's customary enthusiasm. Even accounting for the 'glorious uncertainties' bit, South Africa have already done enough to ensure they can't lose this series. India's first home series defeat in 13 years is destined to be at Cronje's hands. In fact, batting second, the South Africans have achieved (without a single centurion) what the Indians should have aimed at - to bat just once on a wicket which, as the overs roll by, will become even more bowler-friendly. Cronje and coach Graham Ford never tire of reminding their team "doesn't rely on one or two individuals." Now, even a reminder won't be necessary. Yesterday, nightwatchman Nicky Boje and Gary Kirsten laid the perfect foundation. Today, once Daryll Cullinan got out after a handsome contribution, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis forged a record-busting 164-run partnership for the fifth-wicket. They bettered 99 between Cullinan and Jonty Rhodes in Cape Town (1992-93), and also put in the shade the Mohammed Azharuddin-Pravin Amre 87-run effort in Durban (1992-93). Sadly, both Kallis and Klusener fell in the 90s, only that didn't come as a huge surprise. Approaching hundreds, both had become circumspect - indeed, after his bristling fifty, Klusener fired just one boundary. Also, the most productive partnerships generally end in twos. Klusener fell three short of his third hundred (97 in 251 minutes, 169 deliveries, 5x4, 1x6), driving Murali Karthik into Sachin Tendulkar's hands, while Kallis missed his seventh by five runs (95 in 432 minutes, 359 balls, 7x4, 2x6), bewitched by the bounce Anil Kumble extracted. Their disappointment was understandable but both were lucky to get the benefit of doubt, from Russell Tiffin, on either side of lunch. It wouldn't be fair to take Tiffin to the cleaners as the bowler himself (Sachin) didn't join the caught-behind appeal in Klusener's case but, after lunch, the caught-behind appeal (off Murali's bowling) had left little doubt where Kallis was concerned. Both times, Channel Nine's snick-o-meter confirmed the appeals had merit and weren't just an act of gamesmanship. In the morning, South Africa lost Cullinan fairly early. Like Kallis, later on, Cullinan was beaten more by the bounce and became yet another Kumble victim. He registered an excellent 53 (148 minutes, 86 deliveries, 5x4, 1x6). The vacancy was filled by Klusener, not the captain himself, as Klusener's heavy bat was more suited to doing a Cullinan and keeping momentum going. Also, a left-right combination would further torment the Indians. It did. Klusener was into action straightaway, coverdriving and then squarecutting Nikhil Chopra for boundaries. He also clouted the same bowler for six. Clearly, like Boje yesterday, Klusener had a specific role and was performing that to perfection. So much so that in the first fifty of their partnership, Klusener's contribution was 38. Kallis, who has always received second billing to Cullinan, is just as accomplished and in years to come will surely be respected as South Africa's No.1 batsman. He drove superbly, swept with finesse and pulled with contempt. One can't fault Kallis' footwork, adept as he is going both forward and back. But while the duo found it real easy before lunch (344 for four), the field spread after the break and Murali, in particular, had a wonderful spell when the captain allowed him more 'freedom' than usual. Jawagal Srinath, whose line often left much to be desired, and even Chopra had their moments. Hopefully, the latter will learn that giving the ball a 'tweak' shouldn't be at a premium... And, so, runs dried up and the last half-hour before tea, specially, saw lethargic cricket. It appeared everybody was just plain tired - batsmen, bowlers, fielders... Not to speak of the paying public. In desperation, or perhaps out of boredom, Sachin even introduced Mohammed Kaif's part-time off-spin. Actually, he didn't do a bad job. The final session (starting at 409 for four) produced four wickets - pick being Srinath's gentle inswinger which breached Cronje's 'gate' and sent the middle stump flying - but very few runs. Murali, of course, got two of the four and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to suggest he is the find of an otherwise miserable series. Murali does have a bright future. Not so Nayan Mongia, who again had a bad day. His replacement, in the near future, by Samir Dighe is imminent. As for Cronje, his lean run in 2000 continues (0, 0, 0, 13, 12). But he will continue to smile as long as South Africa are on a roll. Circumstances are such not many may spare a thought for the large-hearted Kumble, who is comfortable with even a jumbo workload, but he deserves applause for sending down 67 overs (31 today, in three spells) and earning five wickets (for the 16th time) in return. That coincided with the local Corporation deciding to (belatedly) rename Oriental Circle as Anil Kumble Circle. Officially, that is to salute Kumble's ten-wicket haul (versus Pakistan) at the Kotla last year. Incidentally, Kumble isn't from Englishman Headley Verity's record of the maximum overs against South Africa, 74.2.