From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.26 :: Jun. 27, 2009

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CRICKET / SUPER EIGHT: SOUTH AFRICA V INDIA

Batsmen lose the plot

Apart from reflecting on the low confidence levels of the Indians, the match threw light on the folly of the country’s star batsmen in not playing adequate domestic cricket where they would be up against quality spin, writes S. Dinakar.

It was a surface straight out of the sub-continent. It was dry and when the ground-staff swept the pitch after the match, there were puffs of dust.

The pitch should have suited India fine. There was unlikely to be any alarming bounce for the pacemen. And there would be appreciable turn for the spinners.

Aren’t the Indian batsmen adept at playing spin? After being undone by well-directed short-pitched bowling from the pacemen, the Indian batsmen displayed ordinary game sense against the spinners.

Johan Botha and Van der Merwe form a useful spin combination in a largely pace dominated South African attack. The Indian batsmen made them appear better than what they are worth. Botha can achieve sharp spin and straighten the odd one even if his remodelled action is not always convincing. Left-arm spinner Van der Merwe has a cleaner action and does give it a rip even if he does not really flight the ball.

The Indian batsmen have surely developed their batting facing better spinners at home. At Trent Bridge — the venue rarely witnesses a wicket of this nature — Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men stumbled and slipped while pursuing an eminently achievable 131.

India, shockingly, went down by 12 runs to finish at the losing end of all its three Super Eight matches in the ICC World Twenty20. This has been a competition where the defending champion has conceded the title without a fight.

Apart from reflecting on the low confidence levels of the Indians, the match threw light on the folly of the country’s star batsmen in not playing adequate domestic cricket where they would be up against quality spin.

Playing for pride before a loyal bunch of supporters who turned out in numbers, India was sprinting towards the target with Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma, spared of the short stuff, scoring on either side of the wicket. Gambhir flashed drives through covers, while Rohit was fluent off his legs.

Smith brought Botha and Van der Merwe into the attack. The game turned on its head.

Soon, the Indian batsmen launched into the big strokes; given the low target they should have ideally milked the bowling by working the ball into the empty spaces, running the singles and twos hard and using the bigger blows judiciously. After all, the Indian batsmen are wristy players who can coax the ball into the gaps and open up angles.

Instead, the Indian batsmen went for glory. Gambhir attempted to strike over covers and was soon walking back. The left-hander’s methods were surprising since he is adept at playing the ball late and with soft hands off the back-foot between third-man and fine-leg.

Striking out without getting to the pitch of the ball was a risky tactic on a pitch where there was appreciable spin for the bowlers. The batsmen were losing the plot. The left-handed Suresh Raina opted for a leg-side slog off Botha and the skier was held at long-on. Rohit Sharma gave Jean Paul Duminy, bowling off-spin, the charge and ended up slicing the ball — again the spin on the ball was a factor — square on the off-side.

India continued to lose wickets. Dhoni ran himself out going for a non-existent run and Yusuf Pathan — the destroyer of spin bowling — pushed hard at Van der Merwe to be picked up at cover. Yusuf was indecisive whether to hit or defend and came up with a poor shot.

Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh struck some brave blows but paceman Dale Steyn, bowling a terrific spell towards the end, nailed Yuvraj with a swinging yorker length ball outside the off-stump. The left-hander was cleanly held by Mark Boucher off a thin edge. After Yuvraj left, it was only a matter of time.

The Indians failed to take a leaf out of Abraham de Villiers’ book. He held the South African innings together with a blend of footwork, deft placements and percentage stroke-play. His effort (63, 51b, 7x4) was the contribution of a team-man who could read a situation and adapt accordingly.

Harbhajan bowled with flight, dip and spin to torment the South African batsmen, save De Villiers. Left-armer Ravindra Jadeja’s arm-ball and his spin away from the right-hander made the South Africans work hard for their runs. The occasional spinners led by Yuvraj chipped in.

The Indian bowlers had done their job. The celebrated batsmen let the side down.

THE SCORES

India v South Africa. Result: South Africa won by 12 runs.

South Africa: G. Smith c Jadeja b Harbhajan Singh 26; H. Gibbs b R. P. Singh 5; A. B. de Villiers c & b Jadeja 63; J. Duminy st. Dhoni b Raina 10; M. Boucher c R. P. Singh b Zaheer Khan 11; A. Morkel (not out) 8; J. Botha (not out) 4; Extras (lb-2, w-1) 3. Total (for five wkts., in 20 overs) 130.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-59, 3-98, 4-110, 5-120.

India bowling: Zaheer 3-0-26-1; R. P. Singh 2-0-21-1; I. Sharma 1-0-6-0; Jadeja 3-0-9-1; R. Sharma 2-0-15-0; Yuvraj 4-0-25-0; Harbhajan 4-0-20-1; Raina 1-0-6-1.

India: G. Gambhir c Duminy b Botha 21; R. Sharma c Steyn b Duminy 29; S. Raina c M. Morkel b Botha 3; Yuvraj Singh c Boucher b Steyn 25; M. Dhoni (run out) 5; Y. Pathan c De Villiers b Van der Merwe 0; Harbhajan Singh c De Villiers b Botha 14; R. Jadeja (not out) 7; Zaheer Khan c De Villiers b Steyn 4; R. P. Singh (not out) 2; Extras (lb-4, w-4) 8. Total (for eight wkts., in 20 overs) 118.

Fall of wickets: 1-48, 2-55, 3-56, 4-67, 5-69, 6-100, 7-106, 8-110.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 3-0-25-2; Parnell 3-0-22-0; M. Morkel 4-0-23-0; A. Morkel 1-0-12-0; Botha 4-0-16-3; Van der Merwe 4-0-13-1; Duminy 1-0-3-1.



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