Contest resembled a feel-good exhibition

South Africa's Makhaya Ntini,who made his last international appearance, shakes hands with Indian captain M. S. Dhoni. India won the match by 21 runs.-AP

Makhaya Ntini might have fallen away in recent times, but his was a career that demanded a grand finale. S. Ram Mahesh reports.

Makhaya Ntini's final international match was also the celebration of 150 years of Indians in South Africa: with so much emotion invested in the one-off Twenty20 International between India and South Africa at the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, the contest resembled a feel-good exhibition rather than a competitive international game. Seldom do bowlers who finish their quota of four overs for 46 runs rouse a crowd to rowdy cheers; nor do they evoke from their team-mates heartfelt hugs.

But Ntini has been an icon in South Africa, a man who broke barriers and united a nation. What's more, he was a fast bowler of genuine quality for much of his career. He might have fallen away in recent times, but his was a career that demanded a grand finale. His performance on the field, save for an athletic catch on the boundary line, mightn't have been what he would have wished for, but the genuine feeling he inspired in the 50,000 that came to the ground more than made up.

India's 21-run win was based on batting efforts from Rohit Sharma (53) and Suresh Raina (41), both of whom showed how a slow track can be scored on. Rohit often played orthodox strokes, allowing his natural timing and ball-striking skills to take over. Raina stayed deep in his crease and used his lower body to generate the momentum through the stroke. Virat Kohli, who used his bottom-hand to accelerate the bat, showed yet another way to score quickly on a turgid surface.

But India's 168 for six looked in grave danger when Morne van Wyk set about the bowling, levering sixes with the most easeful of pick-up strokes. Until he was dismissed for a 39-ball 67 with five fours and five sixes, India couldn't breathe easy. It was a stunning assault from a 31-year-old batsman who had only made the side because Graeme Smith pulled out with injury. India's slower bowlers did well: Yuvraj Singh and R. Ashwin came back after expensive early overs to constrain the batsmen. Yusuf Pathan picked up two wickets with the batsmen chancing their arms against him. Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar, who shared the new ball, were particularly good, the former bowling Hashim Amla, the latter finally dismissing van Wyk.

A deserved victory, but one that mightn't be remembered, for it paled in significance when compared to the contest's context.

The Scores

T20 International, Durban, January 9, 2011. India won by 21 runs.

India: V. Kohli b Botha 28; M. Vijay c van Wyk b Parnell 14; Rohit Sharma c Ntini b Duminy 53; Yuvraj Singh (run out) 12; Yusuf Pathan b Theron 6; S. Raina c Miller b Theron 41; M. Dhoni (not out) 10; Extras (lb-1, w-3) 4. Total (for six wkts., in 20 overs) 168.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-67, 3-109, 4-110, 5-136, 6-168.

South Africa bowling: Parnell 4-0-25-1; Ntini 4-0-46-0; Theron 4-0-39-2; Peterson 3-0-20-0; Botha 3-0-25-1; Duminy 2-0-12-1.

South Africa: M. van Wyk c Nehra b Praveen 67; H. Amla b Nehra 1; C. Ingram c Praveen b Munaf 2; A. B. de Villiers (run out) 14; J. P. Duminy lbw b Yuvraj 0; D. Miller lbw b Pathan 10; J. Botha c Rohit b Nehra 25; R. Peterson c Kohli b Pathan 2; W. Parnell c Pathan b Ashwin 14; J. Theron (not out) 1; M. Ntini (not out) 1; Extras (b-4, lb-3, w-3) 10. Total (for nine wkts., in 20 overs) 147.

Fall of wickets: 1-6, 2-31, 3-88, 4-89, 5-93, 6-108, 7-120, 8-141, 9-144.

India bowling: Praveen 3-0-17-1; Nehra 4-0-22-2; Munaf 2-0-26-1; Ashwin 4-0-33-1; Yuvraj 4-0-20-1; Pathan 3-0-22-2.