India clinches series

Sachin Tendulkar put up a good show to help India defeat South Africa 2-1.-AP

The standard of cricket in Belfast between India and South Africa was impressive. Both sides had been out of action for a while, both looked rusty, but the energy, the skill and the quick return to the habits developed during a lifetime were worth a standing ovation, writes Ted Corbett.

The international cricketer of 2007 learns to adapt quickly. He lands at an airport, checks into his hotel and is on the field for a Test or a one-day international before he has had time to remember his room number.

In the rush to earn a dollar and meet the demands of sponsors and television, the leisurely days of trips into the hinterland, a long succession of warm-up matches and a more dignified approach to touring have gone.

Instead we live in an era without a break, back-to-back Tests at least twice a summer and as for the ideal of a rest day you can forget that.

So the standard of cricket in Belfast between India and South Africa was impressive. Both sides had been out of action for a while, both looked rusty, but the energy, the skill and the quick return to the habits developed during a lifetime were worth a standing ovation.

Earlier this summer, Courtney Walsh thought he might need two warm-up games before he settled into line and length and the ability to find what the bowlers obsessively call the right areas.

He would have applauded the way these two teams gathered themselves together long before the second match was completed, especially when you remember how much practice time was lost to rain.

Of course there was illness in both camps as well.

One moving from, for instance, the Caribbean to the east coast of Australia, or from Pakistan to Bangladesh, will not need much time to find his feet. The temperatures will be similar, the ground just as hard, the spectators just as difficult.

Instead, imagine the dilemma of the men going from the mild winter of Cape Town, expecting to find warmth in a Northern Ireland June and discovering that some capricious weather god has decreed the return of conditions more likely to be found in April or October.

So we must show a little sympathy for a young bowler like Sreesanth, from the torrid zone of heat and humidity in Kerala, arriving to 10 degrees. I doubt if he has been that cold in his life; no wonder that, stepping off an airplane in which illness seems to have found a natural home, he immediately took to his bed with a viral infection.

Sachin Tendulkar, who as a youngster with Yorkshire endured the mixture of climates that comes with the English cricket season, said: “I have never known conditions like these in all my career.”

But still there was good cricket, a facile adapting to the needs of the day and a professionalism by both sides that was quite amazing. So, did the small crowd, largely consisting of noisy Indians who to their credit kept the games alive all day long, get their money’s worth? I don’t think so.

The organisers thought it was right to charge the 10,000 who wanted to see the three matches and the two games against the emerging Ireland team £35 a head.

In this country £35 is the cost of an expensive meal, almost a full tank of petrol, lunch for three or the day’s hire of a car. It is a stupid amount to force people to pay if you are trying to encourage them to watch a side who just might be heroes even in a country where the game is in its early stages of public awareness.

When I came for the England game a year ago, every taxi driver asked me: “What is this cricket?” Now, thanks to the performances by some locals, boosted by a number of Australians with Irish relatives, everyone is aware of cricket and the names at least of their own men.

In fact the names of such heroes as Andrew Flintoff, Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood trip easily off the Belfast tongue. Cricket has made an impression; now is the time for the new born baby to be nourished, not kept out by high prices.

A little gentle encouragement would be appropriate. At £35 a head they are more likely to frighten sports people away.

The nearest comparison I can give is that for the international rugby between England and Ireland you have to pay between £20 and £65.

It was particularly hard for the spectators at the third and decisive match. They came expecting action but in the course of half a dozen inspections their wishes were held up for more than five hours.

But once play began the spectators had nothing to complain about. Indeed there was more excitement here than in the whole of the mismanaged, over-priced and badly conceived World Cup and for that both these sides, who had had the tournament sprung on them, deserve credit.

The first game went to South Africa mainly because Jacques Kallis is a batsman who knows precisely what he is about, because the Indian bowlers allowed him free rein and because he has a full ration of that determination which is the finest part of that nation’s make-up.

He has been called one-paced and indeed he was slow in this innings but it is the pace of a tank which is set on a straight line and never deviates. Once in motion it is hard to shift such a weapon; Kallis the tank simply ploughed his way forward and India had no one to stop him.

Except Sachin Tendulkar. I will bet most of the money in my ATM that Tendulkar has braced himself for a memorable tour of England and that the 90s he made in the first two games which took him beyond 15,000 one-day runs were simply a practice run.

You may remind me of these words at the end of the summer which finishes with seven one-day games. By that time I wager Sachin will be nearer 16,000 than 15,000 runs in the evening of his memorable career.

In the second game, South Africa had no cricketer to match him and India unleashed Yuvraj Singh, labelled ‘The Finisher’ by Rahul Dravid and universally admired by anyone who watched him fashion victory from a middle order mess.

India won the series, by taking control of the third game and relying on Yuvraj to finish the job again. Afterwards he sat alongside Dravid and heard his captain once again heap praise on his ability to apply the coup de grace.

Michael Bevan was one batsman, a man of few words but a wonderful ability to field at a level which made comparisons with Jonty Rhodes appropriate and a knack of turning good deliveries for twos and threes; Neil Fairbrother of England was another with that skill to win matches. Bevan would have loved the Yuvraj way and it should have brought him the Man of the Series award. Instead that went to Sachin.

There were those who thought an injustice had been done but it is no bad thing to be second to Tendulkar and if Yuvraj can repeat his finishing touch for several more years it could be India who are competing for the top place with Australia before the next World Cup.

THE SCORES

Third ODI, July 1, 2007. India won by six wickets.

South Africa: A. De Villiers c Dhoni b Ganguly 15; M. Van Wyk lbw b Agarkar 0; J. Kallis b Agarkar 0; H. Gibbs b Zaheer 56; J. Duminy lbw b Ganguly 0; J. Kemp b Tendulkar 61; M. Boucher (not out) 11; A. Hall c Karthik b Tendulkar 1; Ex tras (b-1, lb-3) 4. Total (for seven wkts., in 31 overs) 148.

Fall of wkts: 1-6, 2-8, 3-28, 4-28, 5-127, 6-144, 7-148.

India bowling: Zaheer 7-0-29-1; Agarkar 6-0-21-2; R. P. Singh 6-2-15-0; Ganguly 6-0-24-2; Chawla 3-0-28-0; Yuvraj 2-0-17-0; Tendulkar 1-0-10-2.

India: S. Ganguly c Boucher b Nel 18; S. Tendulkar c Boucher b Ntini 8; G. Gambhir b Steyn 5; R. Dravid (run out) 38; Yuvraj (not out) 59; M. Dhoni (not out) 14; Extras (lb-3, w-4, nb-3) 10. Total (for four wkts., in 30.2 overs) 152.

Fall of wkts: 1-11, 2-20, 3-38, 4-108.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 6-0-35-1; Ntini 7-2-18-1; Nel 5.2-1-24-1; Hall 6-0-27-0; Kallis 4-0-36-0; Kemp 2-0-9-0.

Second ODI: June 29. India won by six wickets.

South Africa: M. Van Wyk c Dhoni b Yuvraj 82; A. De Villiers (run out) 0; J. Kallis b R. P. Singh 2; H. Gibbs c Karthik b Zaheer 17; J. Duminy c Dravid b Yuvraj 40; M. Boucher (not out) 55; A. Hall b Yuvraj 17; A. Nel (not out) 1; Extr as (lb-5, w-5, nb-2) 12. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 226.

Fall of wkts: 1-2, 2-7, 3-46, 4-131, 5-168, 6-220.

India bowling: Zaheer 9-2-29-1; R. P. Singh 6-1-21-1; I. Sharma 7-0-38-0; Chawla 8-0-41-0; Powar 10-0-46-0; Tendulkar 1-0-10-0; Yuvraj 9-0-36-3.

India: S. Ganguly c Gibbs b Langeveldt 42; S. Tendulkar b Tshabalala 93; R. Dravid c & b Langeveldt 2; Yuvraj (not out) 49; M. Dhoni b Ntini 0; D. Karthik (not out) 32; Extras (lb-2, w-7) 9. Total (for four wkts., in 49.1 overs) 22 7.

Fall of wkts: 1-134, 2-140, 3-140, 4-142.

South Africa bowling: Ntini 10-1-37-1; Langeveldt 10-1-43-2; Nel 10-0-41-0; Hall 10-0-54-0; Tshabalala 8-2-42-1; Kallis 1.1-0-8-0.

First ODI: June 26. South Africa won by four wickets.

India: S. Ganguly c Boucher b Nel 13; S. Tendulkar (run out) 99; G. Gambhir c Kallis b Nel 0; R. Dravid b Nel 74; Yuvraj c Kallis b Hall 13; D. Karthik b Hall 19; R. Sharma b Kallis 8; P. Chawla (not out) 2; R. Powar c De Villiers b Ka llis 1; Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-5, nb-2) 13; Total (for eight wkts., in 50 overs) 242.

Fall of wkts: 1-24, 2-36, 3-194, 4-211, 5-213, 6-234, 7-240, 8-242.

South Africa bowling: Ntini 10-2-33-0; Langeveldt 8-0-59-0; Nel 10-1-47-3; Hall 10-1-40-2; Philander 8-2-37-0; Kallis 4-0-20-2.

South Africa: A. De Villiers c Karthik b R. P. Singh 24; M. Van Wyk c R. Sharma b Chawla 44; J. Kallis (not out) 91; H. Gibbs b Chawla 5; J. Duminy c Tendulkar b Powar 11; M. Boucher lbw b Zaheer 23; A. Hall c Dravid b Chawla 16; V. Ph ilander (not out) 17; Extras (lb-4, w-10) 14. Total (for six wkts., in 49.3 overs) 245.

Fall of wkts: 1-56, 2-99, 3-107, 4-124, 5-165, 6-190.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-1-46-1; R. P. Singh 8-0-45-1; Ganguly 4-0-26-0; Chawla 10-0-47-3; Powar 10-0-39-1; Yuvraj 6.3-0-35-0; R. Sharma 1-0-3-0.