McKenzie's masterly knock

It was Neil McKenzie, in the South African middle-order, who came up with a match-winning knock (81 not out, 110b, 5x4), his 107-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Mark Boucher (44 not out, 46b, 2x4) taking the game away from India.

S. DINAKAR

YOU forget the basics and you pay the price. The Indians realised this in the sixth and final league game of the three-nation TVS Cup tournament. The Indians won the toss, but lost the match. The South Africans lost the toss, but won the game.

Neil McKenzie, who made a match-winning 80, sweeps Harbhajan Singh. -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

This did hold some significance. Chasing under lights at the Bangabandhu Stadium can be rather hazardous but the South Africans handled it very well. The Indians had only themselves to blame.

The South Africans clinched the game by five wickets, eight deliveries still remaining in the contest. The result meant India and South Africa ended their league engagements with three wins each.

More importantly, the two sides' head to head record after this match was 1-1. So there was everything to play for in the summit clash. It was Neil McKenzie, in the South African middle-order, who came up with a match-winning knock (81 not out, 110b, 5x4), his 107-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Mark Boucher (44 not out, 46b, 2x4) taking the game away from India.

Cricket in any form or shape has certain rules. One of them is: build partnerships. If partnerships dry up, the innings will fall flat.

That's exactly what happened. Skipper Sourav Ganguly, back after taking a one-match rest, and Mohammed Kaif added 89 for the second wicket in 20 overs, but there was hardly any other stand worth mentioning. Precisely the reason why India collapsed from 96 for one to 215 all out. After the early departure of Gautam Gambhir and an injury to Virender Sehwag, struck on the hand by a rising delivery from Mkhaya Ntini, Ganguly and Kaif laid a solid platform. But then, the skipper, who was stroking the ball well after surviving a phase where Ntini tested him with short balls, was guilty of knocking a full toss from Paul Adams straight into long-off's hands.

Ganguly made a pleasing 61 (83b, 6x4, 1x6) but it could easily have been much more. The Indian captain, annoyed with himself, stood rooted to the crease, and this indeed was a needless dismissal.

The fact that Virender Sehwag — he returned after X-rays revealed no significant damage — Kaif and Dinesh Mongia, all got out after getting their eye in, didn't reflect well at all on the Indian innings. The side simply lost its way towards the end, losing wickets in a heap, and presenting South Africa with a fine chance to register a confidence-building win ahead of the final.

This was a game where Smith, who tasted his first major victory as skipper, led the side well, giving the pacemen short spells, and never really allowing the batsmen to settle down.

The South Africans have also stumbled on the right bowling combination in the tournament. Pollock and Ntini sharing the new ball, and Allan Dawson and Andrew Hall being the support seamers, with the left-arm chinaman bowling of Paul Adams being an attacking spin option. Dawson, in particular, has filled a slot well in this tournament, operating stump to stump, and being able to move the ball around — attributes that can make him extremely handy in the limited overs variety.

As the competition progressed, the Proteas fielded with increased intensity and there were, at least in this match, shades of the South African teams of old. The Indian score of 215 was by no means daunting, but the South Africans got off to a poor start, skipper Graeme Smith caught behind off Avishkar Salvi for just two.

And Harbhajan Singh, introduced early by Ganguly, was getting the ball to turn and bounce. The off-spinner did jolt the South African camp, castling Boeta Dippenaar and nailing the dangerous Herschelle Gibbs, when the batsman padded up to a delivery spinning into him.

Jacques Rudolph and McKenzie steadied the rocking boat somewhat, taking the score from a precarious 42 for three to 105, when the former could not keep a drive off Virender Sehwag down.

McKenzie, growing in confidence, was picking his ones and twos, while striking the odd boundary, and Boucher, a fine, positive player of spin, got into the business of making runs quickly.

Harbhajan — who completed 100 wickets in ODIs — was impressive. Though Sarandeep Singh, the second specialist off-spinner in the squad, bowled tidily, the Indian bowling lacked variety.

The South Africans were deserving winners and fittingly McKenzie was the Man of the Match. He is one of the cricketers you don't often notice in a line-up. Yet these are the cricketers, who often make a difference. McKenzie did just that for South Africa on a sultry night at the Bangabandhu Stadium.

The scores:

India: V. Sehwag c Smith b Hall 25; G. Gambhir c Hall b Ntini 2; S. Ganguly c Pollock b Adams 61; M. Kaif b Dawson 30; D. Mongia c McKenzie b Dawson 29; S. Bangar lbw b Ntini 9; A. Agarkar c Hall b Ntini 17; P. Patel (run out) 6; Harbhajan Singh c Boucher b Dawson 1; Sarandeep Singh c Smith b Dawson 19; A. Salvi (not out) 4. Extras (lb-2, w-2, nb-8) 12. Total (in 49.1 overs) 215.

Fall of wickets: 1-7, 2-96, 3-124, 4-146, 5-160, 6-182, 7-184, 8-186, 9-192.

South Africa bowling: Pollock 10-1-48-0, Ntini 10-0-37-3, Dawson 9.1-1-49-4, Hall 10-0-36-1, Adams 10-0-43-1.

South Africa: G. Smith c Patel b Salvi 2; H. Gibbs lbw b Harbhajan Singh 25; H. Dippenaar b Harbhajan Singh 11; J. Rudolph c Kaif b Sehwag 37; N. McKenzie c Salvi b Harbhajan Singh 80; M. Boucher (not out) 44; S. Pollock (not out) 2. Extras (lb-1, w-6, nb-8) 15. Total (for five wickets in 48.4 overs) 216.

Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-41, 3-42, 4-105, 5-212.

India bowling: Salvi 8.4-2-31-1, Agarkar 6-2-34-0, Harbhajan Singh 10-0-43-3, Sarandeep Singh 10-0-32-0, Ganguly 3-0-13-0, Sehwag 8-0-43-1, Mongia 3-0-19-0.