The guiding light

Published : Nov 10, 2001 00:00 IST


INDIA faced the moment of truth once again. It lost yet another championship final, this time to South Africa by six wickets. It simply did not have the nerve to tackle the pressure brought about by the circumstances. The aim of reaching the final was achieved in a grand fashion against Kenya. Three weeks of the tri-series part of the Summer Spice Series had passed with some exciting and memorable performances by the Indians that included a world record first wicket partnership by Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar and a fine win against South Africa in a preliminary round match. But all the wonderful efforts were brought to nought by a lacklustre display in the final at Kingsmead, Durban.

The home team was a formidable rival in the Cup final. The defeat by 41 runs in the second of the back to back league matches against India must have hurt the home team. Like a true professional outfit, Pollock's squad did its homework thoroughly and used the conditions at Kingsmead to outsmart India. The toss might not have had a bearing on the result because Sourav Ganguly said he would have elected to bat on a pitch that was supposed to have moisture beneath following heavy rain in the days before the final.

There is always a suddenness to the toss and the decision made thereafter. The pressure is much more on the batting side in the initial overs and at Kingsmead the quality of the surface was different and offered help to the seamers. As John Wright said, the conditions were better for the bowlers. The pressure must have been very high even on an accomplished opening pair like Ganguly and Tendulkar whose run of partnerships (193, 44 and 101) had pointed to an impressive consistency against the South African attack.

It was too good to last for another match. The law of averages had to catch up with them and it did on that Friday. Their partnership was broken off the 37th ball of the final after Pollock had invited India to bat. The residual moisture and hence the dampness had made Pollock take the field with four specialist fast bowlers and two more of their ilk in Jacques Kallis and Lance Klusener. The news of rain in Durban, known for its tropical climate, drove Pollock to dismiss any thought of picking the lone spinner in the squad, Nicky Boje.

Three weeks earlier Pollock had admitted, even after a successful chase of 279 at The Wanderers that he had made a mistake in reading the pitch and that had prevented him from picking a spinner. He made sure that he would not be asked such a question again after the final because he did not let his side lose its stranglehold on the match after removing India's opening pair from the middle. Ganguly was the first to go when he came down the pitch and edged Pollock to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher. This happened off the first ball of the seventh over. Five overs and one ball later, Tendulkar fell to a faulty stroke against Mornantau Hayward.

Ganguly had counterattacked the South African bowlers Pollock, Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini successfully earlier in the series. The Indian captain tried to repeat that against Pollock because his side had just 17 runs on the board and perished. Tendulkar played two brilliant shots off Hayward, both whipped to the midwicket fence. But Hayward varied his length and line and Tendulkar, committing himself to a forcing shot on the off side, dragged the ball on to his stumps. At 31 for two after just the second ball of the 12th over, what was palpably visible was an Indian defeat.

The rest of the batsmen made 152 runs, in which Rahul Dravid's 77 was the highest. Virender Sehwag made a small contribution. But the others looked like a bunch of novices, and threw in the towel. Three batsmen fell at the score of 183. "The bad luck days are over. We played poor cricket," said Ganguly, his countenance suggesting helplessness.

It was an efficient performance by the South African bowlers. Pollock gave just a little over two runs an over and took two wickets, including that of his counterpart, Ganguly. His final figures of 9-1-19-2 won him the 'Man of the Match' award. "I was happy to get his wicket because he (Ganguly) was the one who was trying to do things differently. It's also our policy to go after the Indian openers up front. It worked today," Pollock said at the customary post-match press conference.

The South African batsmen backed their bowlers with Gary Kirsten (87) playing a very responsible innings. He was lucky earlier in his innings when Venkatsai Laxman (second slip) put down a catch that was going to Sehwag (first slip). Kirsten departed only after taking his side within striking distance of the target.

Gibbs did not make many runs. He willed himself to be patient and let Kirsten collect the runs. Gibbs appeared out of sorts on a pitch that had declined in quality, but he showed a wonderful attitude by not throwing his wicket away. He stayed long enough (71 minutes) to make 21 and thwart the Indian bowlers. He was beaten by Harbhajan in the air and off the pitch and offered the bowler a return catch. Jacques Kallis and Kirsten forged another fruitful partnership for the second wicket before Tendulkar and Harbhajan brought some cheer for the Indians. Tendulkar picked up two wickets and Harbhajan had Kirsten edging to Laxman, but the storyline of the final that was scripted by Pollock in the first session did not change. The South African captain did not give himself any time to rest in the three weeks. He has been leading by example since the tour to Zimbabwe. He feels he simply cannot afford to relax in a season in which his team is going to be involved in both away and home series against Australia.

The scores:

India: S. Ganguly c Boucher b Pollock 9; S. Tendulkar b Hayward 17; V. Sehwag c Hayward b Ntini 34; R. Dravid c Pollock b Kemp 77; V. V. S. Laxman c Ntini b Klusener 5; Yuveraj Singh c Pollock b Kemp 0; R. S. Sodhi c (sub) Nel b Hayward 22; A. Agarkar (not out) 9; Harbhajan Singh c Kemp b Pollock 3; J. Srinath (run out) 0; A. Kumble c Ntini b Kemp 0; Extras (lb-1, nb-4, w-2) 7. Total (in 48.2 overs) 183.

Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-31, 3-91, 4-112, 5-113, 6-164, 7-177, 8-183, 9-183.

South Africa bowling: Pollock 9-1-19-2, Hayward 10-0-38-2, Kallis 8-0-41-0, Ntini 10-0-45-1, Klusener 5-0-19-1, Kemp 6.2-0-20-3.

South Africa: G. Kirsten c Laxman b Harbhajan 87; H. Gibbs c & b Harbhajan 21; J. Kallis b Tendulkar 39; N. McKenzie (not out) 14; J. Rhodes st. Dravid b Tendulkar 6; S. Pollock (not out) 0; Extras (b-5, lb-2, nb-3, w-10) 20. Total (for four wickets in 42.1 overs) 187.

Fall of wickets: 1-80, 2-150, 3-173, 4-183.

India bowling: Srinath 10-0-49-0, Agarkar 7.1-0-32-0, Kumble 10-1-24-0, Harbhajan 10-0-48-2, Tendulkar 5-1-27-2.

REALLY, there was no one apart from Shaun Pollock, in contention for the Man of the Match award in the final. Gary Kirsten made 87 and India's Rahul Dravid, 77. But the numbers that were more impressive than the two batsmen's were Pollock's 9-1-19-2. Among the wickets he had was that of India's captain Sourav Ganguly, who had in all the preliminary matches handed out rough treatment to Pollock, even hitting him for two straight sixes at the Buffalo Park, East London.

Personally, the tri-series was a great one for the South African captain. The mention of Pollock takes one's mind back to the day when India's ICC Panel Umpire S. Venkataraghavan, who stood in a Test match between South Africa and England, made an observation. Asked about Allan Donald's bowling, he said: "Look for Pollock, he is the bowler with a future."

There were quite a few reasons for South Africa's consistent showing in the tri-series. Its players took a complete break from the game in the winter and this resulted in an excellent showing in Zimbabwe. The rest has helped the bowlers more than the batsmen, which has been reflected in their performances, with Pollock showing the way, taking 14 wickets in seven matches.

Pollock was expensive in the first match of the tournament when Ganguly and Tendulkar made 193 for the first wicket. His 10 overs cost him 56 runs for the wicket of Virender Sehwag. Thereafter his bowling analysis in five league matches were: 10-1-19-2 (Kenya, Benoni), 9.5-1-37-5 (India, Centurion), 10-0-41-3 (Kenya, Kimberley), 8-1-38-0 (India, East London), and 6-1-10-1 (Kenya, Cape Town). He settled to a good rhythm from the second match against Kenya at Benoni.

He has played close to 150 one-day internationals, and so Pollock's consistent bowling performance did not come as a surprise. This has been significantly represented in his bowling average which is below 23. He shared the new ball with newcomers Andre Nel and Charl Langeveldt before picking Mornantau Hayward for the last two matches. Hayward himself had played 17 matches before being recalled for South Africa's last preliminary match against Kenya and then the final. Literally, Pollock played the guiding role for the newcomer fast bowlers and the team.

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