They can't put a proper bat to ball

Herschelle Gibbs and Shaun pollock (below) were in the limelight as South Africa crushed India in Port Elizabeth.-AP Herschelle Gibbs and Shaun pollock (below) were in the limelight as South Africa crushed India in Port Elizabeth.

Herschelle Gibbs was the backbone of the South African innings, while the Indian specialist batsmen gave another spineless display. S. Dinakar reports.

The South Africans settled the issue at Port Elizabeth. They also played the key moments of the series better. Whenever the host was in trouble, it found men for the occasion. Whenever the Indians were in a hole, they slid further. The South Africans displayed character. This was an attribute found wanting in the Indians. The winner was spotted a long way from the end.

SHAUN POLLOCK-AP

The 80-run victory under lights in the fourth ODI at the charming port city meant Graeme Smith's men had clinched the five-match MTN ODI series 3-0, with one game left.

Smith, who appears to be falling over in his stance, is in horrendous form with the willow. But he led the side with confidence and authority. Sadly, his opposite number Rahul Dravid watched the match from the pavilion. His finger injury — sustained at Cape Town — ruled him out of the rest of the ODIs. Psychologically, this was a major blow for the Indians.

The South Africans sizzled on the field. The pacemen mixed the bouncing deliveries with those of a fuller length well. The Indians capitulated.

"We did not let them have a sniff at the target," said Smith later. He had reasons to be proud.

Man of the Match, Herschelle Gibbs too was smiling at the end. His unbeaten 93 had taken his side past the 240-run mark. He worked hard for his runs, in front of a capacity crowd.

Gibbs was under pressure to perform. He had got a start at Cape Town, blazing an entertaining cameo. But he could not build on that.

Here, he put mind over matter. Gibbs needed a sizeable innings and he constructed it as an experienced campaigner would, especially after Jacques Kallis was consumed by Anil Kumble for a fluent 49. As a senior batsman, Gibbs now had a job to perform.

The in-form Zaheer Khan probed him early on with some well-directed seam bowling. Then, Anil Kumble bowled with precision, giving little away. South Africa lost wickets regularly at the other end, but Gibbs held firm. Along the way, there were some typically sparkling shots from Gibbs through the covers. And there was a fair sprinkling of well timed flicks as well. It was not the easiest of pitches to play strokes on. The ball was not really coming on to the bat. There was lateral movement for the pacemen, but no appreciable bounce.

The South African pacemen were able to extract a lot more lift from the surface; possibly the evening moisture could have added some nip to the pitch. Somebody like Makhaya Ntini also has stronger shoulders than the Indians.

The hefty blows from the lower order helped, but Gibbs marshalled the innings expertly. The side had found another batsman who put his hand up during a crisis.

The tale of the Indian batting was no different from the earlier two games. Much of the batsmen could not cope with the stress.

India was bundled out on the chase inside 50 overs for the third successive time. The side folded up for 91 (29.1 overs) at Kingsmead, 168 (41.3 overs) at Newlands, and 163 (38.1 overs) at St. George's Park.

If the Indian innings progressed into the final over in all these games, the side would have had an even chance of winning. But then, the batsmen did not put a price on their scalp.

The Indian batting was bereft of application. There was little heart and commitment. Irfan Pathan's 55-ball unbeaten 47 was an exception though. He played correctly, and collected his runs with pleasing strokes on both sides of the wicket. Pathan's knock put the shoddy efforts of the earlier batsmen in proper perspective.

The Indians were jolted early by Ntini and Pollock. They never really recovered. Ntini and Pollock form a fascinating new ball combination. Ntini has speed, achieves disconcerting bounce, and releases from wide of the crease. Pollock is no more than medium fast these days, delivers from close to the stumps and gets the ball to move — both ways — from around the off-stump.

The batsmen not only have to adjust to different speeds, but varying lengths and angles as well. The Indians could not make the required changes.

The top order was blown away. Exposed early, the middle-order could not last long in the middle.

Andre Nel and Jacques Kallis — both are hustlers who relish testing the batsmen around the rib-cage — did not make life any easier for the Indian batsmen. In other words, there was not let up in pressure.

Dravid's absence meant the side was without its only specialist batsman in some kind of form. India wanted runs from Sachin Tendulkar but the master batsman was done in by a lovely away-going delivery from Shaun Pollock.

Stand-in captain Sehwag did speak about the absence of Dravid — "He is the kind who bats through the middle overs and the others can bat around him."

He also dwelt on Tendulkar's early dismissal — "When a big player fails, the rest come under pressure."

Kumble's bowling, particularly in the end overs, Sreesanth's lively opening burst, Zaheer's continuing excellence, and Pathan's defiant innings were some of the positives for India from the game.

Not a single Indian specialist batsman figures in the above names. This tells the story of the series.

The Scores

Fourth ODI, St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth, November 29, 2006. South Africa won by 80 runs.

South Africa: G. Smith lbw b Zaheer 0; L. Bosman b Sreesanth 0; J. Kallis c Dhoni b Kumble 49; H. Gibbs (not out) 93; A. B. de Villiers lbw b Kumble 13; M. Boucher lbw b Sehwag 29; J. Kemp c Sehwag b Tendulkar 0; S. Pollock (run out) 37; A. Hall (run out) 13; A. Nel (not out) 0; Extras (b-1, lb-4, w-2, nb-2) 9. Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 243.

Fall of wkts: 1-0, 2-6, 3-75, 4-93, 5-154, 6-155, 7-216, 8-240.

India bowling: Zaheer 8-1-38-1; S. Sreesanth 7-1-29-1; Agarkar 5-0-33-0; Pathan 7-0-28-0; Kumble 10-0-42-2; Sehwag 5-0-22-1; Tendulkar 8-0-46-1.

India: W. Jaffer c Smith b Ntini 10; V. Sehwag c Bosman b Ntini 18; S. Tendulkar c Boucher b Pollock 1; M. Kaif (run out) 10; D. Karthik c Nel b Kemp 17; M. S. Dhoni c (sub) b Nel 26; I. Pathan (not out) 47; A. Agarkar c Hall b Kemp 6; Z. Khan c Boucher b Kallis 11; A. Kumble c Smith b Pollock 2; S. Sreesanth c de Villiers b Kemp 3; Extras (b-2, lb-2, w-3, nb-5) 12. Total (in 38.1 overs) 163.

Fall of wkts: 1-23, 2-24, 3-38, 4-39, 5-82, 6-109, 7-128, 8-145, 9-150.

South Africa bowling: Pollock 10-2-23-2; Ntini 9-1-34-2; Kallis 8-1-41-1; Nel 7-0-40-1; Kemp 4.1-0-21-3.