Knocked out in Nagpur

When was the last time a spinner bowled against Indian batsmen with five close-in fielders in India?

Modern day Test cricket is all about aggression, positive intent and out thinking the opposition. And that’s how the Proteas hustled India into submission, winning the Nagpur Test by an innings and six runs. Packed off for 319, the world’s top-ranked team was comprehensively out-thought, out-played and out-classed.

In the fitness of things, Dale Steyn, who flattened India in the first innings with 7 for 51, took the last wicket to finish the match in a convincing style. He ended with a splendid match figure of 10 for 108 runs. Hashim Amla, for his career-best 253 not out, was declared the man of the match.

Another of Sachin’s fighting century (100), his 46th, failed to bail India out. But then cricket is a team game and the rest of the top five batsmen made only 80 runs — a true reflection of an abject surrender. Ironically, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh (39) was the second highest scorer after Sachin. In fact, the bottom-half scored 108 runs.

Skipper Graeme Smith introduced left-arm orthodox spinner Paul Harris in the fourth over of the day. And he struck in his third over, frustrating Murali Vijay (32) all the while with his negative wide-off-the-leg-stump line. Vijay failed to keep his sweep on the ground and Morne Morkel did the rest at deep fine leg. Yet, again a batsman’s dismissal was plotted successfully — a fine example of aggressive and imaginative captaincy.

Talking of positive intent, Sachin was all of it. Never to discard discretion from his armoury, he scored runs with refreshing freedom. A couple of on-drives to the fence off fast bowler Dale Steyn were absolute visual delight. Later, he was lucky enough to be dropped by one of the finest contemporary slippers Jacques Kallis off Wayne Parnell.

But the maestro came back well in the next over and creamed Parnell for two consecutive boundaries through gully.

Every time Smith placed orthodox short mid-off and mid-on, Sachin played in the squares and when the two fielders were removed, he’d resume his gorgeous drives and split fielders repeatedly. He also employed leg-glance with deadly effect, scoring a string of boundaries off Kallis and Parnell.

Though heavily punished by Sachin, Parnell came back well to remove S Badrinath — the ball taking a faint edge and keeper Boucher completing a fine low catch.

The post-lunch session produced only 61 runs and two wickets and yet it was the most decisive phase of the day. Looking devastated, India went to tea at 223 for 6.

With runs coming in a trickle and no sign of wicket, Test cricket looks bland, dreary and unattractive during such phases, but only from a distance. It may often involve engaging contest between the bat and ball. The second session, for the most part, was one such phase. Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni doggedly stonewalled everything that South African bowlers hurled at them.

The hallmark of the session was a sterling century by Sachin Tendulkar (100), when India were looking down the barrel.

And then the game willed another astonishing turn — Sachin’s freak dismissal. The ball hit the pad as Sachin attempted a paddle sweep and then ricocheted to the wickets. With his dismissal, the last ray of hope was extinguished.

Dhoni (25), whose batting is as elegant as a sledgehammer, used more of the pads than the bat while facing the Proteas attack. With such an ultra-defensive tactics the disaster was waiting to happen. And it did just a few overs before the tea. Harris struck for the third time of the day to have India captain caught at silly point.

With fielders to support and the negative line of wide-outside-the-leg stump, Harris not only frustrated batsmen but also ensured the runs didn’t flow. And he picked up the valuable wickets of Sachin and Dhoni. He finished the day with 3 for 76, including 17 maiden overs from the 38 he bowled.

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