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Dravid leads India to victory

By Harish Kotian
Last updated on: November 28, 2005 23:37 IST
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India registered a five-wicket victory over South Africa in the fifth and final one-day international at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, on Monday, to draw the series 2-2.

Captain Rahul Dravid, who was named man of the match, scored an unbeaten 78 from 106 balls as the hosts successfully chased down a modest target of 222 in 47.3 overs. He got good support from Yuvraj Singh, who made a quick 49.

Yuvraj and South Africa captain Graeme Smith, who both scored 209 runs at an average of 69.66 in the four matches played, shared the man of the series award.

For India, Virender Sehwag also sizzled in a brief cameo, blazing 27 in 20 balls, inclusive of four boundaries and a six, and Sachin Tendulkar found a bit of form, scoring 30.

Earlier, Jacques Kallis top-scored with 91 to steer South Africa to a respectable 221 for 6 in their 50 overs.

Irfan Pathan claimed two early wickets, those of Andrew Hall and Graeme Smith, after South Africa were sent in to bat. The South Africans never quite recovered from the early jolts, and once the spinners came on they struggled to lift the scoring rate.

Harbhajan Singh (2 for 32) was brilliant again, as he kept the batsmen guessing during his ten-over spell, while Pathan finished with 3 for 20 in his eight overs.

The loss was South Africa's third defeat in as many matches in Mumbai.

South Africa innings:

India captain Rahul Dravid won the toss and elected to field in a dio-or-die match for the home side, trailing 1-2 in the series. They face a huge task of denying South Africa their first one-day series victory in India after the thrashing in the fourth match in Kolkata.

India are also aiming to improve their record of six wins out of 12 matches played at the Wankhede. South Africa lost both the matches they played at the venue.

Irfan Pathan struck early when he crashed through the defences of Andrew Hall with an inswinging delivery. The batsman had no answer to a ball that pitched on the off-stump and moved in late to knock out the middle stump. (6-1, 2.3)

Pathan kept bowling tight, forcing Graeme Smith to charge down the wicket and have a huge go, but he missed.

Pathan soon gave the huge gathering at the Wankhede stadium a lot to cheer for when he deceived Smith with a slower delivery. The South African captain, who scored a century in the previous match, moved across the stumps and then tried to turn the ball on the leg side but was too early into the shot and ended up spooning a simple catch to Harbhajan Singh at mid-wicket. (36-2, 8.2)

Pathan gave away just 12 runs in his first spell of seven overs, while taking two wickets, as South Africa reached 50 for 2 after 13 overs.

Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince tried to steady things, adding 41 runs for the third wicket, before Prince fell to Harbhajan in his second over. The left-hander tried to sweep from outside the off-stump, but got a top edge that went straight to Yuvraj Singh at short fine leg. (77-3, 20.5)

Murali Kartik also bowled with a lot of control as the run-rate took a sharp dip. From 72 for 2 after 17 overs, South Africa progressed at snail's pace, reaching 101 for 3 after 28 overs. Just 29 runs came in 11 overs.

Mark Boucher, on 16, was lucky to survive a close leg before wicket appeal against Kartik as he tried to sweep the left-arm spinner in the 32nd over. The ball struck him on the back foot and looked it would hit the stumps, but Australian Daryl Harper turned down the appeal.

Kallis, playing the anchor role, reached his half-century off 95 balls, with just three boundaries, as he also struggled to come to terms with the spinners.

With 10 overs to come, Boucher chanced his arm, trying to hit Virender Sehwag over midwicket, but Harbhajan on the boundary line completed a stunning catch. (158-4, 40.4)

The South African wicketkeeper, who made 35, had failed to score even a single boundary during his 56-ball stay at the wicket. He added 81 runs for the fourth wicket with Kallis, but even that did not assure South Africa a decent total.

Hard-hitting batsman Justin Kemp, having a strike rate of around 94 in one-dayers, now seemed South Africa's best bet to rekindle the fire and salvage something from the final few overs.

He, however, fell to a soft dismissal when he got a top edge in his attempt to sweep Harbhajan and was caught by Yuvraj at short fine leg for 10. (178-5, 45)

Harbhajan once again produced a brilliant spell of bowling, taking two wickets for 32 runs in his 10 overs, and had the South Africans guessing for most part. It has been a brilliant series for the off-spinner, who has taken five wickets in four matches, while giving away runs at a miserly economy rate of 3.42.

Pathan claimed his third wicket when he dismissed Kallis, caught at long on. The South African all-rounder, who made 91, tried to loft the ball in the stands, but was caught by Kaif.

He hit just five boundaries and was mostly restricted to singles during his 146-ball knock. He scored 61 singles, but the 75 dot balls prove how much he struggled to rotate the strike during his stay at the wicket.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni fumbled an easy stumping chance off Pollock as Kartik beat the batsman in the flight in the final over of the innings. Pollock made him pay as he hit the last two balls for boundaries to take South Africa to 221 for 6 in their 50 overs.

Pollock scored a quickfire 30 from 17 balls, with four boundaries and a six to his credit. His innings could well make the difference on a pitch providing a lot of assistance to the spinners.

For India, Pathan was the most successful bowler, claiming 3 for 20 in his eight overs. He could consider himself unlucky for not being able to finish his quota of 10 overs.

Harbhajan impressed once again with a miserly spell of 2 for 32 in his 10 overs. But the other frontline spinner Kartik did not utilise the conditions fully and went wicketless, giving away 57 runs in his 10 overs. 

But India should be content chasing a target of 222, with a long and a flexible batting line-up, and dew expected to hamper the bowlers in the second half of the match.

However, if Pollock could follow up his batting with some early wickets, then we could be in for an interesting match.

He is the best bowler in the series, taking six wickets at an astonishing average of 12.00, and giving runs at 2.76.

India innings:

India went for the Supersub change right at the start as Gautam Gambhir replaced R P Singh. Gambhir was sent in to open the innings along with local boy Tendulkar, who has been woefully short of form lately.

Gambhir fell early, dismissed in the second over of the innings by Makhaya Ntini. The left-hander tried to turn the ball on the leg side but edge a simple catch to Kemp. (1-1, 1.2)

India's opening woes continues as the openers failed to provide the team a good start. India's best opening stand in the series was 13, in the second one-dayer at Bangalore.

They tried to keep it simple with Virender Sehwag coming in to bat at number three. Their only concern now was playing out the first few overs without losing any further wickets and then building on in the middle overs.

Tendulkar came into the match desperately looking for runs. He had scored only six runs in the three matches this series, and failed to score a half-century in his last seven outings.

A couple of boundaries off Ntini in the space of two overs brought the huge crowd to their feet and the chants of `Sachin, Sachin' gained strength.

Two consecutive boundaries off Pollock in the fifth over took Sehwag past the 1000-run mark for the calendar year 2005. Then, off the last ball of the over, on 13, he lobbed a simple catch back to the bowler, but a diving Pollock failed to hold on as India reached 26 for 1 after five overs.

Sehwag then launched a brutal attack in Pollock's next over, the seventh of the innings. The first ball was lofted over the off-side for a boundary and then, the next delivery, a short ball was hooked for a six. The third ball was again blasted into the off-side fence.

But Pollock kept his composure and dismissed Sehwag leg before wicket in the same over. The Indian opener was hit on the pads as he missed the ball while trying to turn it on the leg side. (46-2, 6.5)

It was another bad decision by umpire Harper, considering the height and line of the ball. Just imagine the ball striking the batsman just above the knee roll and on leg stump. Earlier, in the South African innings, he had turned down a decision against Boucher, when it seemed certain that the ball would hit the stumps.

Sehwag played an entertaining innings of 27 off 20 balls, with four boundaries and a six. He added a quickfire 45 runs for the second wicket with Tendulkar to give India a flying start in their pursuit of the modest target of 222.

Dravid, who walked in next, also had a point to prove after scoring just 24 runs in the series. In short, it was the perfect opportunity for India's senior-most batsmen to return to form and also guide the side to victory.

Tendulkar made a steady 30 before falling to an unbelievable catch by Ashwell Prince, off Andre Nel. The right-hander slashed hard at a delivery outside the stump, but Prince dived full length to his right and held on to complete a stunning catch. (83-3, 17.1)

It completed a miserable series for the little champion, who amassed just 36 runs in the four completed matches at a lowly average of 12.

Off-spinner Johan Botha failed to cling on to a difficult chance off Dravid in the 25th over. Although it would rank as a dropped chance, the bowler did not even have the time to react as the batsman charged down the wicket and hit it back to the bowler.

India reached 110 for 3 after 25 overs and it remained to be seen how costly the dropped chance could prove. The wicket of the Indian captain at this stage would have given South Africa the upper edge in this tight, nail-biting contest.

Yuvraj continued his rich vein of form, attacking the bowling at will. The Punjab left-hander, on 32, dominated the 50-run partnership for the third wicket with Dravid to steadily see India progress to the victory target.

Dravid, meanwhile, was the calming influence for his younger partner as he held the other end up. The Indian captain reached his half-century from 78 balls, including six boundaries.

Yuvraj was unlucky to miss out on his half-century as he was dismissed for 49. The left-hander tried to guide the ball to the third man area but ended up edging behind to wicketkeeper Boucher off fast bowler Nel. (162-4, 36)

His 79-run fourth wicket partnership with Dravid gave India the edge in the tight contest.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni immediately lashed out a wide delivery from Pollock and the resultant edge just flew past a diving Boucher in 37th over. Then he survived yet again as an inside edge just missed the stumps and went into the boundary in the next over by Nel.

The match was firmly in India's control, with the score 182 for 4 after 40 overs, needing another 40 runs in 60 balls. Barring an unimaginable collapse, India were well on the way to victory.

It has happened with Indian teams of the past, where one witnessed them snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But this Dravid-led team does not believe in complacency, as was evident from the way Dhoni and Dravid went about chasing down the runs in a cool and composed manner.

Dravid escaped a close chance in the 43rd over bowled by Ntini, when Smith, at slips, failed to hold on to an edge offered by the Indian captain.

However, the visitors struck in the very next over through Charl Langeveldt as Dhoni edged behind to wicketkeeper Boucher for 12. (201-5, 43.3)

That wicket came a little too late; with a determined Dravid at the other end, a comeback looked highly impossible.

Kaif hit the winning runs as India reached 224 for 5 to win by five wickets, with 15 balls to spare.

Dravid remained unbeaten on 78 from 106 balls, inclusive of 10 boundaries, as India levelled the series 2-2.

It was a captain's knock from Dravid as he ensured that he stayed till the end. He got good company from Yuvraj, who played an aggressive innings of 49.

For South Africa, fast bowler Nel bowled with a lot of heart, taking 2 for 35 in his 10 overs. The rest of the bowlers tried their best, but the chase was never a bother for India's long, talented batting line-up.

But all credit is due to South Africa for making India fight it out all the way in their chase of a modest 222. They landed on Indian shores ranked second-best in the world and very rarely let down their high standards during the series.

Twice in the series, India showed great character to bounce back. The fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude of this new-look Indian team was clearly evident. The Greg Chappell influence has had its effect on the boys.

The team now has a couple of days' break before hosting Sri Lanka in a three-Test series, beginning in Chennai on December 2.

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Harish Kotian