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RICH STRIKE: Shaun Pollock celebrates on dismissing Sachin Tendulkar, one of his three victims in the fourth ODI in Kolkata. - PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM
Kolkata: Shaun Pollock made the difference at the Eden Gardens on Friday. The paceman rocked India at the start and the host never really recovered. The wily Pollock returned with just three wickets, but then one can't measure contributions by mere numbers.
It was Pollock's burst with the new ball that set the ball rolling for South Africa and dented India psychologically on a green-top. The host's 188 in the fourth ODI of the Pepsi Cup series was never going to be enough.
The match was practically over as a contest when the South Africans began their chase under lights. There was time and space for skipper Graeme Smith to live a dream in the Garden of Dreams with a majestic 124-ball 134 not out (21x4, 1x6), his fifth hundred in ODIs. The effort was sprinkled with some glorious drives off the pacemen and an effortless straight six off Harbhajan that will stay in memory for long.
The opening pair added 189 in an unbeaten partnership. Hall (48 not out, 94b, 4x4), replacing the out-of-form A.B. de Villiers at the top of the order, blunted the attack, while Man of the Match Smith turned the aggressor.
The left-right combination upset the line of the Indian pacemen. The spinners had to grapple with a wet ball caused by evening dew. In the end, it turned out to be a massacre of the Men in Blue.
South Africa travels to Mumbai for the decider with a 2-1 lead. The visitors now have the momentum in their favour.
It was one of those rare occasions when a pitch for a home match glistened with grass. Predictably, the Indian batsmen struggled.
The huge stadium was packed. There were the predictable chants of `Bring back Sourav' as the match neared its conclusion but the crowd did not indulge in unruly behaviour.
The Indian batsmen disappointed. Blaming the pitch for the batting debacle will not help a side that is progressive in outlook. If India is indeed keen on evolving into a team that can perform in all conditions, it should be able to deliver on grassy surfaces.
The pacemen achieved seam movement, but there was nothing out of the ordinary for the bowlers in terms of pace and bounce after Smith won a crucial toss.
The accurate Pollock bowled to a nice rhythm and the batsmen were not sure about the direction the ball would deviate. Importantly, the South African's arm is still so high in the evening of his career. Pollock's spell of 8-3-21-3 was critical.
The Indians have been getting their gameplan right for most part of this home season. However, picking Irfan Pathan as Gautam Gambhir's opening partner was a mistake. This was a wicket where India required someone with technical competence to prevent the South Africans from making early inroads.
The logic behind asking Sachin Tendulkar, in his record 357th appearance in ODIs, to bat at No. 3 was questionable. The Mumbaikar is in the middle of a relatively dry run, but then No. 3 is also essentially a top-order slot.
In the event, Tendulkar entered the middle in the first over itself. Though he disappointed on this occasion, the game marked another extraordinary achievement for a remarkable cricketer who has travelled miles and reached many milestones in his remarkable journey.
Even if the think-tank had decided on Tendulkar's position and saw wisdom in retaining Virender Sehwag at No. 4, Mohammed Kaif would have been a better choice as an opener. Kaif made a competent 46 at No. 7, but he could have walked in with Gambhir.
Kaif plays close to his body and is well equipped to handle the moving delivery. Moreover, India would have had a right-left combination in place. The sight of the grass probably prompted the host to opt for an extra batsman.
Pollock struck almost immediately, when Pathan drove away from his body and dragged the ball on to his stumps. The South African snared Tendulkar into nibbling at a delivery that left him after pitching outside the off-stump. He then cleverly angled one across Gambhir. India was bleeding at 23 for three.
This was an afternoon where South Africa's support pacemen joined the party, although the speedy Makhaya Ntini missed out owing to a bout of fever.
Andrew Hall prised out the two dangermen, Sehwag and Dhoni, with clever variations in pace. Charl Langeveldt, who had recovered from a hamstring strain, ended Dravid's tenure with a peach of a delivery delivered from wide off the crease and straightened as the Indian skipper played slightly across.
Kaif and Yuvraj Singh were then involved in a fighting 81-run partnership for the sixth wicket in 103 balls. Kaif, solid and composed, played a few crisp strokes in front of the wicket. Yuvraj, whose bat is a lot straighter in the early phase of his innings these days, drove majestically whenever the opportunity arose.
Kaif (46, 63b, 4x4) pulled one into mid-wicket's hands. It was smart captaincy by Smith when he introduced Johan Botha into the attack. And the off-spinner trapped Yuvraj (53, 78b, 7x4) in front with one that spun into the left-hander. The South African pacemen returned to clean up the Indian tail.
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