India v South Africa, Group A
Trevor Chesterfield - 15 May 1999
South Africa power flattens India
HOVE - India seemed to run out of ideas and bowlers at the crucial stage yesterday as the favourites South Africa took control of their opening World Cup match at the County Ground today to clinch a four-wicket victory.
And the two points will do South Africa quite nicely thank you as they look at their game against Sri Lanka at Northampton next Wednesday while the vanquished tigers of India need to regroup against Zimbabwe, who have the reputation of upsetting the bigger sides in this tournament.
So close yet so far for the Indians as the frailty of youthful inexperience cost them dearly as they tried to stay in the game against the cunning South Africans who scored the 254 needed off 47.2 overs in reply to India's 253 for six.
Yet for India, when it came the end was unexpectedly cruel and swift: the hand of Lance Klusener the executioner of a dream as he cut and drove with cool, calm calculation the bowling of 22-year-old Ajit Agarkar. He may have taken 68 wickets in a limited-overs international career of 38 matches, but the young man's inability to bowl line and length showed and as he suffered so did India.
With 26 runs needed off as many deliveries, the noose of uncertainty swung between the two sides; the smart money was on South Africa, despite the run out of Jacques Kallis for 96 and the fall of the sixth wicket at 227. A direct flat throw for third man by Venkatesh Prasad to the bowler's end saw Javagal Srinath break the stumps with Kallis well short of his ground.
It had been a risky third run anyway, even with Jonty Rhodes. Only the all-rounder, named man of the match, four runs of what would have been his sixth LOI century, had played a major role in steering South Africa through some uncertain, choppy seas as the run-rate was pegged by tidy bowling and some lively fielding.
Only his departure saw Klusener emerge from the pavilion and cut for four the first ball he faced, a four off a full toss from Srinath. For India is had been a disastrous over: nine runs with Rhodes charging through for a two and a single. Then it was Klusener's turn to unleash his broadsword. Big and heavy and named ``Beauty'' the bat is designed with such a slaying in mind. He punched the first ball for four through the covers; found another gap on the leg side and thrashed a half volley for another boundary.
Agarkar, who had bowled with a lively pace in his first spell, even if he did not look so comfortable when bowling to Mark Boucher or Kallis. This time he had no answer at all and the 17 runs off the over was enough to clinch the game for South Africa.
What was also noticeable was how the Indian fielding buckled under pressure when Klusener was in control. Gone was the confidence and bustle of the first 35 overs as South Africa battled to remain in touch with what looked to be winning score.
There was something enigmatic about India's innings. Everytime Tendulkar laid bat on ball there was a massive cheer from the Asian section; which is as it should be. Yet, while he may be the prince of batting for some he does have his flaws. One is that as a limited-over player he has a penchant to open the bat and run the ball past the slips, or plant a foot in the wrong the position and try and squirt the ball past the wicketkeeper.
It was this last choice of shot selection which led to his undoing to the dismay of a few thousand at the ground and millions in India. They had wanted him so badly to succeed that you could almost hear the anguished cry from Mumbai when he edged the Lance Klusener delivery: seam up and cutting away to force a false stroke.
What followed, however, was some tight disciplined batting as Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid paced each other with care and attention, rotating the strike, pinching runs where there were none and keeping the ball on the ground. Good sensible and textbook stuff, if perhaps a little slow. They added 130 which kept the innings afloat at a steady rate from the 16th over to the 42nd when Dravid was bowled by Klusener for 54.
Then we had Ganguly, looking to score the first century of the tournament looking for quick single: it was to Rhodes and he suffered as a result, run out for 97 as Rhodes' return to Kallis found the batsman short of the safety zone.
Were India 20 runs too light? Perhaps, but in the end you cannot control a batsman such as Klusener.