Arjun Raja is a NRIOL featured sports columnist. To read about Arjun Raja, please Know more.
India played into the hands of South Africa in the LG Cup final at Nairobi. After winning the toss, India who have a history of being notoriously bad chasers (ask Geoffery Boycott-whose being saying it for years now) elected to do just that thereby giving South Africa a chance to avenge the disastrous defeat a week ago.
I am not suggesting that India will win all matches in which they bat first, but the fact remains that we are better off batting first. Recent history proves just that. We won at Toronto in the final game batting first, we beat England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the World Cup batting first and I dare say if we had SA at 18 for 3 chasing a score instead of setting one, we would have definitely won the game.
It again proves the point I raised when India lost to Zimbabwe in the World Cup - we do not have a batsman who can be termed a good finisher in the one-day game. Someone you can bet your last dollar on to see you through. They could all be brilliant on their day (sometimes when it is not required) but seldom do you see a great innings to win a one-day game while chasing runs.
A fabulous spell of seam bowling by Prasad and Mohanty had brought SA to their knees with the score reading 18 for 3 in 11 overs. SA's three outstanding one-day players were back in the pavilion - Klusener (bowled first ball by Mohanty), Kallis and Rhodes caught in the slips off Prasad.
From here on the game changed. The wicket ... was no more a spinners delight, and did not provide the Indian spinners with the same amount of help. Captain Cronje realised this early on and went about attacking the spinners. He welcomed Chopra to the crease with a straight six which nearly hit the cameraman on his head, and raced to 39 in 41 balls with two sixes and 3 fours.
While Cronje was smashing the spinners, Gibbs played an attacking game as well and to South Africa's good fortune, he continued to play his normal game after Cronje's departure.
Gibbs scored 84 which won him the Man of the Match Award and with the support of Crookes, Benkenstein and Pollock SA scored a very healthy 235. This score was still very much within India's grasp as the wicket was still a beauty.
A good start was essential in chasing a score in the region of 230-250 but that was not to be. Ramesh was caught in the covers, driving with minimal footwork to spoon an easy catch. Ganguly, who had scored a brilliant century in the previous game, lost concentration in Pollock's 5th over and was caught behind for 10, the score a dismal 25 for 2.
At this stage India took a gamble and sent in wicket keeper MSK Prasad who didn't let himself or the side down. He played very well for his 63 in 90 balls although he was a bit slow to get off the blocks.
Rahul Dravid's dismissal was crucial because his job was to play the anchor role and stay till the end, but a fantastic catch by Rhodes put paid to such ambitions and a slow start by Rahul went to waste. He played 65 balls for his 30, slow by his lofty standards.
From then on the pressure was on the Indian batsmen as the required rate went past six runs per over and they succumbed to it. One by one they gave their wickets away to rash shots and soon the last pair was at the crease.
Jadeja threw away a good start, so did Bharadwaj who had bowled so well earlier on and that was the reason for our defeat. Any of them could have won the game for India, so fluently were they batting. Jadeja scored 30 in 32 balls and Bharadwaj 24 in just 18.
To their credit it must be said that they both acknowledged their folly at the prize giving ceremony. If only all our batsmen think on the same lines - that it is up to each one of them to finish the game, only then will we win more matches chasing totals and get rid of the tag of being poor chasers.
All said and done, it was a fine performance by the Indians in Nairobi and unfortunately they had to lose to the better team on the day.
They can take heart from the fact that they performed brilliantly although they were missing two of their main weapons, Tendulkar the batsman and Javagal Srinath the bowler. Srinath was in fine form in the Domestic Irani Trophy Match this week, claiming 6 for 34 which augurs well for the test series against New Zealand beginning in a week's time.
South Africa: 235 for 9 in 50 overs
Gibbs 84, Cronje 39, Crookes 25.
Bharadwaj 3 for 34, Prasad 2 for 21 and Mohanty 2 for 36.
India: 209 all out.
MSK Prasad 63, Jadeja 30, Dravid 30.
Crookes 3 for 47, Pollock 2 for 28 and Klusener 2 for 33.
South Africa won the LG CUP by 26 runs. Read more
- Arjun Raja in Dubai, UAE1999
The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.For a listing of past columns by Arjun Raja, please Know more.