One realizes that Rahul Dravid is a classy man when he thanks the crowds for the support they have extended to the Indian team through the length and breadth of the country at the pre-game mid-pitch TV interview after the toss for the final game against the South Africans at the Wankhede stadium, Mumbai. That this astonishing public relations exercise comes immediately after the barracking he and his team received from the crowd at the Eden Gardens in Kolkatta is a sure sign that this is an Indian Captain who knows what sports is all about. It is about performing in front of your fans. And perform they did today.
The Indian team was outstanding in it’s pursuit for a win in the final game, the hunger was evident in Pathan’s guttural scream as he swung one right into the middle stump of a stunned Andrew Hall. Graeme Smith was tucking into a once again wayward Ajit Agarkar, before he fell over playing a low full toss on leg stump from Pathan, scooping it to Harbhajan Singh at square leg. South Africa prime batting weapon in their last 21 matches was Smith, and once he was gone, the batting lost direction. Kallis and Prince labored painfully, struggling to get the ball away. While Irfan was immaculate from the onset, after Smith’s dismissal even Agarkar tightened up his line in a splendid five over second spell. Harbhajan Singh was immaculate in his control and suffocated the South African’s. Prince finally succumbed to a top edged sweep, but Harbhajan wasn’t done yet. He made up for a misfield early on with a fantastic performance in the outfield. He stopped several boundaries and astonished everyone as he dived forward to take a stunning catch of a powerful Boucher sweep. Later, Harbhajan was brought back into the attack to get rid of the big hitting Justin Kemp, and he did just that when Kemp tried to sweep a sharply turning off break only to get another top edge to Yuvraj at short fine leg. Kallis meanwhile continued in first gear and only when Shaun Pollock clattered a few boundaries in the 47th and 48th overs did he attempt to seize the initiative. Kallis flayed one Pathan full toss to the off side boundary, but failed to clear long on off the very next ball. He had accumulated 91 painstaking runs off 146 balls with five boundaries at a strike rate of 62%. He had played a similar knock against New Zealand on an extremely slow track, a match winning one on that occasion, but this time he had not read the conditions properly and he was the primary reason why South Africa were about 20 runs short finishing only on 221 with 4 wickets remaining.
The Indian chase started poorly with the Super Sub Gambhir departing for a duck but the crowd was soon going hoarse screaming “Sachin, Sachin” as Tendulkar began to play some stunning drives and cuts. At the other end Sehwag raced away to a typically bellicose 27 in 20 balls including an awesome tennis serve like pull shot of a Shaun Pollock short ball. Sehwag’s innings was cut short by a poor lbw decision to Pollock. Dravid was the next man in and determination was writ large on his face. His timing was excellent as he turned Pollock to the mid wicket boundary and drove him to the long on boundary in the same over. Just as the partnership was guiding India to a winning position, South Africa struck back. Both Nel and Langeveldt were bowling superbly and it was the hustling Nel who struck. Sachin cut powerfully only to see Ashwell Prince diving to his left to pull of a blinder. The South Africans really are an outstanding fielding side. Yuvraj Singh, India’s best batsman of the series was in next and he combined with Dravid in a 79 run partnership that eased all flutters in the Indian dressing room. This time young Johan Botha couldn’t trouble Yuvraj, and both Botha and Hall couldn’t contain the Indians. Botha did miss a sharp return catch from Dravid, and that would have been a vital wicket. Andre Nel came back to dismiss Yuvraj on 49 and Langeveldt got rid off a lackluster Mahendra Singh Dhoni but at that point the Indian win was never in doubt. Dravid was unbeaten on 78 as Kaif hit the winning runs in the 48th over.
It was a great team effort from India to come back after the comprehensive defeat at Kolkatta. The bowlers and fielders did a fantastic job in containing South Africa and made it a relatively easy task for the batsmen. Dravid has every right to be proud of his team, and India should be proud of its new Captain.