Morne van Wyk, in the absence of Smith, is responding to team needs
BELFAST: If the Indians can win the third one-day game of the Future Cup against the South Africans on Sunday and the present weather pattern prevents any sensible forecast they will be satisfied that their hastily arranged trip to Ireland has been as successful as they could hope, despite the illness which spread through a camp trying to adapt from 35 degrees in the sub-continent to the a bitter Ulster June.
Their captain Rahul Dravid pronounced himself satisfied with their progress over the last week after they defeated Jacques Kallis’s men but there were anxious faces in their dressing room before they squeezed home by six wickets with three balls remaining.
When Sachin Tendulkar was hurtling towards his 15,000 run target and Sourav Ganguly was confidently offering support, it looked as if victory would be easy. After all, 227 is hardly a big target and here were two of the finest one-day players the game has known in obvious control.
But Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni got out in 28 balls for just eight runs and at 142 for four the path to victory looked rocky.
Besides Tendulkar had for the second match in four days got out in the 90s. Was it a sign of disasters to come? Is the old man of the side slipping now that 18 years into his long career he is in his middle 30s? He gave us a glimpse of those perfect white teeth. I wish I could get into the 90s every time I bat, he laughed. No, it is just one of those things. He still feels, he says, a surge of pride whenever he puts on his Indian cap, still looks forward to each match, has no vision of the end of his career. Even those England players waiting to lure him to a premature retirement by the middle of September will hope that the Sachin era is not coming to an end.
There were few signs that we would see him hang up boots, bat, pads and gloves any time soon as he hit 93 in 32 overs out of 142.
If, as the South African coach Mickey Arthur said this week, Ganguly has a presence, what has Tendulkar to offer? He is a mountain of a batsman, still an agile fielder and if he wants to give up that odd collection of spin and cut he calls his bowling, well, now may be the time.
Arthur has challenged his lesser batsmen to take over the role undertaken so it seems since the beginning of time by Kallis and in the South African innings Morne van Wyk responded. He is 28, playing in only his fourth one-dayer and he judged his second fifty in those four games perfectly.
He is hardly the new Morne but in the absence of Graeme Smith he adds a solidarity that any team needs particularly if someone of Kallis’s stature goes early.
A fifty from Mark Boucher and 40 from Jean-Paul Duminy brought a total that should have been easy; happily India had in Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik playing the part of finishers and in the last 17 overs they made sure of victory but it took a six from Yuvraj off Kallis to defeat a South African side displaying all the spirit we expect from the Veld.
That feisty character Andre Nel patrolled the boundary singing encouragement, arguing with the boisterous Indian supporters and making the anglers sign to suggest that South Africa would land a mighty catch.
It was a gesture in vain but we must not ignore the spirit for Nel too is also a finisher of the sort every team needs.