Wednesday, December 1

Kolkata Day 4

A Jennings of Hope

Ray Jennings stated yesterday that he looked forward to wrapping up the Indian lower order, batting positively, and setting India 200 in the last two sessions on Day 5. It would seem, unfortunately for the outspoken new coach, that there is only an outside chance of that happening. Unless we (are shocked to) see Kallis and de Bruyen come out all guns blazing (and hitting the target several times over), that is one way this match looks unlikely to head. Predictions on the last day of a wearing Indian pitch are hardly the best idea, especially with a home team still looking for the fluency in batting it is used to- but the South Africans will be pulling something out of a hat here of they manage a (series) win.

To be fair, the visitors stuck to their task admirably, but the morning session still unfolded in a way that neither side would moan about, or be ecstatic. Surely though, the Indians would have been the happier lot going in to a lunch break 106 runs ahead and set to bowl after a few bananas and miscellaneous fruit. Yet, South Africa would have initially been happy they dislodged Pathan, who could have proved to be dangerous, pretty quickly. Karthik played with enough spirit , and effectiveness, to assuage any doubts on his ability to wield the willow. Without tearing through the tail, they couldnt help but give away at least the 50 odd runs they eventually did.

Smith and Hall provided a reassuring, sensible and prosperous start. The two left armers loooked nowhere near as menacing as they did on Day 2, and the openers survived- flourished, even. The advent of Kumble initially did not seem like much cause for concern, but once Harbhajan came on, things looked different. The pitch, providing glimpses over the last few sessions of how it would aid quality spinners, got its first chance to do so. It was then, for quite a while, the Turbanator all the way. With an irresistible rough around the right hander’s leg stump, Kumble insisted on bowling around the wicket for a large part of his spell, without much success. It was Bhajji who looked likely to take a wicket, proceeding to take all of the first four.

That his first four did not include Jaques Kallis when it should have, has been a great talking point since. In real time live play, I must say, it looked terribly and surely out. There was no doubt in my mind at home, and in the players'- and, as you can
see here , in Bhajji's. Daryl Haprer, unfortunately, thought otherwise. Things 'evened out' later on when Hashim Amla was given out though in replays it seemed he hadn’t nicked it. But the value of Kallis and the value of Amla....oh well, this will or won't continue to be a talking point only after tomorrow's result.

It was with more than a little surprise that we saw Dravid suddenly out of slip and in at short leg. Commentators were puzzled and found it quite absurd, till Laxman (now at slip) pulled off a stunner to dismiss Smith- truly plucking it out from almost behind and above himself. Of course, Laxman's skill at slip was not the reason for Dravid moving out. Later Mozzrekar even ventured to say it was a sign of his team spirit that Dravid was at short leg instead of Gambhir, recognising how crucial that position could be in terms of an outcome in the match.

Sachin had little part to play today except manfully patrolling the square leg and deep square leg positions. There was a little girl in the stands, though, who was interested in things other than Mr Tendulkar. In an assuredly smile-inducing shot, we could see her holding up a poster that said- "Hi Sachin. How is Sara? Can we be friends?" This was followed by the girl's name and phone number! Sara of course, is Sachin's daughter who though, I suspect, is younger to the girl in the stadium.

On the field of play, not many are younger that Dinesh Karthik who acquitted himself honourably behind the stumps. Between him, the spinners, the umpires and a couple of South Africans will be decided the fate of this match. In the noisy cauldron that is Eden Gardens, it will be amazing if the South Africans pull of a victory.
On a dusty Day 5 pitch in India, a prediction is hardly the best idea, but this not the minefield that Wankhede was, and the Indians will fancy chasing a small target. First though, they must dislodge Kallis and then the aggressive Polly. If the left armers can get any purchase first up, or if the spinners still hold all the cards, remains to be seen. Either way, we finally have an almost guaranteed exciting day's play in store. Not something you could have said too often in this series.

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