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India face test of character
Krishnamachari Srikkanth - 06 November 2001

Javagal Srinath
The third day's play at Bloemfontein has seen the Indian bowlers put up a much-improved display. Javagal Srinath, in particular, was impressive, but with South Africa having gained a handsome lead, India will have to fight the good fight if they are to get on top again.

Many of India's woes stem from the fact that the Indian captain and his bowlers were unimaginative on a placid wicket on Sunday. After a heroic and magnificent innings from Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, I had expected the Indian bowlers, who have usually done well abroad, to rise to the occasion. But Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan, two of the four frontline bowlers, disappointed hugely.

Srinath, in contrast, bowled a good line and length, but then again, I could not understand why he did not come round the wicket while bowling to Gary Kirsten. After putting 379 on the board, India required quick breakthroughs, but Srinath's hesitancy to come round the wicket meant that Kirsten batted with minimum fuss. The senior South African opener went on to play another of his efficient innings before throwing his wicket away to an uncharacteristically loose shot.

Herschelle GIbbs
Herschelle Gibbs, for his part, was at his belligerent best. The young South African opener has great hand-eye co-ordination and is one of the finest of natural stroke-players around today. If Sachin lent the sparkle on Saturday, it was Gibbs who shone on Sunday.

A century partnership at the top of the order is always a huge boost to any team, and the fact that Gibbs and Kirsten have put on three century partnerships in the last three Tests has definitely helped their side in posting huge totals. I cannot help but speculate how much it would help India to have a opening pair like theirs.

With the regular Indian bowling proving to be bland, I was surprised to see Sourav Ganguly take a long time before finally introducing Sachin. The little champion is a minor magician with the ball and, as the tri-series final at Durban proved, the South Africans also have great difficulty in reading him. On Sunday too they had their problems, handling the little champion's brand of leg-spin. I only hope that Sourav shows greater faith in Sachin during the rest of the match, for it might prove crucial on a pitch that is expected to assist the slower bowlers during the last two days.

Talking about slower bowlers, India definitely misses Harbhajan Singh a great deal. He was one bowler who could have taken the mickey out of the South Africans. The home team batsmen haven't read him at all, and Bhajji's amazing bag of tricks and variations of flight would have made a world of difference to the Indian attack.

Sachin Tendulkar
Let me then move on to the most pleasant task of talking about Sachin's great innings on Saturday. India were in the doldrums when the little master launched his brilliant offensive. Even a single mistake from the great man, and a total of even hundred might have been beyond us. But Sachin kept his head, used his imagination, finding boundaries where none existed. It was a clever innings, and only the genius of the man made it possible. I loved the way in which he deliberately kept guiding the ball over slips and to the third-man boundary. If you were to ask me, I would rate this knock as his finest, even above his great knock at Perth in February 1992. The fact that it gave India a chance to win the first Test of an away series makes it a very precious knock indeed.

I also liked the way in which Sachin guided Virender Sehwag. It was good to see him welcome the young man with a smile. Sachin also walked up to Sehwag at the right moments during the magnificent partnership between the two, and the young man gave his idol an attentive ear.

Virender Sehwag

Sehwag's hundred proved that he was a worthy entrant to the 'red- handkerchief club'. The courage and concentration that he showed during his first innings would have pleased both Jimmy Amarnath and Steve Waugh, founding members of and, indeed, on the board of directors of that exclusive club. Sehwag has a reputation for being one of the most attacking batsmen in Indian cricket, but the way in which he picked and chose the balls to hit showed a maturity and adaptability that was laudable in an young man playing his first Test.

When the Indians play their second innings, all the batsmen will have to show a similar maturity and commitment if we are to make our electric performance on the first day count. The South Africans have already built up a handsome lead and will be hoping to build on it and pile on the pressure. The remaining days are going to test the character of the Indians and their ability to save the Test, if not win it.

© CricInfo

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