There are some moments of brilliance that slip into oblivion from public memory. The ultimate result obviously has a bearing in its fate but in hindsight, those moments reflect in importance and were signs of what we saw later. One such passage of play came during India’s tour to South Africa in 1996-97 — a largely unhappy tour for the visitors, where rain robbed them off a consolation victory in a Test match Johannesburg, register a tie against Zimbabwe and also their only win of the sojourn against the same opposition. Beating South Africa in their backyard seemed impossible for Sachin Tendulkar’s men, even when they found inspiration in those brief passages of play.
India made it through to the final of the One-Day International (ODI) tri-series by beating Zimbabwe in their last league game, thanks to a dazzling century by Tendulkar. The final was scheduled at Durban and when India scored 191 for nine in their 50 overs, a South African victory seemed a formality. However, the heavens opened up during the South African run-chase and a reboot was scheduled the following day. This time, South Africa batted first and carted 278 — a huge score in those days. Some rain meant that India had to chase a revised target of 251 in 40 overs.
Sourav Ganguly was dismissed with the score on 18, when Rahul Dravid walked out to bat. What followed was a dazzling display of batting — mostly conventional but with a hint of fearlessness and even a bit impetuous. Up against an attack featuring Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Rudy Bryson, Tendulkar and Dravid lit up Durban and powered India to a great start. Tendulkar made room and carted Bryson through the covers. He then held his shape and lofted one over the infield. When Shaun Pollock gave him room, he carted it through point. Dravid latched on to a short one and smashed it through mid-wicket.
Donald was brought in first change. Remember, on this tour, he had some great contests with Tendulkar — with both men at the peak of their powers. This time, Tendulkar swivelled across and guided one off his hips behind square for four. India had raced to 47 off six overs.
Pollock returned and Dravid creamed one through the covers in his typical classical fashion. A full toss was then flicked to cow corner. This was no slogging, but proper conventional batting. Tendulkar then ended the seventh over with his cover drive for four. India sped past 60 in seven overs. But two shots stood out came off Donald. Tendulkar pulled one over square-leg for four and Dravid played an uncharacteristic loft over long-on for six. India brought down the required rate under six and victory seemed a possibility.
However, in came Tendulkar’s nemesis — Hansie Cronje. With his innocuous medium pace, he pitched one on Tendulkar’s legs, who timed one beautifully into the hands of Bryson at short fine-leg. It all happened against the run of play! Having mastered the faster bowlers, Tendulkar invariably fell to the lack of pace from Cronje for 45. With the score on 84 for two in the 11th over, one may have said that the pair had done its job.
In fact, the show continued with Azharuddin chipping in with an attractive 45. Dravid went on to make 84 and guided the innings. India were in control of most of the run-chase, only to collapse on Dravid’s dismissal and falling short by 17 runs. In a way, this summed up India’s tour, where they failed to convert those moments into long-term successes. Nevertheless, in the years ahead, Dravid became an important cog in India’s ODI squad, constructing many partnerships with Ganguly and Tendulkar.
(Scorecard courtesy: ESPNCricinfo)