The Indian cricketers began their Nairobi campaign on a giant-killing note. They bowled and fielded like men possessed. After demolishing the South African batting line-up for 117 runs in 48 overs, India carved out an eight-wicket victory in the four-nation Series for LG Cup on Sunday.
Sunil Joshi, a 28-year-old left-arm spinner, emerged with a dream spell of 10-6-6-5 that mesmerised the South African batsmen. Sunil Joshi who made his international debut in the summer of 1996 has been struggling to cement his place in the playing eleven. Today was his day mainly due to the fact that he bowled with great imagination as never before in an international match. Anil Kumble who has been the main spinner for several seasons now has not made the trip to Nairobi.
Hence the responsibilities of Joshi and off-spinner Nikhil Chopra increased. They did their job extremely well. South Africa skipper Hansie Cronje chose to bat first. "Chasing a target on this turning track against the India spinners would be a tough proposition"- that must have been Cronje's line of thinking. But Cronje's plans were destroyed by a Joshi-led Indian attack. Joshi came on to bowl the 10th over (32 for no loss) and succeeded off the second ball when Rahul Dravid brought off a spectacular diving catch in the second slip to send back Herschelle Gibbs.
From then on South Africa could not find a batsman who could deal with some superb spin bowling. In the very next over from Joshi, Robin Singh effected a brilliant direct hit at the striker's end to run out Mark Boucher. Four overs later, for an addition of only seven runs, Joshi struck again.
This time he beat and bowled debutante Boeta Dippenaar with a beauty and six runs later lured Cronje to offer a bat/pad catch to Ramesh at silly point (45-4). Chopra made it 83 for five when he snapped up a splendid return catch to dismiss Dale Benkenstein. Chopra threw himself forward to scoop up the ball inches from the ground. Joshi came back for his second spell to consume Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusener. The two South African batsmen are known for their ability to change the complexion of the game.
But today Joshi was the master. Then Chopra accounted for the tail and the innings came to an end in the last ball of the 48th over. Chopra bagged 3 for 26. Jacques Kallis who had come in to bat at 32 for 2 was the eighth man out at 106. His effort of 38 in 110 balls deserved all praise as it was made against an attack that hardly lost its rhythm. Joshi's spell (10-6-6-5) is the most attractive ever for India.
The other best spells were those of Bishen Singh Bedi's 12-8-6-1 against East Africa (1975 World Cup) and Anil Kumble's 6 for 12 against the West Indies in 1993. South Africa today made its lowest total against India. South Africa had made 185 in 1996 in Mumbai against India. Till today's innings that was South Africa's lowest against India. Very few would have given a chance for the tactically and technically brilliant South African bowlers to hit back strongly.
India's openers Sourav Ganguly and Sadagopan Ramesh, both left-handers, flayed the South African attack with such disdain that the pair put on 72 runs in 10.2 overs. Ramesh (36 in 36 balls, 7x4) hoisted a catch to Shaun Pollock off Derek Crooks near the long on fence.