Getting back to the first game, I must admit that I did not sleep too well the night before the match. Every cricketer dreams of leading his country, and during the first few overs, I was a little tense. However, as the game progressed, I settled down and felt a lot more relaxed.
What gave me even more satisfaction than starting off on a winning note was the fact that we debunked the theory that we are poor chasers. Before the series, we had worked out a game plan by which we decided that whatever the situation, we would never let the asking rate go above 7 to 7.5 runs. Right from the start, all the batsmen went about their job with an eye on the asking rate, hitting the odd boundary when it threatened to spiral out of reach.
I feel such an approach is necessary to achieve totals of 280 and above. Batsmen have to take calculated risks right through the innings, and I think it is better to be all out for 180 in 30 overs than to be watchful and fall short by heaps of runs.
In Kochi, I knew we were in with a chance when we managed to keep South Africa down to 302 after they were going at 7 per over for the first half of their innings. Though the ask was a run-a-ball from the start, if there was any pitch on which we could fancy our chances, it was the flat track at Kochi. Sachin and Rahul bowled tremendously to restrict them once they had got off to a flying start.
My decision to bring on Rahul was not a spur-of-the-moment one. I had always felt a slow off-spinner would be an asset on some of the flat pitches in India, and Rahul fitted the bill nicely. Though I do not plan to bring him on in every match, Rahul has been bowling at the nets regularly ever since the one-dayers began. Many would think it was a blunder to bowl Rahul towards the end of the Faridabad match, but I backed my instincts since the slower bowlers were the ones who had seemed more effective during the day.
A special word for Sachin - his bowling has been a revelation and he has come and stemmed the flow of runs in each of the matches. In Faridabad, it was his bowling that gave us a chance when South Africa seemed to be cruising to victory.
As far as our batting goes, Ajay and Azhar have brought back the fire into the belly of our batting line-up. Along with Robin Singh, they batted positively and did not lose their cool amid the confusion at the end of the Kochi match. Though the spectators were at the edge of their seats during the last over, I knew that we would get the eight runs required in the last over.
After the morale-booster in Kochi, we went to Jamshedpur with a great deal of confidence. It was a good toss to lose and I was delighted by the way Joshi bowled. His form has lifted the pressure off Kumble's shoulders, since we can now attack from both ends.
Both Hansie and I were delighted to see such a lush outfield in India, and it was one of the main reasons for our outstanding fielding performance on that day. As far as my century goes, it was a special one. I would rate it one of my best knocks because the pitch was not an easy one to bat on. The ball kept low and it was double-paced right through the day.
In Faridabad, I thought we were 20-30 runs lighter because we did not score enough between the 15th and 25th overs. We have to work on this lull period and make sure we score at a reasonable rate during this period of the match.
One of the moves we have made to ensure just that is the introduction of Joshi as a pinch hitter. He has a good eye and plays attacking shots even lower down the order. During our team meeting prior to the one-dayers, we had decided to use him whenever we felt we needed to step up the run rate. The move has worked reasonably well so far, and we plan to persist with Joshi higher up the order.
As far as the next two games go, we are high on confidence and with the return of Srinath, our bowling strength can only improve. We plan to go along with the same team with the addition of Srinath and Saba. South Africa have pulled one back, but the guys are determined to make amends.
We will be going all out to win the series 4-1.