There is an old adage which says "The best form of defence is attack". However, in the crucial second one-dayer against South Africa at Johannesburg, India didn't pay heed to the saying, instead defending and attacking as the need arose. The batsman figured that the only viable option to counter the speed and bounce of the Proteas' pace batttery was to shrivel into a defensive shell up front.
The traditional and circumspect strategy only partially worked as the top order had barely seen out the new ball when they collapsed in a cluster. One could imagine that a more effective technique would have been to fight fire with fire just as Vijay had promised to do by smacking fours in the first two overs. But India had seen where that sort of unwarranted aggression had landed them in the previous match.
Luckily after the initial onslaught launched by the Proteas, India's middle order came to the fore. Captain M S Dhoni wisely promoted himself up the order and joined forces with a resurgent Yuvraj Singh to steady the innings. Initially, runs were hard to come by and the boundaries appeared to have parched away. But the duo were patient and kept plugging away for singles. They delivered in a crucial passage of play and put on a meaty partnership, only to see all the initiative they had worked up fall away as the latter order came to the crease.
As the Proteas stranglehold kept tightening around the Indians' necks, batsmen kept exiting at the drop of a hat and while 230-240 seemed a likely target at one stage in India's innings, the tourists folded for a paltry 190. The slide started oddly enough with India taking a batting powerplay in the dying overs and culminated in an inadequate total as India were bowled out with 16 balls remaining. The chance to take India over a psychologically advantageous 200 went a begging.
But that poor performance in the first half of the match only seemed to sharpen India's zest to wrest back control in the second. The bowlers came out with all guns blazing. Munaf Patel got to open with Zaheer Khan as the less effective Ashish Nehra was relegated to first-change bowler. Munaf's accuracy and stable seam position was immediately rewarded as he ensnared Hashim Amla for 4.
Then just as captain Graeme Smith and Colin Ingram threatened to take the game away from India, Harbhajan struck a couple of timely blows to peg back the hosts. However, the Proteas resolve seemed rock solid and they were very much in the hunt till they crossed 150 with just four wickets down.
But Smith's departure triggered a collapse as India came back strongly. The Indian nerves must have morphed to steal in the last 10 overs of the match, as they were able to shoot out one batsman after another in quick succession. It took a magical last over from Munaf to seal the win as he kncoked over the last two wickets and took his tally to a Man-of-the-Match winning 4/29.
Such a narrow victory is something India has traditionally never been able to pull off, except for maybe the odd one or two occasions such as in the Titan Cup final of 1996 when India reached home by a few runs. Now with the present series even at 1-1, the next game will be all that much more exciting from both the players and spectators point of view. Maybe a win is all India has needed to stamp its authority on this series. Go to it, India!