India got home by the skin of their teeth in the third one-dayer against South Africa, at Cape Town, with the heroes of the match undeniably Yusuf Pathan and Harbhajan Singh. The latter order batsmen's aggressive approach evidently turned the tables on the South African who had been dominating upto a point. But did the batsmen go overboard in the task to stave off defeat and snatch victory?
Yusuf Pathan came into bat just as India had stumbled to 93/5 at the halfway point in the innings, still requiring 128 runs. But the tourists did have some leeway as they had over 150 balls to reach the target in. However, Yusuf appeared intent on throwing caution to the wind straight away. After settling in with a confidently-driven four off Dale Steyn to backward of point, Pathan let fly on the off-spinner Johan Botha.
In so doing, he hazarded his wicket big time - edging a length bowl that flew between keeper and slip. Had the gloveman A B de Villiers' reflexes been just a tad sharper, Pathan would have been on his way and at that stage, it would have pretty much been game over for India.
The fiery Indian allrounder then motored along like a road-roller, slamming J P Duminy (who had earlier picked up Yuvraj's wicket) for a four before getting stuck into Botha once again. Morphing his bat into a steaming missile-launcher, Yusuf biffed three monstrous sixes off the hapless bowler. Was it wise to take the aerial route when safer ground shots would have sufficed?
In his defence, Pathan says that he "played his shots to put the opposition on the backfoot". But was such unwarranted aggression really necessary when India were anyway going at a decent run-rate? Of course, at the end of the match, his belligerence was vindicated with victory and all was forgiven. But in retrospect, one wonders how much a part luck had played in Pathan's knock.
Though Pathan had grown more cautious as his innings progressed and sensibly pushed for singles and twos, Harbhajan who came in at the fall of Suresh Raina's wicket, seemed to have picked upYusuf's recklessness from where he had left it off. In the 39th over, with India needing just 43 from the last 12 overs, Bhajji pushed at a wide delivery from Morkel without a hint of footwork, to nearly find the outstretched hand of Duminy at backward point. But as was the case with Yusuf earlier in the evening, Bhajji survived.
When Pathan was eventually dismissed by Morkel, the new man Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan should have been trying to play it safe, especially given that the number of balls remaining outstripped the runs required. But instead, they unleashed a slew of wild swings, increasing the likelihood of top-edges and caught-behind chances. Luckily, such misfortune didn't befall India and a couple of Bhajji's connections were clean enough to clear the boundary ropes as India hopped to victory.
If India want to take their chances of effecting a historic series win in the Rainbow Nation seriously, they will do well to rethink their batting strategies, especially up the order. India can ill afford to have their top-order wiped out for under 100 runs again and expect the later batsmen to pull miracles out of a hat.