Relentless McKenzie, dead pitch deny India

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Old 30-Mar-2008
Relentless McKenzie, dead pitch deny India

Chennai: The first Test between India and South Africa came to an inglorious end, with the South Africans ending their second innings at 331-5 declared. Neil McKenzie continued in his rich vein of form to remain unbeaten on 155, while Mark Boucher kept him company at the end with 11 runs.

The absolutely unhelpful Chennai pitch had consigned this match to the record books right from the last session of the fourth day, and there was very little the bowlers could have done to change that plot. The South African batsmen took away some precious batting practice, not to mention some big scores, as the action now shifts to Ahmedabad for the second Test, beginning on April 3.

If there were to be any advertisements for Test cricket after this, this pitch would certainly not feature on it. Home advantage is a given, but this track did not provide any advantage to anyone at all. As many as 1498 runs were scored in the match for the loss of 25 wickets, the highest ever here.

One wicket fell in the last session, as Virender Sehwag claimed AB de Villiers, but surely the Delhi batsman’s memories would be restricted to his batting display.

In the post-lunch session, Harbhajan Singh tried his best to breathe some life into the Chennai Test as it slowly but surely meandered towards a quiet death.

The off-spinner, coming in for a spell in the 34th over of the innings, bowled a long 11-over spell from the pavilion end, on a pitch that fell deeper into slumber with every passing over. His perseverance paid off in the shape of two wickets, as he got rid of Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince, but the task was too big, especially with skipper Anil Kumble, absent with a ‘niggle’, not bowling at the other end.

Kallis swept to the square-leg region for RP Singh to make a rare contribution to the match, while Prince offered an easy catch to Wasim Jaffer at bat-pad.

Whether things would have been different with Kumble bowling at the other end we will never know, but Sehwag’s part-time off-spin was never going to be an ideal foil for the probing Harbhajan.

Sachin Tendulkar, who was suffering from a mild groin strain, and an upset tummy, and was also off the field.

Apart from blemishes in the field by the Indians, the morning session was threatening to be forgettable, before Kumble put an end to Sreesanth’s misery and Amla’s innings, shortly before lunch. The South Africans reached 212-2 at lunch.

Amla was looking good for another hundred before he played inside the line to Kumble, and the outside edge went straight to Rahul Dravid at slip. The Durban batsman scored 81 runs, and was involved in a 157-run second-wicket stand with McKenzie.

Earlier, Amla, with his score at 55, swept Harbhajan and for once top-edged the ball. S Sreesanth, running in from the fine-leg fence, let the easy offering slip through his hands. While what Harbhajan said cannot be printed, the angry off-spinner, fielded angrily, and every effort was followed by gestures at Sreesanth, or a searing throw into MS Dhoni’s gloves.

Then RP Singh added his own bit, flooring a return catch off the same batsman, when he was on 72.

The curator of the Chepauk pitch should be rewarded for producing possibly a stillborn track, which never was going to wake up. Add to that the Indian bowlers’ general inability to force much, and then the dropping of catches. No wonder McKenzie and Amla partied.

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