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Chennai Test heads for a Stalemate

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South Africa came back strongly after a depressing third day’s play in which they took a once in a lifetime pounding from Virender Sehwag. Millions of hearts were broken by a clinical performance from the tourists which started with the dismissal of Virender Sehwag very early in the day to deny a possible world record and then rounding off the fourth day with a solid partnership. The Chennai Test Match seems to be heading for a draw as the Proteas still have 9 wickets standing and are in with a lead of 44 runs in their second innings. The day’s highlight was that of Rahul Dravid becoming the third Indian to score 10,000 runs and overall the sixth player in the history of the game to achieve this wonderful feat.

Graeme Smith took the second new ball straightaway this morning and his bowlers – Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini looked very fresh. So did Virender Sehwag with all the physical fatigue vanishing after a good night’s rest. Sehwag though didn’t make use of this golden opportunity much to the disappointment of himself and millions of his well wishers. He didn’t quite approach his innings today as a new one. Instead he continued as if it was an extension of yesterday’s play and paid penalty. Sehwag was way too anxious, he didn’t take his time to get his eye in and didn’t bother to give respect to the fresh bowlers and the brand new cherry. A few rank bad shots, some added frustration thanks to Dravid’s inability to rotate the strike and a rejuvenated Makhaya Ntini ended his quest of getting to the 400-run mark. Sehwag was caught by Neil McKenzie at first slip when he tried to manufacture a forceful shot to a good delivery from Ntini that was too close for comfort. Viru ended with a new career best of 319 (from 304 balls with 42 fours and 5 sixes). His wicket fell in the sixth over of the day’s play to end the massive 268-run partnership with Dravid.

Ntini was a different bowler with a newly found confidence. The fast bowler then went onto remove Sachin Tendulkar for a duck! Tendulkar, who was waiting for a day and a half with his pads on, was too vulnerable playing away from his body. Ntini got one to move away from just short of a driving length and Tendulkar (0 from 5 balls) followed it to be caught by Kallis at second slip. After this, the Indians got into a shell as the Proteas bowled beautifully. Dravid showed no intentions whatsoever to push the scoreboard forward. He did achieve his incredible milestone of 10,000 runs in the 119th over when he had flicked Morne Morkel for a single. Rahul’s wife Vijeta and son Samit along with a sell out crowd at Chennai and everybody else took a moment to acknowledge his wonderful feat. Although past this landmark, Dravid continued to play a boorish innings while Ganguly started to stroke the ball sweetly to get some sort of momentum. But he fell to the left arm spinner’s delivery which had landed in the rough outside the offstump. Ganguly’s attempted square cut was defeated by the extra kick off the footmarks and Boucher took a sharp catch to help Harris get his first wicket having bowled close to 40 overs! The left hander made 24 from 29 with 4 fours.

India were still trying to catch up with SA’s 540. Eventually they got into a lead of only 7 by lunch with Dravid crawling to reach 99. Dravid got to his 25th hundred and after that finally opened up and started to free his arms. Runs began to come and Laxman too joined the party which didn’t last long as the South Africans kept on taking wickets. Dravid (111 from 291 balls with 15 fours) was also caught in the slips to give a third wicket for Ntini. Then came the Chennai Super King and also the Million Dollar Cricketer – Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The dashing wicket keeper batsman tried to give the charge to Dale Steyn but the latter showed why he was one of the most fearsome fast bowler in present day cricket. Steyn dig one hard onto the turf and Dhoni was forced to glove it behind. MS Dhoni got 16 from 33 in his struggle to get India a quick and sizeable lead.

Steyn then ran through the rest of the Indian lower order with his speedy reversing inswingers. India got bowled out for 627 in the 156th over when Laxman (39 from 64 with 4 fours) was caught and bowled by Paul Harris trying to work one against the turn after Tea. Dale Steyn finished with 4 for 103 from 32 overs, Ntini with 3 for 128 in 28 and Harris with 3 for 203. But the best bowler was no doubt Morne Morkel, who ironically didn’t get a single wicket in his 25 overs. Paul Harris was a big failure, the left arm spinner wasn’t good enough to have any minimum consistency in his length. It was either short deliveries or over pitched ones.

India got to a lead of just 87 which was made to look very tiny by an onslaught from Skipper Graeme Smith. The left hander showed what aggressive batting is like in his own style. RP Singh and Sreesanth (who was struck on his wrist by a short pitch delivery while batting) were taken to the cleaners by Smith. Harbhajan was therefore brought into the attack early in the 9th over. And the Turbanator came to the rescue in his 2nd over itself to force Graeme Smith to play him along the wrong line to get an lbw. Smith by then had got 35 in 30 balls with 5 fours in an opening stand of 53. The remaining part of the day’s play was well controlled by the inform Neil McKenzie (59* from 98 balls with 7 fours) and Hashim Amla (35* from 70 balls with 4 fours) and SA cruised to 133 for 1 in 33 overs. Unless somebody bowls a magic spell on the last day, it looks difficult to see a result for India. South Africa as such have no realistic chance of a win.

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