India face uphill task in decider

India face a huge task of denying South Africa their first-ever one-day series victory in this country when the two teams clash in Mumbai on Monday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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Smarting under a humiliating defeat, India face a huge task of denying South Africa their first-ever one-day series victory in this country when the two teams clash under lights in the deciding fifth and final match in Mumbai on Monday. The 10-wicket defeat at Kolkata's Eden Gardens in the fourth cricket one-dayer handed over the momentum as well as an unassailable 2-1 lead to the tourists in the best-of-five contest. It would now require a monumental effort from the host team to stop the South Africans from clinching their first one-day series in India in six attempts, including two multi-nation events. India can, however, take heart ahead of the deciding clash because of some factors that go in their favour. Seam-friendly surface The biggest plus point the home team has is the pitch, which was on Saturday described as sporting by curator Sudhir Naik. It is quite unlike the grassy, seam-friendly surface that was dished out much to the chagrin of the Indians in Kolkata two days ago. The grass was shaved off from the Wankhede Stadium pitch with a mower on Saturday evening at the instance of Indian Selection Committee Chairman Kiran More who personally supervised the operation. The Indian batsmen, who came a cropper against the seaming ball at Eden Gardens, should prosper in familiar conditions in Mumbai. And importantly, they would have the full-throated support of a full house. Another facet, which should give comfort to the home team, is that South Africa have lost both their matches played against the hosts at this venue a decade ago. India have a 50 per cent win-loss record at this ground. The Indian think tank, which surprisingly sent in Irfan Pathan to open the innings at Kolkata, is unlikely to continue with this sort of over-the-top experimentation in Monday's crucial encounter. Slump in form Most important from India's point of view is the form of their big guns Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid who have done precious little with the bat of late and have accumulated a miserly six and 24 runs respectively in the three completed matches of the series so far. In fact Tendulkar's form slump of seven matches without a fifty, including the previous series against Sri Lanka, has been his worst-ever sequence of poor scores since 2002 when he could not score a half-century in nine innings. But local hero Tendulkar, who set a world record for the maximum number of ODI appearances in Kolkata, can also take heart from the fact that Wankhede is one of his favourite grounds, having done quite well here with an aggregate of 386 in eight outings with a century to boot. Yuvi's maturity What should be equally heartening for the Indians is the maturity shown by Yuvraj Singh to come to the side's rescue in times of adversity and especially in this series in conditions, which have not been very ideal for strokeplay. The Punjab left-hander showed grit, determination and good shot selection in ample measure to turn the innings around after the top order had been unseated both in Hyderabad and Kolkata. But adding to the Indians' cup of woes has been the inconsistency shown by their strike pace bowlers Pathan and Ajit Agarkar. The South Africans are on a high after their brilliant display in the last encounter. Shaun Pollock showed once again what a master craftsman he is in conditions ideal for his type of bowling while the other bowlers supported him to the hilt. But even more pleasing for the visitors must have been the superb batting of their captain Graeme Smith who treated the Indian attack with disdain to race to an unbeaten century in the fourth tie and provide the platform for the thumping victory. (PTI)