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India vs South Africa: 10 greatest ODI bowling spells

 

Dale Steyn claimed five for 50 against India in the ICC 2011 World Cup match © Getty Images
Dale Steyn claimed five for 50 against India in the ICC 2011 World Cup match © Getty Images

 

India is all set to take on South Africa in yet another One-Day International (ODI) series. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the greatest bowling spells in the history of India-South Africa encounters.

 

India-South Africa encounters come with a different meaning altogether. India, after all, had played a major role in their re-admission to international cricket. They made their comeback against India over two decades back, and since then — irrespective of who won the contest — the matches were played with as much intensity as any other.

 

Several such encounters were won based on exceptional spells. Some spells decided matches at the beginning of an innings; some others turned defeats into victories; and some others were parts of phenomenal contests between the bat and the ball.

 

Here, then, is a list of the top ten ODI bowling performances in India-South Africa encounters:

 

 

Allan Donald, 8.4-0-29-5 at Eden Gardens, November 10, 1991

 

I was there during the match, and call myself fortunate for turning up that day. A 90,000-strong crowd welcomed Clive Rice’s South Africans back to the arena. Kepler Wessels scored 50, Adrian Kuiper 43, but the Indian seamers bowled beautifully and restricted the tourists to 177 for eight in 47 overs. It would be a pushover, we thought.

 

Rice summoned a tall, stout, blonde bowler. Just another of those foreign seamers, we thought. Seated behind extra-cover I did not have the best of positions. What I did notice, though, was the fact that Dave Richardson and the slips were standing unusually back.

 

Allan Donald steamed in. All we saw was a puff of dust at the good-length spot, and all we heard was the ball landing into Richardson’s gloves with a thwack. Maybe a seat at the Clubhouse End or the High Court End would have given me a chance to see the ball.

 

Ravi Shastri edged the fifth ball to Richardson; Sanjay Manjrekar, then acknowledged as technically the best batsman in the country, had his stumped uprooted; and Navjot Singh Sidhu’s attempted cut landed in Brian McMillan’s hands at gully. In one furious burst Donald had reduced India to 20 for three.

 

Unfortunately, Rice had only one Donald, and had to take him off just when Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin had started to look comfortable. Azharuddin failed, but the debutant Pravin Amre hung on. The two slowly threatened to take the match away from South Africa.

 

A desperate Rice brought back Donald for a second spell; almost immediately he accounted for Tendulkar, after which Rice took him away to preserve him for the end. Kapil Dev fell with the score on 148, but Amre and Manoj Prabhakar helped India edge towards victory.

 

It was still not over: Rice came back for one final time to trap Amre leg-before. It was too late, though, as India won the match by three wickets that over. Donald finished with five for 29, thus becoming only the third person (after Shaul Karnine and Tony Dodemaide) to take a five-for on debut. A star was born.

 

 

Fanie de Villiers, 10-2-28-1 at Jaipur, October 23, 1996

 

Following the debacle in Hyderabad, Tendulkar had decided to open with Sourav Ganguly in their next match against South Africa in the Titan Cup. Thanks to Darryl Cullinan’s 106 South Africa managed to reach 249 for six in the stipulated 50 overs. Ganguly walked out to open for the first time in his career alongside his captain: one of the greatest ODI opening partnerships set sailing.

 

Hansie Cronje opened with Fanie de Villiers and Brian McMillan, holding Donald back. Ganguly and Tendulkar set India off to a rollicking start, scoring 21 off the first three overs. The trend of taking the game away from the bowling side that decided ODIs in the 1990s was on course.

 

What followed was one of the tightest phases of bowling in the history of ODIs. De Villiers used all his guile, varied his pace, and bowled the fast off-cutter to bottle up Tendulkar. Ganguly was choked with a packed off-side field, and runs dried out completely. Only 11 runs came from the next eight overs.

 

The spell was one of the greatest examples of how to bowl in the initial 15 overs in the 1990s. It was like a game of chess where his mind raced ahead of the batsman’s; the peak came when he bowled six slower deliveries to Tendulkar in an over; the Little Master had no option but to play out a maiden.

 

Tendulkar and Ganguly added 126; Tendulkar’s 64 took 93 balls while Ganguly’s 54 took 104; with the asking rate mounting only Azharuddin put up some resistance. de Villiers’ only wicket came when he yorked Pankaj Dharmani in his only international match; his spell read an innocuous 10-2-28-1, but eye-witnesses would testify how he single-handedly won the match for his side that day.

 

 

Anil Kumble, 8.2-0-25-4 at Bombay, November 6, 1996

 

South Africa were supposed to win the final of the Titan Cup easily. They had, after all, won all six of their league matches; India had only won against Australia, and had looked uncomfortable in all three of their encounters against the South Africans. After some excellent fielding and yet another great performance from de Villiers restricted India to 220 for seven, South Africa were easily the favourites.

 

India’s response began when Andrew Hudson fell to Venkatesh Prasad early during the chase. Lance Klusener, promoted somewhat inexplicably (when the situation almost certainly demanded an experienced batsman), also holed out against Prasad. The in-form batsmen Gary Kirsten and Cullinan, of course, were there.

 

Tendulkar brought Anil Kumble on. One of those Kumble bazookas got rid of Kirsten, and shortly afterwards he had Jonty Rhodes caught. Suddenly South Africa were 60 for four, and in trouble for the first time in the tournament. Kumble kept the pressure on with his characteristic accuracy as Robin Singh and Sunil Joshi capitalised, reducing South Africa to 96 for seven.

 

The tourists were not in any mood to give up. Richardson and Pat Symcox put up a gutsy exhibition, adding 88 for the eighth wicket and keeping South Africa in the match. Tendulkar brought back Prasad and Kumble to round things off, and both bowlers responded immediately.

 

Richardson eventually hit Prasad to Robin Singh at fine-leg; Kumble finished off things in the next over by having Symcox stumped and Donald bowled in successive deliveries. South Africa were bowled out for 185, losing by 35 runs. Kumble deservingly won the Man of the Match award.

 

 

Sunil Joshi, 10-6-6-5 at Nairobi, September 26, 1999

 

The LG Cup at Nairobi had only two strong teams, which meant that one high-profile match was scheduled to be played in the league stage. Boeta Dippenaar (on debut) and Herschelle Gibbs got their side to a decent start before Ajay Jadeja introduced Sunil Joshi early in the attack.

 

Joshi removed Gibbs soon, and Mark Boucher, promoted at one-down, was run out by Robin Singh for a duck. Joshi bowled so accurately that Dippenaar and Jacques Kallis found it almost impossible to score off him. Encouraged, Jadeja brought on Nikhil Chopra from the other end.

 

The next ten overs saw the addition of only 13 runs. They also accounted for two wickets: Joshi clean bowled Dippenaar, and Hansie Cronje, in a desperate effort to score, holed out to Sadagoppan Ramesh off the same bowler. Dale Benkenstein provided support to Kallis, but the batsmen found it almost impossible to score off the spinners.

 

The debutant off-spinner Vijay Bharadwaj also bowled brilliantly and Jadeja rotated the trio so deftly that the batsmen could not settle down to any of the three spinners. After Benkenstein hit one back to Chopra, Jadeja recalled Joshi; in a span of three balls Joshi removed Rhodes and Shaun Pollock, almost sealing the match for India.

 

Joshi finished with unreal figures of 10-6-6-5. In his entire lifetime, Joshi had probably never bowled better than he had that day. With Chopra (10-0-26-3) and Vijay Bharadwaj (10-3-16-1) providing excellent support, Jadeja did not recall his seamers Prasad and Debasis Mohanty. He called on Ramesh and Rahul Dravid instead, and Chopra eventually finished things off, ending the innings for 117.

 

It was South Africa’s second-lowest total in ODIs. A quick opening partnership between Ramesh and Ganguly helped India win the match by eight wickets.

 

Virender Sehwag, 5-0-25-3 at Colombo, September 25, 2002

 

The Champions Trophy semi-final was expected to be a high-intensity encounter. After Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, and Dravid got India to 261 for nine, Zaheer Khan started off things by having Graeme Smith caught by Yuvraj in the third over. Kallis joined Gibbs, and both batsmen threatened to take the match away from India.

 

Gibbs, especially, was in menacing form. The pair put up a record second-wicket partnership of 178 in 34 overs. Gibbs, suffering from a pulled hamstring, was batting with Smith as a runner; eventually he could not carry on any further and had to retire for 119-ball 116. At this stage South Africa required 70 off 78 balls — and even if one discounted Gibbs — they had eight wickets in hand.

 

Sensing that going for the kill was the best way out, Ganguly brought his fielders inside the circle; as Rhodes attempted to sweep Harbhajan Singh the ball took the top-edge, and Yuvraj took a spectacular one-handed catch, diving full-length to his wrong side at fine-leg. Three balls later Dippenaar pulled Harbhajan — rather inexplicably — high into the hands of Kumble on the fence.

 

Harbhajan’s wickets encouraged Ganguly to bring on Sehwag. Sehwag struck in his second over as a struggling Boucher attempted a slog-sweep and the top-edge landed in Yuvraj’s hands at fine-leg. Klusener walked out, and found it impossible to score off Sehwag.

 

Sehwag bowled straight, wicket-to-wicket, not giving an inch away. Realising that the South Africans were not being able to time the ball well he bowled slower and slower; he conceded only 15 in his first four overs with the wicket of Boucher. Kallis and Klusener tried to hit him out of the ground multiple times, but could not get going.

 

South Africa required 21 in the last over, and Ganguly risked persisting with Sehwag. He had not conceded a single boundary in his first four overs. For some reason Sehwag decided to change the angle, and as he bowled round the wicket Kallis slog-swept the first ball for six over deep mid-wicket.

 

Sehwag reverted to over the wicket, and Kallis, trying an encore, edged, and the ball landed in Dravid’s gloves. Klusener had a desperate go, but managed only two braces before holing out to Mohammad Kaif at long-off. India won an impossible match by ten runs.

 

 

Irfan Pathan, 6-1-23-3 at Bangalore, November 19, 2005

 

South Africa had gone one-up with a victory in Hyderabad before the sides moved to Bangalore for the second ODI. Dravid entrusted Irfan Pathan with the new ball. Irfan, who had earned a reputation for his prodigious swing, brought one slightly in to the aggressive AB de Villiers as the youngster shuffled across and hit it straight to Harbhajan at square-leg.

 

Irfan gave Smith a torrid time as well, before bringing one in to him in his third over; he shuffled across, and Smith was trapped leg-before. In a desperate attempt to get his country out of trouble, Kallis flashed hard at a short ball, and MS Dhoni took the resultant catch. South Africa were reduced to 20 for three in 6.3 overs.

 

They never recovered from Irfan’s initial blows: Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan, and Murali Kartik all bowled well, and South Africa finished with 169 for nine. A Sehwag blitz saw India home with 86 balls to spare. Despite bowling only six overs, Irfan was named Man of the Match.

 

 

Shaun Pollock, 10-4-25-3 at Eden Gardens, November 25, 2005

 

Kolkata was burning with rage when their favourite son Sourav Ganguly had been dropped. In an unprecedented scene the home crowd shouted for the tourists, supporting the fall of every Indian wicket; a green-top was prepared to assist the South African seamers; and special treatment was dished out to the new captain Dravid when Charl Langeveldt uprooted his off-stump.

 

It began when Dravid sent out Irfan (who, as mentioned above, had won the second ODI for India) to open with Gautam Gambhir. Irfan lasted two balls before Shaun Pollock ran through his defence. From the other end Andre Nel bowled a hostile spell, and Tendulkar, after spending a torrid 15 balls, edged one in Pollock’s third over.

 

In his next over Gambhir edged one to Smith. India never recovered, and despite a sixth-wicket stand of 81 between Yuvraj and Kaif they were bowled out for 188. Smith opened with Andrew Hall and won the match by ten wickets with 85 balls to spare.

 

 

Andre Nel, 8-2-13-4 at Kingsmead, November 22, 2006

 

India had expected some ‘special treatment’ from the hands of the seamers on the tour of South Africa, and the first ODI proved that they were right. A hundred from Kallis took the hosts to 248 for eight, and Pollock found debutant Wasim Jaffer’s edge in the third ball of the Indian innings to bowl him. He soon bounced one high enough to dismiss Kaif.

 

Despite Pollock’s tight bowling Makhaya Ntini was taken for runs by Tendulkar and Dravid. Smith brought on Langeveldt, and finally rested Pollock and turned to Andre Nel. At 62 for two in the 16th over India were fighting their way back into the match.

 

Langeveldt’s off-cutter shot through Dravid’s ‘gate’, and two balls later Nel broke through, having Tendulkar played on with a beautiful delivery that came in. Suresh Raina looked helpless before edging Nel to Kallis at second slip, and then produced his best delivery: the short-pitched delivery jagged back sharply, Dhoni tried to leave it, but the ball simply kept coming in, kissed his glove, and went straight into Boucher’s gloves.

 

With the tail exposed, Nel unleashed a bouncer; Zaheer erred, taking his eyes off the ball while ducking; the ball hit his gloves and went to Boucher. India were bowled out for 91 in only 29.1 overs.

 

 

Munaf Patel, 8-0-29-4 at New Wanderers, January 15, 2011

 

It seemed to be an encore of the 135-run rout at Kingsmead when Lonwabo Tsotsobe bowled out India for 190. Opening bowling with Zaheer, the nondescript Munaf Patel struck early: it was pitched on the off-stump, moved a tad in, grazed Hashim Amla’s inside edge, and landed in Dhoni’s gloves.

 

That was the last success India had for some time as Colin Ingram helped Smith add 59 in 62 balls. Even after Ingram and de Villiers’ were dismissed in quick succession, JP Duminy helped Smith. With only 70 to win in 154 balls Duminy strangely holed out to Murali Vijay at long-on off Rohit Sharma.

 

Things still did not look bad for South Africa. David Miller got off to a good start, and South Africa were eventually left to score only 38 in the last 18 overs with six wickets in hand. No one would have dreamed of an Indian victory from there.

 

It was then that Munaf struck; the ball pitched just outside off-stump and held its line; Smith tried his trademark punch through off, the ball clipped the inside edge, and crashed into the stumps. The South African captain had fallen; did it open the narrowest of doors for India?

 

Zaheer struck twice, removing Miller and Johan Botha in quick succession. Then came the run out: Dale Steyn tried to hit the ball past mid-on but Vijay ran in from mid-wicket and intercepted it; the throw beat Steyn to the non-striker’s end.

 

Overs were out of the equation now. The hosts required 13 runs from 11 overs, which meant that India had to take the two wickets. Dhoni persisted with Zaheer, gave Raina another over (whom Morne Morkel took for a boundary) before finally turning to Munaf.

 

South Africa required only four runs as Munaf ran in to bowl the 43rd over. The first ball was in line; though Munaf found Wayne Parnell’s edge the ball rolled to mid-wicket as the batsmen changed ends for a single. South Africa needed three now.

 

Munaf bowled one short outside the off-stump; Morkel, eager to finish things off with one blow, cut hard; the ball landed straight into the substitute Yusuf Pathan’s hands at point. Could India pull off an impossible victory? Tsotsobe played the third ball — a straight one — with a dead bat amidst tumultuous cheer.

 

The next ball found a thick edge and ran to deep third-man; Zaheer restricted it to a single. What would Parnell do? Take a single to ensure they didn’t lose? Or go for a big hit to finish it all?

 

Munaf bowled a tight line as Parnell played the next ball defensively to point. He had to take a single off the last ball of the over, which would mean he would (at least) tie the match as well as guard Tsotsobe from Zaheer at the other end. Munaf, on the other hand, knew he could not bowl anything loose.

 

The last ball of the over was bowled slightly short, and Parnell went for the kill; the cut landed in Yuvraj’s hands at backward point; as the Indians broke into a victory lap the ever-smiling Munaf picked out one of the stumps in a rare moment’s display of excitement.

 

 

 

Dale Steyn, 9.4-0-50-5 at Nagpur, March 12, 2011

 

The Indian innings in the World Cup match was a contest involving two parts. At one stage they were 267 for one in 39.3 overs; a horrific collapse saw them lost their last nine wickets for 29 runs in 55 balls.

 

Things had started on a completely different note when Sehwag and Tendulkar went at the South Africans all guns blazing. 100 came up in 11.4 overs and even after Faf du Plessis bowling Sehwag India reached 150 in 19.1 overs, 200 in 30.2, and 250 in 37.4. Then Dhoni took the fateful second Powerplay.

 

Tendulkar went first, slicing Morkel to Duminy at point. Then Dale Steyn roared into action. He had a miserable day toll then. Before the Powerplay. He had conceded 41 runs in his first six overs; his seventh over went for five more.

 

Gambhir, who had been moving a bit too much during the Powerplay, had taken a premeditated move outside leg, exposing all three stumps; he was foxed by the unexpected slower delivery, and the skier was caught by Kallis at mid-off. The batsmen had crossed, and two balls later Yusuf, trying to clear Smith at cover, was caught in the process.

 

With two wickets falling in quick succession, Smith saved Steyn for the end and switched to Kallis and Robin Peterson. India lost Yuvraj and Virat Kohli, and Smith eventually brought back Steyn in the 47th over. He would bowl through. India were 292 for six at this stage, and with Dhoni at the crease, they could still probably manage 30 or so.

 

It was not to happen. Instead of trying to give Dhoni the strike Harbhajan went for the ugliest of hoicks against a Steyn yorker that reverse-swung. The ball crashed into the base of the off and middle-stumps. Zaheer committed the same error against Peterson in the next over and was caught by Morkel at long-on.

 

India still banked on a couple of big hits from Dhoni. The Indian captain made the terrible mistake of trusting Ashish Nehra and Munaf to last five balls of a Steyn over (or, more optimistically, scrape a single). Two balls later Nehra, following the footsteps of Harbhajan and Zaheer, sliced a well-disguised slower delivery to Smith at cover.

 

Munaf had no chance against a full, fast one from Steyn and was bowled first ball. Steyn had taken five wickets in his last 16 balls at the cost of four runs. South Africa completed the chase thanks fifties from Amla, Kallis, and de Villiers, and a late-order cameo from Peterson.

 

 

 

A special mention – Sachin Tendulkar, 1-0-3-0 at Eden Gardens, November 24, 1993

 

Seldom has a single wicket-less over been classified as a match-winning spell; on a scorecard the figures 1-0-3-0 looks extremely ordinary; and yet, in the first match under lights at Eden Gardens, Sachin Tendulkar bowled an over that kept the crowd glued to their seats.

 

Azharuddin resisted de Villiers and Richard Snell and took India to 195. South Africa reached 130 for four, but a collapse left them at 145 for seven. Keeping true to the topsy-turvy nature of the match McMillan and Richardson added 44 for the eighth wicket before the latter was run out. South Africa needed six off the last over with two wickets in hand.

 

A stunned Eden Gardens saw Tendulkar snatch the ball from Azhar and Kapil, hand his cap over to the umpire, set the field, and run in to bowl. McMillan cut the first ball — but as de Villiers pushed hard for the second run McMillan turned him down. Salil Ankola’s flat throw found de Villiers short of the crease.

 

Donald played out three dot balls: he missed an attempted drive, blocked the next, and missed an attempted cut off the fourth ball. A strange stroke eventually got him off the mark in the fifth ball: McMillan, finally on strike, was left to score four off the last ball.

 

Azharuddin, wily as ever, pushed Vijay Yadav to the edge of the circle to prevent edges, byes, or leg-byes running to the boundary. It turned out to be a prophetic move: McMillan’s inside edge rolled to Yadav; Tendulkar’s over had pulled off a sensational victory for India.

 

 

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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