JAIPUR: South Africa’s dogged tail-enders nearly gatecrashed India’s party in the first ODI before Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team eked out a nail-biting one-run victory to go 1-0 up in the three-match series here tonight.
The 65-run ninth wicket partnership between Wayne Parnell (49 off 47 balls) and Dale Steyn (35 off 19 balls) off just 38 balls nearly did the trick before South Africa, in pursuit of a 299-run winning target, were all out for 297.
South Africa needed 10 runs of the last over sent down by Praveen Kumar and eventually a boundary off the last ball.
There was intense drama as Praveen beat Parnell’s bat and the securitymen rushed into the ground thinking the match was over only to realise that it was a wide ball.
Praveen then came up with the final delivery and a desperate Parnell, going for two runs, ran himself out as South Africa finished just one run short of India’s total.
Captain Jacques Kallis, who had claimed three Indian wickets for 29 runs from his seven tight overs, top-scored for South Africa with a 97-ball 89 — his 75th half-century.
Put into bat, India had earlier posted 298 for nine at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium, riding on a string of cameos from Suresh Raina (58), Virender Sehwag (46), Dinesh Karthik (44) and Virat Kohli (31) which took them near the 300-mark.
South Africa, on their part, got off to a positive start. After the first five-over lull, their openers Herschelle Gibbs (27) and Loots Bosman (29) broke lose to reach 50 in 7.3 overs before Ravindra Jadeja brought India back into the match.
Gibbs had milked 17 runs of S Sreesanth’s first over, prompting Dhoni to withdraw the bowler from attack, and the visitors threatened to run away with the match before Praveen Kumar castled Bosman and Jadeja’s double blow claimed Gibbs and AB de Villiers (25).
Even though Kallis kept going at one end, his partners kept changing. Alviro Petersen (5) ran himself out, Albie Morkel (2) was wrongly adjudged LBW and veteran Mark Boucher (5) was snared by Sreesanth.
Kallis waged a grim battle before Sreesanth castled him and the match looked over for South Africa at that stage.
Parnell and Steyn, however, had other ideas and they fought tooth and nail even though the win didn’t materialise.
Incidentally, for India, the match did not start the way they would have liked it.
Dhoni lost a crucial toss and put in to bat, India suffered the first blow partly because of Sehwag’s hesitation and Sachin Tendulkar’s overzealousness and largely because of Herschelle Gibbs’ athleticism.
Sehwag had punched a Parnell delivery to covers and set off before hesitation set in. At the other end, Tendulkar (5) chose the wrong person to pinch a single off as Gibbs dived to his left and rifled a throw to the bowler who had all the time in the world to knock off the bails.
After a 79-run lull, misfortune struck Sehwag when Karthik’s (44) straight drive brushed bowler Charl Langeveldt’s fingers before crashing onto the stumps with Sehwag nowhere near the crease.
Another four overs and Karthik had the misfortune of missing his fourth half-century by six runs after his mistimed pull off Langveldt found the mid-on fielder.
Still, Karthik’s cameo came just when the team needed it most. With Sehwag looking slightly subdued, Karthik decided to counter-attack and he chose Parnell for special treament, hitting the left-arm pacer for three fours in the eighth over.
Sehwag too decided to get into the groove, hitting Albie Morkel for back-to-back fours before finishing 14th over with a six. That was just before his bizarre exit after a 37-ball breezy knock with six fours and a couple of sixes in it.
Karthik hit Johan Botha soaring over mid-wicket for a sweet six but was caught unaware by a Langeveldt snorter that cut short his 56-ball stay.
Albie Morkel took a low catch off Kallis to remove Dhoni (26) and from the comfort of 89 for one, India suddenly found themselves in a mess at 138 for four.
Raina, however, kept going, hitting Kallis for two fours in the same over before on-driving Parnell for a six.
Kohli fell to Morkel after the team had crossed the 200-mark while Yousuf Pathan (18 off 13 balls) sizzled for a while before he fizzled out.
Raina, having made his 15th ODI fifty, and Jadeja (22) fell in quick successions as 300-mark eluded India.(PTI)