Cricket: Rhodes up to his ears in plaudits

India 253-5 (50 overs) South Africa 254-6 (47.2 overs) S C Ganguly 97 J H Kallis 96 R S Dravid 54 J N Rhodes 39 L Klusener 3- 66 J Srinath 2-69 South Africa win by four wickets
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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA demonstrated at the first attempt that they mean business. Not only did they beat India by four wickets, but in doing so overcame the losses of their early batsmen, their normally rigid composure in the field and their earpieces.

Falling wickets and fielding lapses are something they have been accustomed to shrugging off in the three years they have spent becoming the most formidable one-day side around. But never before have they been deprived of their telephonic ear gadgets. This is probably because they have never used them in an international match.

Bob Woolmer, their coach, might or might not have been able to reduce his side's target had he been permitted to continue dispensing his wisdom, although South Africa would probably have settled for restricting India to 253 for 5 after losing the toss. Not that they enjoyed an elementary pursuit.

South Africa occasionally stuttered in the chase; they lost two quick wickets, others at what seemed likely to be important times, and India seemed to be in the hunt. But it all ended with surprising alacrity. Twenty- six runs flooded from eight balls, and South Africa were home with 16 balls to spare. It had been a thoroughly entertaining match, but it was as if, quite suddenly, South Africa had decided enough was enough. Jacques Kallis stalwartly made the bulk of their runs but it was Jonty Rhodes who provided the ultimate, frightening cutting edge.

The culmination was rather spoiled when an Indian spectator ran on the ground, tried to push one of his team's players, Rahul Dravid, and was immediately led away by police, prompting Mohammad Azha-ruddin to call for more security. While the proceedings beforehand did not exactly set the World Cup ablaze, they managed to spark the kindling.

Throughout the Indian contingent in the crowd were joyously noisy, and they were matched for much of the time by the South Africans next door. Their happiness was not diminished by being cribbed, cabin'd and confined into a shabby looking ground - the building site next door hardly enhanced the view. England have had four years to prepare for this great tournament and this rather begged the question of whether they really want it. It should also have been considered that this was a key match which would not have been out of place at a bigger venue.

It would not do to be too churlish - in case that is necessary later on - because the cricket was handsome and easy to enjoy. Sachin Tendulkar did not make the initial impression that many supposed was inevitable, departing in the 16th over without quite establishing his timing. He was not, however, the first man to be talked out via the radio. He simply failed to get enough bat on a ball he wanted to nudge to third-man and edged to the wicketkeeper.

Without him India contrived to assemble a workmanlike target. Sourav Ganguly and Dravid shared a stand of 130 in 26 overs and from the unfussy way they went about their work it was easy to tell how experienced they have become at one-day frolics. There is little elegant about Ganguly, but he likes batting in England. On India's tour three years ago he scored a century on his Test debut at Lord's and another in the next match at Trent Bridge. He continued where he had left off with his delicate, incisive late, late cut and his uncluttered driving. Dravid is supremely orthodox. They look well together.

Ganguly was three short of the tournament's first century when he unfurled another late cut, to the right of backward point and checked to see what happened. The fielder was Rhodes. He made acres of ground, dived full length, rose to his knees and threw hard to bowler's end. Azharuddin called for the single. Ganguly, who had batted for 142 balls, did not have a prayer. It remains one of life's great mysteries why men know what Rhodes can do but still insist on risking their lives to him. It is wonderful that they do, however, because he is a beautiful sight.

It looked be a score of around par and when South Africa were 22 for 2 it looked briefly beyond that. Kallis, who had opened the bowling, held the innings together, hitting the ball with increasing power. Perhaps the match was changed irrevocably by Rhodes, though, with the bat. He skirmished positively to third man, and when that route was blocked he punched straight. The placing of the field did not concern him. But when Kallis became the second man to be run out in the 90s, Rhodes being carried away with his own enthusiasm and calling for three, India, it seemed were about to take it to the wire.

But Lance Klusener, another of their interminable supply of all-rounders, strode to the wicket dragging his heavy bat with him. Rhodes, whose masterly vignette of 39 took only 31 balls, smote Ajit Agarkar for two fours; Klusener clumped him for two more. It was all done. South Africa look daunting enough without stuff in their ears.