Bullring tamed: Looking back at India’s historic 2006 triumph at the Wanderers | Cricket

India endured a disappointing first half of 2006 in Test cricket, losing 0-1 in Pakistan despite a first-over hat-trick in the final game in Karachi by Irfan Pathan (a match the visitors surrendered by 341 runs) in February and drawing 1-1 with England at home after going down by 212 runs in the third Test the following month in Mumbai.

Zaheer was already a star by then, but it was Sreesanth who truly stood out.

The tide turned at the beginning of July when Rahul Dravid’s men scored a 49-run over West Indies in the fourth and final Test in Kingston to secure a 1-0 result, their first series win in the Caribbean since 1971. Even so, there was little cause for optimism ahead of the three-Test series in South Africa that began in December; in three previous visits, India hadn’t won a single Test and were coming into this showdown on the back of a chastening 4-0 hammering in the preceding ODI series.

Wrap up the year gone by & gear up for 2024 with HT! Click here

After a tumultuous few months that saw him axed from the Test set-up for the home series against England and the tour of the West Indies following his falling out with coach Greg Chappell, Sourav Ganguly made a comeback not because he had stacked up a mountain of domestic runs but because the next generation of batters had come a cropper in the 50-over matches. The team’s morale therefore wasn’t exactly sky-high before the first of three Tests in Johannesburg.

A familiar tale unfolded on the first morning at the Bullring when openers Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag were packed off in the first hour in helpful conditions that were exploited admirably by the five-pronged pace attack of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel and Jacques Kallis. At 14 for two, India were staring down the barrel when their crack middle order came to their rescue. There were no towering edifices, but skipper Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman all produced meaningful contributions in supremely bowler-friendly conditions.

It was Ganguly, however, who stood the tallest with an unbeaten 51, a fairytale return of guts and gumption and no little elegance that was the bedrock of India’s competitive 249. It wasn’t a huge tally numerically, but under the circumstances, it was worth much more, as S Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan were to showcase on the second day.

Zaheer was already a star by then, but it was Sreesanth who truly stood out. With a seam position to die for – it hardly wobbled during the entire course of the series as he displayed his mastery with one excellent spell after another – thanks to his exceptional right wrist, the maverick Kerala pacer opened up South Africa’s vaunted batting line-up like a can of beans. As the ball whooped this way and jagged that, Graeme Smith and Co. were shell-shocked, lured to ruination by sustained hostility from both ends. With a large gathering looking on in stunned silence, Zaheer and Sreesanth (5/40) ripped through the Proteas, bowling them out for 84 – that’s right, 84 – in a scarce 25.1 overs. Suddenly, the Indians began to dare to dream.

Armed with a substantial 165-run advantage, India’s batting wobbled again until crisis man Laxman came to their rescue with a typically classy 73. Laxman, all wristy grace and sensational timing, eked out a 70-run partnership with the phlegmatic Zaheer for the eighth wicket to rally the visitors to 236, asking South Africa to mount an improbable chase of 402 for victory.

Time wasn’t a factor, nor was the weather. It all boiled down to how disciplined India would be with the ball and how determined South Africa with the bat. Clearly, the hosts weren’t going to go down without a fight, especially with the pitch having settled down a fair bit, but Zaheer drew first blood in the first over, forcing Herschelle Gibbs to edge a drive to Tendulkar at first slip.

For all their grim fight, the task was beyond South Africa. Despite not getting the same purchase as on the second day, Zaheer and Sreesanth were more than up to the task while Anil Kumble, the ace leggie, accounted for the prickliest thorn in India’s side, yorking the dogged Ashwell Prince for 97. The left-handed Prince’s dismissal, which reduced the Proteas to 264 for nine, triggered a paroxysm of euphoria amidst Indian supporters; the end wasn’t long in coming, Zaheer getting rid of Ntini to bowl India to their first Test win on South African soil. The final margin was almost immaterial, though it had a nice symmetry to it – 123 runs. It wouldn’t be India’s last Test win in South Africa.

Brief scores: India: 249 all out in 79.5 overs (Rahul Dravid 32, Sachin Tendulkar 33, VVS Laxman 28, Sourav Ganguly 51 n.o.; Makhaya Ntini 3-57, Shaun Pollock 4-39, Jacques Kallis 2-67) ) and 236 all out in 6.4.4 overs (Virender Sehwag 33, VVS Laxman 73, Sourav Ganguly 25, Zaheer Khan 37; Makhaya Ntini 3-77, Andre Nel 3-58, Shaun Pollock 3-33) beat South Africa: 84 all out in 25.1 overs (Zaheer Khan 2-32, S Sreesanth 5-40, Anil Kumble 2-2) and 278 all out in 86.5 overs (Jacques Kallis 27, Ashwell Prince 97, Shaun Pollock 40; Zaheer Khan 3-79, S Sreesanth 3-59, Anil Kumble 3-54) by 123 runs. Player of the match: S Sreesanth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *