Cricket: Yusuf Pathan and Harbhajan Singh Star in Game of 2 Collapses

Richard O'HaganCorrespondent IIJanuary 18, 2011

Yusuf Pathan starred as India stunned South Africa
Yusuf Pathan starred as India stunned South AfricaGallo Images/Getty Images

The only constant in this series so far has been that any team's batting can—and will—collapse like a bad souffle at any given moment. It happened to both sides in the Test series, it has happened to both sides in the one day series and today it happened to both of them in identical circumstances.

South Africa got off to a fairly ropey start, with Hashim Amla out early and captain Graeme Smith somehow making 43 despite looking in no kind of touch at all. Colin Ingram and AB de Villiers contributed little and at 90-4 off 23.2 overs the hosts were looking at a heavy defeat.

It was at this point that debutant Faf du Plessis joined JP Duminy at the crease. The pair put on 110 in just 21 overs of skillful batting in which the main feature was the lack of overt aggression, despite scoring at five an over. In fact du Plessis didn't even hit a boundary until he had made 39 and he hit only two in his total of 60. Top scoring in your first international is no mean feat, and it was a travesty that his teammates then failed to build on the hard work of the two middle-order batsmen.

From a position of strength at 200-4 and with the batting power play still to come, South Africa lost their remaining wickets for just 20 runs. There were two needless runouts, some bad shots and only Johan Botha—bowled by a ball which failed to bounce—could say that he was not to blame for his own demise.

South Africa were at least 30 runs short of a defendable total, but another early dismissal—and the knowledge that their opponents were without Sachin Tendulkar—gave them hope. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli took them to 56 without further incident. Then came the collapse as four wickets went for less than 40, including those of Sunday's match winners Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni.

Suresh Raina dug in to make 37, but it was Yusuf Pathan who made the difference. He thrashed three sixes from one Botha over as he and Raina put on 75 for the seventh wicket. It should have been more, but Raina threw his wicket away with a wild hoick. It then took a blinding catch from Morne Morkel to dismiss Pathan. His 59 from only 50 balls should've changed the game, but there was another twist as Zaheer Khan got completely tangled up in a short ball from Lonwabo Tsotsobe and suddenly India were 15 runs from a win with only one wicket left.

One of the stories of the last six months has been Harbhajan's habit of rescuing India from adversity; his batting now arguably as important to them as his bowling. And so it proved again, as he blasted two sixes to take them to victory.

India now lead the five game series 2-1 and will fancy their chances of wrapping things up in the next game, having twice won games which they ought to have lost.