I must admit that I am relieved that the twin Test series in South Africa and Australia have ended. The cricket has been exhilarating, the battle has seesawed between the sides and there has been no respite from the all-encompassing media hype.
I hope to catch a break from all forms of cricket until the World Cup. I have seriously overdosed.
India finish tied 1-1 on the Last Frontier in the Rainbow Nation. This will be a result they will cherish, but they will also regret that they could not make it a more memorable tour.
The luck of the toss decided the first Test or so die-hard supporters of the Indian team believe.The Indian team management know better. Great teams make their own luck. The visitors came back strongly in the second match at Durban.
My tiny, little theory of Indians being poor starters was not negated by this tour’s results though I would be happiest to see it done in.
Dale Steyn is the best pace bowler in the world. Period. He is quick, lethal and can make the ball talk—and batsmen walk. If you do not intend to walk, you have to be ready to dance.
He reminds me of those bully gunslingers in Western movies, ejecting bullets at the hapless victim’s feet, forcing him to perform to lead music—jingling spurs, the added accompaniment.
Morne Morkel was the villainous sidekick, extorting steep bounce from the most placid of pitches.
The third Test match at Cape Town was expected to be a humdinger. And it was.
The Proteas batted first and scored a decent 362, aided by a big ton from Jacques Kallis.
India replied with 364, a lead of two, with Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir doing the bulk of the scoring.
Courage, thy name is Jacques Kallis.
The second innings specialist shepherded his team to safety from a low of 100-5 to 342 all out, carrying his bat through the innings, despite a contused rib-cage.
The Indians had to score 340 on the final day, a task beyond them, given that the South African bowlers had the measure of their nemesis, Virender Sehwag and the negative line adhered to by left-arm spinner, Paul Harris.
Safety first has been the credo of the two teams in the fray. They would rather ensure that the tie cannot be lost before striving for a victory. That is the way Test match cricket was traditionally played until Steve Waugh turned it around with his ploy of attacking batting and challenging declarations.
The Australians, however, had the requisite manpower to execute the strategy.
The Indians played out the day and the match meandered to a draw but not before Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel lived up to their reputation of being the deadliest pair in the business. Gautam Gambhir and his bruised elbow can vouch for that.
The No. 1 Test team continues to be ranked so. This series goes a long way towards belying the allusion that Indians travel poorly.
Virender Sehwag was taught a harsh lesson by the South Africans. They preyed on his strength—allowing him little width to cut but straight to the fielders. They smothered his natural strokeplay and gave him no opportunity to play his natural off-side game. The corridor of uncertainty was their gameplan and they stuck to it like terriers sinking their teeth into meaty bones.
His six dismissals in six innings were all out caught.
Rahul Dravid was not in his element. A couple of unlucky dismissals did not help his cause.
Suresh Raina was shown up to be a pretender to Test cricket. His replacement Cheteshwar Pujara displayed gumption but could not convert that into a big score.
Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman topped the batting averages. Dhoni did just enough, but there will come a time when he will have to put up his hand and score those runs consistently. The wins can mask only so much.
The bowling trumped once more in alien conditions. Indian fast bowlers have traditionally done well abroad and this tour was no different. The return of Zaheer Khan meant that the team now had two match-winning bowlers. The pressure on Sharma and Sreesanth eased. The latter produced his best spell in recent times. The seam neatly wove into the fingers, the run-up close to the wicket, the Keralite pacer was ferociously fearsome dispatching Jacques Kallis in the second Test. The snorter was the kiss of death to South African hopes.
If Sreesanth can curb his wayward tendencies and bowl much more within himself, he will be a dangerous customer in all conditions.
The trundling hero was Harbhajan Singh. On pitches that afforded him bounce, his was a master-class—snaring 15 wickets at 29.60 apiece. He proved no slouch with the bat either, making useful lower order contributions.
For South Africa, the result means that they have not had any series win at home since late 2008. The positives are much more for the Indians. The final shreds of doubt about their ability to triumph abroad have been dispelled.
Now, it is more a matter of defending their pre-eminent position rather than proving that they deserve to be there.
West Indies, England and Australia await later this year. But there’s the small matter of a World Cup to be won first.
Is history in the making?
|An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.|