There comes a time in even the most one-eyed fan’s existence when he has to admit that his team just came up against an opponent so vastly superior in every aspect that there is nothing to do but splutter incoherently. This was one such occasion, and the world’s best side was blown away by the world’s best bowler. Correction – the world’s no. 1 side, and there’s a big difference.
I’ll keep this short, and there’ll be time for a more comprehensive review after Feb 18, but this was one demolition job there was no disgrace in being subjected to. Sure, Dravid and Laxman weren’t there, but how can you argue against the greatest display of fast bowling ever seen in India, on par with Macko’s revenge mission 26 years ago? It’s a special treat to watch a team of South Africa’s calibre, and as for their spearhead, Virender Sehwag says it better than anyone can, when he calls Steyn the best bowler he has ever faced. And he has faced Murali, Warne, Akram and McGrath.
It’s futile trying to analyse this performance, because Steyn was so joyously magnificent and so utterly unplayable that there’s no shame or blame in being upended by him. So, all I will do is raise a couple of points already raised by bloggers on this site.
First, the Indian selection was timid – going with Saha instead of Mithun was a declaration that adding 10-15 runs was better than blooding a promising fast bowler – a remarkably self-defeating and defensive mindset. Of course, as Kumar says, going in with 7 batsmen in the squad, especially with one of them being injured in the first place, was reckless.
Second is a very astute point brought forth by the Tooting Trumpet – if Kevin Pietersen had played the shot Tendulkar did in the second innings, wouldn’t he have been pilloried? He’s absolutely right, and the way India lurches between extremes in evaluating Tendulkar (witness the boos directed at him at the Wankhede in 2006) is ridiculous. Of course it’s silly to blame a batsman who has scored a hundred when his teammates fell like nine pins, but Tendulkar should have known better, and I suspect this will be among the most hollow of his 46 hundreds. And the same indictment goes for Sehwag in the first innings as well.
I previewed this series with an analysis of each team’s batting and bowling, and if you do a sum-of-parts evaluation of my analysis, as they say in the investment business, South Africa comes out on top. But I plumped for a 1-0 win for India, because I was too myopic to envisage India losing at home. Sometimes the whole is bigger than the sum, but in this South African team’s case, their collective brilliance fully reflects the individual skills of their players. It is a privilege to watch these players in action, and even as a partisan, while I hope for an Indian win in Kolkata, I do know that no result will change the fact the India are currently hosting the best team on the planet.