Posted by: rajeshkannan | February 19, 2010

India v South Africa Second Test Review

A man with every reason to smile - except the one that matters most.

Nine balls. That’s the difference between glory and permanent regret. It’s the refrain Morne Morkel and Hashim Amla will hear in the wee hours of the morning as they relive this game in their dreams, desperately willing a different result each time. It’s cruel that such outstanding young sportsmen have to see the prize elude them by such margins, but that’s the nature of this greatest of sports – it pummels you for five days, pretends to lay dead as you close in hopefully, and, at the last moment, fells you.

How on earth have English cricket fans survived three such matches in the last seven months? Just this one made me physically sick, suicidal and hopeful, again and again, till there was just a dull churning inside, a resignation which couldn’t quite fathom the result when it arrived. I may have been a partisan in this one, but I wouldn’t wish this kind of defeat on anyone, especially the wretchedly unlucky South Africans. Wasn’t it just a week ago that we were lauding South Africa to the skies and marvelling at the poisoned chalice that the no. 1 ranking had become? But in a display which will rank right up there for its ruthlessness and a determination to fight back from a crushing loss, India have managed to hold on to their pole position for at least a few more months.

An innings victory apiece for both teams might suggest wild inconsistency but this series has been about some brilliant performances entirely worthy of a top of the table clash; and a nerve-shredding grandstand finish, better than the one seen at the Eden nine years ago. South Africa seemed to be from a different planet last week, but it was thrilling to watch the Indian riposte, kickstarted by the bowlers and comprehensively rammed home by the batting. And even as the Kolkata weather threatened to break a billion hearts on day 4, the three-man bowling attack somehow broke through minutes from the end, consigning South Africa to yet another off-season of angst and soul searching.

Purple prose aside…

Indian batsmen don’t do things by halves – indeed, Sehwag seems to deal purely in exponents. I can’t blame them too much for last week’s collapse – the bowling was just sensational – and this week, the middle order cashed in. Was Laxman the difference? He was certainly instrumental in getting the lead up to 350, but very high praise is due Sehwag and Tendulkar – the former for wresting the initiative, and the latter for chipping away, and importantly, talking Sehwag through some of his rushes of blood. The South African bowling was decent, but Sehwag (he’s already becoming a verb, as in “sehwagged”) took full advantage of JP Duminy’s continuing horror series and well, Tendulkar was there too.

Tendulkar haters have always managed to find sticks to beat him with, and he’ll be chided for “throwing it away after reaching a century.” What rot. It’s not his fault that he’s expected to be there at the start, middle and end, and do it with style. He has 19 centuries in wins, in a team which was largely mediocre for the better part of his career, and evidently knows a thing or two about putting his team in winning positions.

But if he had an opportunity to do so at all, it was only because of an afternoon of madness on day 1. It was 2001 all over again, and there nearly was another hattrick for Harbhajan as well. When Graeme Smith and Corrie van Zyl mull upon what went wrong, this is the session they’ll pinpoint as the one which killed off their hopes of winning. For India, the big positive was the effort put in by a three man attack on the last day, and Ishant Sharma’s vital contributions, both on day 1 and on day 5. Can he keep up his pace? Can Harbhajan retain the menace, at home as well as away? And can Mishra realise that bowling magic balls in between dross is not the way to go? The answers to these questions will determine this team’s trajectory over the next year.

But the defining player of the series was certainly Hashim Amla. He saw off everything thrown at him with a languid elegance and equanimity borne only of supreme belief – the only way India was going to win in Kolkata was by getting the other ten men out. Is it too soon to call him the next Dravid?  I, like many others, doubted him, but this was a batting exhibition for the ages from the quiet man from Durban. He stood on the burning deck at the Eden, and few greater performances have been seen in defeat. He will be crushed, but should take heart from this performance, and prepare to be the glue in the South African middle order for the next decade.

So, when the dust has settled…

It’s all wonderfully muddled in the cricketing world at the moment, and even a few Australians might grudgingly admit that this makes Test cricket far more compelling than watching the Aussie juggernaut roll over everyone. When India ascended to the top, there was a lot of grumbling, with some arguing that they’d need to be consistent world-beaters like Australia were a few years ago, to be called no. 1. All of which completely misses the point – this is a ranking of the current teams, not an all-time list, and India satisfied the criteria.

For my money, the South Africans are the best team in the world, in a chess-final type situation where the top two face off. Home and away, they hold the edge over India, and India will do very well to get something out of their series in Africa later this year. But they’re even with Australia, an opponent over whom India hold a slight edge. South Africa remind me of the Arsenal at the turn of the century, who consistently did well against the Man Uniteds and Liverpools, only to lose out against the Boltons and Evertons. Meanwhile, England, under a calm Andrew Strauss, certainly look capable of challenging all three. Eighteen months from now, having faced both Australia and India, England could well be on top. Of course, if they haven’t choked on tabloid hype by then.

But 18 months is a long time in cricket, especially in the fluid, perpetually unresolved arena of Test cricket. India have been forced to take some painful steps to bolster their batting, and it will strengthen them in the long run. It’s the bowling that’s the real worry, and fleeting glimpses of form apart, no Indian bowler other than Zaheer Khan has looked consistently top class in the last year. If India can find two consistent pacemen to aid Zaheer, and if Harbhajan doesn’t lapse into, well, Harbhajan, India will stay top for a long time.

My overwhelming feeling at the end of this “series” is a sense of wistfulness. What a five test series this would have made! The crowds would have flocked in their thousands and loved it, and the two best teams in the world would have locked horns in a truly titanic battle of equals. Instead, it feels like the plate has been snatched away after the appetisers at a Michelin-starred restaurant. And we’ll now have to make do with the hot dogs masquerading as the Indian Premier League.

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Responses

  1. A report worthy of the match Sir.

  2. Thank you – high praise considering the potboiler this was.

    What a letdown the ODIs are going to be – mercifully, there are only 3.

  3. 2 other aspects I wanted to point out in the report but ran out of space for – the pitch was fantastic, and I’m really impressed and gratified that there were no delaying tactics or injury shenanigans from the Saffers. Overall, very very sporting contest, and the result, and post-series comments by the captains reflect this.

  4. Rajesh – if your taking away stock villains like Indian groundsmen and South African cricketers, especially the captain, I’ll lose my compass.

    Thank God for Lalit Modi.

  5. Even here, I couldn’t resist a dig at everyone’s favourite villain, or at least at his bastard child the IPL.

  6. Can’t they cut the three ODIs and add a test at Chepauk. That would make some spectacle.

  7. I am a huge Tendulkar fan and am glad to see you defend him from his ‘critics’. Why don’t they realise one thing – Test matches are won by bowlers, not batsmen. Batsmen can just set it up – nothing more. And Tendulkar has done enough set-up acts for India in his two decades of cricket.

    But even after reading this, ‘critics’ will still say that he does not see India through till the end. May God help you!

  8. Nice report. It’s almost more frustrating to me when Bhaji bowls well….it reminds me that he actually knows the virtues of flight, drift and line – he just chooses not to use them most of the time.

    Also, the report is filed under Toots’ name rather than RK’s. This led me to believe that Toots was indulging in schizophrenic self-congratulation with his first comment. Seemed very out of character.

    • Tim – you’re right! I did post this, as Rajesh had sent it to me and I thought it would work well as a complement to Dileep’s piece at guardian.co.uk. I’ll try to change that, or at least write a little preamble to lay the passion where it lies!

  9. Lovely report Rajesh! Absolutely agree that a 2 match series does no justice.

    Few (but not short) thoughts to share: I do think tho that the short series was hard fought because the no. 1 tag was on the line. The series would not even have happened if not for Dhoni wanting to finish the year at no.1 and BCCI greasing the wheels after that. And for all the thrill some recent tests (Nagpur was one-sided and this one was lucky to not be so because nature fortunately intervened and struck a day off the proceedings to make it more interesting) have provided, its important to keep in mind that the exciting contests happen only between 4 sides at the moment; SA, Aus, Ind and Eng to some extent. The majority of the other match-ups have been sheer let downs in cricketing terms, i.e. no-contests.

    Also, for all those talking about Test cricket in India ever being dead – that’s a ridiculous notion to bandy about. People usually come watch big games and even if they don’t, millions are watching it on TV. Correct that – that’s actually hundreds of millions. And yes – they’re actually only watching the game – and no work gets done at that time – slackers all. To say nothing of Indian expats around the world. In fact tens of millions are watching and following cricket even when India is NOT playing! Always been the case. Always will be. To think crowds in stadia or lack thereof in India is an indicator of levels of interest in tests is almost completely wrong.

    Finally, T20 (and by extension IPL) is not killing Test cricket. The zero-contests are. T20 and IPL are a result of cricket watchers desiring to see exciting cricket of any sort. OutsideTheLine wrote this absolute gem of a post on the IPL (http://outsidetheline.typepad.com/outside_the_line/2008/06/5-untold-truths.html) as part of his terrific IPL season 1 wrap-up series. The mention in there that its the start of some sort of cricket meritocracy is key – it’s essential for the game to truly survive: not (just) the IPL but hard fought contests between evenly matched teams that everyone (and not just the so-called, self-proclaimed purists) can watch at the convenience of the spectator.

    • This would have been a three-test series had CSA not decided to curtail their tour of India citing a hectic schedule. So don’t blame the BCCI for doing the right thing here, maybe you should look at CSA not having sent its team on a full tour of India since 2000.

      • The BCCI is actually to be praised here, as you point out. We all just like bashing them – it’s just more fun.

        And anyway, I understand that this was hastily scheduled etc, but SAF have toured India 3 times in the last 5.5 years, and played 7 tests. Maybe a proper calendar with a gap of 3.5-4 years, and 4-5 Test match series are more appropriate. I blame it on India’s lack of institutions like the Boxingg Day Test, and New Years’ tests (which ensure home series in Aus and, most times, SAF, around those times). Obviously, hemispherical weather conflicts are a problem, but I’m sure there’s a way to work around and get a more regular schedule, with more Tests in each series.

        • It’s possible to have a four-year cycle running from World Cup to World Cup. Each team plays every other team home and away in tests, ODIs and T20s. There are also windows for two T20 World Cups and a Champions Trophy (Make it two Champions Trophies and a T20 WC if you want), and an annual 7-week window for the IPL and a 3-week one for the Champions League. The ICC events and the Champions League can be held in countries other than India while the IPL would be in India every year. That way every country gets to host atleast one major international tournament.

    • holysmokes, your comment about all those things is spot on I think.

      I am especially sick and tired of people moaning about the insidious nature of IPL. I don’t have enough nasty adjectives to pummel these elitists. More than elitism, these people suffer from a bewildering lack of empathy. They are simply out-of-touch. In short, they are clueless. They have got so badly caught up in the mechanics/logistics of the sport that they have forgotten the people who make it.

      I love IPL because it has opened up opportunities to many cricketers who would ordinarily toil their lives out in the backwaters of domestic cricket. I find it stunning that commentators and lovers of cricket cannot grasp the wonderful connotations of this. With cricket now becoming widely lucrative many more kids will now take up this game. This will immensely benefit countries like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, etc. Limited opportunities in any field hurts that field in a developing nation more than in developed nations. Because failure tends to be much more severe on the citizen of a developing nation. With more kids making more money, 20/20 will unleash much more talent in developing nations than it ever will elsewhere.

      I love all forms of cricket. I think five-day cricket is purest of all and often, funnest. But I am also mindful that being selfish will not do. So if ever called upon to level priority of one form over another I will easily say: more 20/20 over tests. By saying that I am simply voting for a scheme where many participants thrive, over a scheme where only a few do. I wanna see more and more people play cricket. I wanna see them make decent money. I wanna see more nations play the sport and be more competitive. I wanna see more and more people enjoy it. In an ideal world I would want test cricket to achieve these goals. But it just cannot. Only 20/20 can. So I applaud Lalit Modi. In a decade he will be remembered as the one single person who succeeded in enlarging cricket in a way no one ever could. Five-day cricket will never go away. It will achieve an optimal concentration.

      Sit tight and watch the sport grow, folks. Don’t be one of those nostalgic grumblers/anti-change warriors that have uselessly littered history. Accept product evolution, especially if its of the kind that benefits a much more expanded field of makers and consumers. Keep in mind 20/20 has only just taken shape. Don’t think that it is a finished product. It will get better. There will be many wrong turns, but the trend is awesome. And if your heart is breaking over the sullied purity of the sport. Remember: purity doesn’t fill stomachs, it doesn’t make careers. Purity didn’t help all those cricketers who lived in the age of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly. Those barely known cricketers who spent some of their best years in a field with a single outlet that was all clogged up. Get beyond the mechanics and think about them. Think of the Pandeys, Mishras, Jadejas, Pathans, Nayars who would probably have stayed out of our consciousness and pockets without IPL. Think of all those pacemen who existed, beyond the 2-3 who have typically thrived in any given decade of Indian cricket. Feel for the sport as long as you don’t stop feeling for the hundreds who play them. Don’t be a silly theorist. Don’t get distracted by the rich who are getting richer. They are rich either way. Keep your eyes on the many who will move to some sort of financial security in a fickle world of sports. Stop being curmudgeons.

      • Vick, your points are all valid and well put. IPL does indeed provide financial security for the second rung of cricketers and anyway, the game evolves constantly. I think the argument is not an existential one, viz whether IPL should exist or not, but one of quantity. How much T20 is too much? One 6 week IPL window is ok, but with 4 more teams, and another window being requested, surely the zero sum nature of scheduling kicks in soon? Case in point – SAF played 6-7 Tests last year. India were due to play 5 this year I think (before these 2 were hastily arranged). Are you telling me this isn’t because of the demands of IPL and the T20 WC with the ludicrous 1 year lag?

        I like T20, and I applaud it as a tool to help both second tier cricketers, and to attract casual fans. As for dead games, there are a lot more dead ODIs than Tests – prune the ODIs instead, and make sure there’s a proper Test structure in place. This shouldn’t be a winner take all fight between T20s and Tests.

        • Vick, I agree, well put. I’d also like to add though, that T20 domestic leagues are a great boon to fans, who currently get to see (live, in the flesh) 2-5 games of top-level cricket a year (if they are lucky). A local T20 team will be slightly inferior in standard, but they will play a dozen times a year, or more. Given the cost of decent stadium facilities, it is a much better use of infrastructure, and a greatly increases the opportunities for fans to attend games.

          Rajesh, if you look at the FTP, South Africa had nothing scheduled last year, nor did they play T20 while they had the time off. Both India and South Africa have scheduled games against Zimbabwe which won’t go ahead. But this year was already designated as quiet. Having said that, the FTP specifies a 3 test, and 5 ODI Ind-RSA series, so don’t be too keen to credit them with putting on the series just concluded. The IPL has taken the place of the Asia Cup.

          But that’s somewhat by-the-by. The World T20 is scheduled for just over two weeks, the IPL for six. That still leaves 40 odd weeks for test match cricket. The problem with scheduling is not that there is too much cricket being played (maybe a little), it is that it is haphazard and random. The conflicts with schedules are occurring because there are no set windows for international games and domestic leagues (nor was there any reason to be). I’ve been pondering this on my blog, and you could relatively comfortable schedule 24 weeks of domestic T20 a year (12 weeks per hemispheric summer), and still have time for teams to play 12 tests, regional/world cups and a handful of ODI/T20 internationals. (and players could get at least 12 weeks rest a year as well).

          I agree largely with holysmokes as well, except that I don’t think the trouble with international cricket is “no contests”, which are a perennial problem in all international sports, but no contexts. The Ashes can still be no contest, and I’ll still take an interest, because it carries the weight of history, and is always a proper series of games (at least 4). But the only point of interest in this Australian summer was the form of players in the context of the forthcoming world cups and next summer’s tests. That wouldn’t be the case if the vast bulk of test matches was part of a proper test championship, or the qualification rounds for such a tournament. It gets harder and harder to care about the result of games that you’ll forget a few minutes after they end, regardless of their cricketing quality.

          • @Russ: Very true that about the relevance of context to test contests.

            Having a 2 or 4 year Test championship where everyone plays everyone else home and away – is super great – but can realistically never happen because of the money needs of individual boards.

            Here’s what could make sense tho. If you want to get your team on top of the table the onus is on your board to work that calendar (very opportunistic BCCI – but this one time you did right even tho you never cared to). If they don’t want to put their team on the top via scheduling means – having a Test championship would be a waste of time anyways.

            If they want to but can’t schedule sh*t because the others don’t want to play them, well, you do what Ban. did and beat Ind. and SA at the WC, but then make sure you follow it up.

            • holysmokes, I whole-heartedly agree. Trying to organise a league hasn’t worked, and won’t work, for all sorts of reasons, which I won’t recite here.

              When I say I would like to see a test championship, I mean a tournament, played over a year, with previous years devoted to regional championships/qualifiers and play-offs. But with two years out of every four year cycle open for teams to play those major series that are so important to them (financially and historically).

              It is possible to organise a championship that takes a year to play, isn’t biased towards a host nation, works with 3 and 4 test series, instead of individual games, and would have a clear (and deserving) winner. But as I alluded to before, I am in the process of blogging about it already, so I won’t clog the comments here with it.

      • Very much agree with you Vick. I wanted to mention some of the same points you did but you put it across a lot better. You’re right – the coming of the IPL means that cricket can actually be considered an honest career developing countries, without requiring these aspirants to have to make it on the international level. Those who like the limelight will have to perform to stay there. The difference that makes to passionate but poor cricketers is immense – to say nothing of the number of support jobs such a league creates (coaches, trainers, construction workers, local tourism and trade workers, cheesy franchise apparel makers, etc.). Plus grounds will stay in use and because of the high-profile nature of the competition – be forced to upgrade as well.

        Also, imagine the effect the IPL will have on cricket at the school and college levels as well, with young players now actually believing they can make a career out of the sport. Does anyone think that college and univ level American Football and basketball (i.e. NCAA) would be so competitive if the NFL and the NBA didn’t exist as the very next level? Absolutely no way. Poor kids especially get a chance to make something of their lives and improve their lot, their families lot and the collective lots of the people in their neighborhood because of the opportunities that playing in professional sports provides. Is it wrong that an aspiring basketball player thinks of rubbing shoulders with Kobe playing for the Lakers and not of representing his country for the Olympics? Who are we to decide what people can and should aspire for?

        You’re also right – where the game goes from here is also a very interesting and exciting exercise in speculation and anticipation. T20 though will spread cricket – of that I have very little doubt.

  10. Oh and there were more than 9 deliveries left in the game as India had maintained a fast over-rate during the mandatory 15 overs.

    • 15 minutes, then. I doubt the pain will be any lesser for South Africa.

  11. holysmokes – I like T20, but its burgeoning growth has to be controlled because you can’t have as much T20 as there is planned already, the ODIs and the kind of Test cricket we want to see. Okay, that isn’t a good argument to make in a period of ultra-close high profile Tests, but let’s not kid ourselves that the standard of Test Cricket is as good as it was even four years ago. There’s a reason England is competitive in Tests against all countries and, alas, it’s not because we’ve discovered our own Tendulkar or Warne or Marshall or Viv. It’s that our blokes don’t play as much ODI stuff as most of our opponents.

    • I see your point somewhat TootingTrumpet, but I am not sure I completely agree with you.

      For starters, England is still very selectively competitive – a series or even a year of good cricket does not a top team make. Aus, SA and Ind have been much better consistently home and away (actually believe Ind started that trend with the drawn 1-1 series in England in 2002) than the rest of the pack. Four years ago Eng had a dream team for one Ashes series. They’re still pining for that team – but its time to move on, no?

      Also, the 3 other countries remain relatively good at all forms of the game despite playing all 3 forms regularly and some might say incessantly. Why not England then?

      I also completely believe that ODI batting has actually made Test cricket more exciting. Batters play far more shots and get out more often which actually means we get a lot more results now than we used to. Blocking for days on end is not fun to watch. Not now. Not ever. Why would I watch a player play defensive shots for hours on end and scoring occasionally unless the game was on the line? Eng. playing better tests maybe because they don’t play enough ODIs is more of an exception rather than the rule. And – as I said – they play well too selectively to make that case the norm.

      Finally, I am not sure that Test cricket deserves the uber-primacy the purists believe it should. I think it still needs to stay on top as the ultimate test as it still is against good teams – for as long as cricket is played hopefully. But deifying it is living in the past – a past that had far fewer options for cricket players and spectators. Its like my Dad romanticizing how things were tough in his time forgetting the actual hardships that drove him hard to to ensure a better life for his children so that they may never have to go through the same struggles. It’s also like me insisting to my wife that if she doesn’t enjoy Led Zepplin she’s obviously not worthy of listening to music (please don’t tell her I think that way).

  12. A thought just occurred to me – The latest series India has played against any of the other 8 teams, India has either drawn (only SAF) or won (all the rest – SL, Eng, Aus, WI, NZ, Ban, Pak). Pretty impressive.

    The caveat of course is that the contests against the 5 strongest sides – Aus, SA, Eng, Pak and SL – have all come at home. I’d expect some changes when India start travelling.

    • India played in England in 2007 and won 1-0 (remember jellygate). It wasn’t all that long ago although seems that way since Dravid was the skipper then. Think it was also his last series as cap.

      • India played England (another sorry 2 test series) in Dec 2008 at home – remember, Chennai heroics et al?

        • Do remember that Rajesh. Who could forget Sehwag’s start of that chase? Just responding to your caveat that recent Indian victories against the other top teams have only come at home. True in all cases except Ind have won both away and at home vs Eng. Minor point on my part.

          • I get you – I was just referring to the most recent series. The flip side is that India has lost each of their most recent away series against Aus, SA, SL and Pak. Not a record to inspire confidence, but the other contenders have hardly been better overall.

  13. A grandstand finish to an absorbing match. However as entertaining as this ridiculously short series was, it highlighted once again that this was a contest between two flawed sides. South Africa have a terrific pace attack particularly when it’s being spearheaded by Steyn but they often look rudderless when he doesn’t fire. Morkel for all his qualities does not seem capable of leading the attack. Their spinner – if he can be described as such – was praised far too much in the aftermath of Nagpur. Kolkata proved that Harris is utterly mediocre and if other umpires follow Ian Gould’s courageous lead then his career may well be short lived.

    India have just as many weaknesses. Their bowling lacks depth and with the exception of Zaheer, genuine quality or consistency. Hashim Amla, as well as he batted, joins a seemingly never ending list of batsman who have feasted on India’s overly hospitable bowling attack stretching from Jimmy Adams and Andy Flower to Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Younis Khan. And their batting remains over reliant on Sehwag to set the tone for an innings and impose himself on the match and the opposition. A point on Tendulkar. Isn’t it amazing that the man who was being derided not so long ago for not batting well under pressure now seems to save his best almost exclusively for when India needs him most.

    • Interesting that you mention Ian Gould. I think its important that we acknowledge the performance of the umpires in this series, considering everyone and their little brother trashes them when they goof up. I thought Ian Gould had an excellent series, and so did Steve Davis. No clangers, except for Ashwell Prince in Nagpur. Sure, there were several LBWs that could’ve gone either way (just ask Mishra), but there was no decision I can recall that stirred any controversy. Gould did well, calling Harris for 12 wides, and Davis was quick to cool tempers between Steyn and the India batsmen at Eden. Both seemed to enjoy a good rapport with the players.

      All in all, great series for the players as well as the umpires!

      • I completely agree that the excellence of the officiating contributed significantly to the quality of the spectacle. I have often lamented the absence of Simon Taufel in matches in Australia and Aleem Dar in contests against Pakistan. Its not neutral umpires that we need, it’s the best umpires! I would much rather have Taufel than Koertzen or Ashoka De Silva standing in every India-Australia match fully confident in his judgement and impartiality. Ditto Aleem Dar. I’m glad to see the emergence of Ian Gould and Steve Davis – two fine and promising umpires. It was rather depressing to see the demise – for differing reasons – of Peter Willey, Mark Benson and Darrell Hair. So I’m heartened that both Gould and Harper have emerged to compensate for the incompetence of Darrell Harper and the terminal decline of Steve Bucknor and Rudi Koertzen

  14. Tendulkar over the last 18 months – 1570 runs at 68, with 8 centuries. Just astounding.

    Let’s go deeper into his performances, starting with the Aus series. He helped save the first Test on the last day, set up a big Indian inns with an 80odd in the second test, and hit the first century century which set up the win in the 4th Test.

    v England, no more needs to be said about THAT innings.

    v NZ, he won the match with his first inns 160. And in Napier, crucial 60 odd in the second helped Gambhir save the Test.

    v SL – never mind, very pointless, fill your boots type century in the first Test. But he wasn’t really needed in this series.

    v Bangladesh – critical first inns century held the team together in the 1st Test, and helped win the match. Second Test century was a bit less crucial, but he was the highest scorer in a matchwinning cause nevertheless.

    v SA – First Test century was a bit pointless, but this one was utterly crucial, as much so as Sehwag’s, not just for the runs but for keeping Sehwag there.

    So, 16 Tests, 8 centuries, 6 of which came in wins, and 3 more non-century efforts helped win or save Tests. Seriously, there hasn’t been a more consistent performer under pressure, or a better batsman, in the last 18 months.

    • I agree Rajesh. After watching him play on to Dilhara Fernando in the 2007 World Cup I was in the Ian Chappell/Michael Atherton camp imploring him to retire. I was disappointed that he was tarnishing his legacy – like so many others from the subcontinent – by staying on too long. What a pleasure it is three years on, to be eating large slices of humble pie! He is no longer the most dangerous or destructive batsman in the side – that quite obviously is Sehwag. However as you pointed out on current form he is amongst the very best batsmen in the world. Watching him on that fateful day in Trinidad in 2007 as India crashed out of the World Cup I never thought he would scale such heights again. It just goes to show that it is a rum business writing off champions.

      • I wrote off Dravid – wrong there too!

        • We have all been there Toots. I remember writing McGrath off after seeing being flayed by Trescothick, walking down the pitch, at Edgbaston, during the 2004 Champions Trophy. He looked a shadow of his former self, low on both pace and accuracy. And yet three years later he was named man of the tournament at the World Cup.

    • I was going to comment on that but you beat me to it RK.

      The water supply in Tendulkar’s home must be directly connected to the fountain of youth

      At this rate I wont be surprised if he goes on to share the dressing room with his son.

  15. Excellent post, and some perceptive comments.

    While saluting the lion hearted performance of Amla, and the three-man Indian attack on the final day, I just want to put Amla’s performance in perspective. As Amla himself admitted, he benefited immensely from the dropped chances, both in Nagpur and Kolkata. May be a better fielding side would have not allowed Amla to score so many runs ?

    Dropped catches do not take away any thing from his heroic performance in the final innings of this mini-series. The concentration was amazing and comparable to the best of such innings in recent test history.What I find even more remarkable is his modesty.Amla has truly won the hearts of Indian fans.

    The best thing about this Eden vistory for India is that it has not come on a square turner.The pitch was good for batting till the very end.

    Yes, there are still some gaping holes in the Indian attack, but there is enough variety and some of the younger bowlers are on a steady if not spectacular learning curve. I only wish Irfan Pathan gets back into the scheme of things as well by the time we tour SA in December. India can afford to play 5 batsmen, Keeper, 1 bowling allrounder (Irfan) and 4 pure bowlers, then.

    Bhajji’s bowling – he did bowl a doosra now and then, and I agree with Toots about the slightly bent arm whenever he tried the doosra.But I was watching it on TV and even after the replays, it was a bit touch and go.The on field umpires, however, seem to be quite happy with his action, and one has to go by them.

    In the final analysis, it was one middle order collapse for India at Nagpur and one for SA at Eden that decided the results. Both teams can hold their heads high for playing two highly competitive tests.For the Indian team, this comeback win would have given a lot of confidence, and should stand them in good stead when they visit SA in Dec.

    And yes, India has not lost a series in almost 2 years now.May the run continue for some more time :)

  16. holy – Blocking in the last session on a spiteful, expired wicket can be fun, but point taken on ODIs leading to positive batting. England are up and down, that’s why we can be competitive, but are not a top side – at least, not yet.

    Kumar – I don’t single out Bhaji. I’ve seen lots of bowlers live and on television delivering doosras and they all look like they have a crook in their arms when they do so. That may be legal, but I’d prefer that it wasn’t and that “ball tampering” was.

    • Agree there Toots – if its OK to call you that :) – blocking to save a test match on a minefield of a pitch is great drama to watch. I also enjoy the relentless working over that new batsmen get in Test cricket devoid of the protection provided by the shackles imposed on bowlers in ODI environments. All in all – very much would love Tests to live on for long.

  17. Fantastic article Sir, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  18. For me, i think cricket is one game that sends adrenalin through ones spine. Wel done both India and South Africa. I consider those two to be the best teams in the world.

  19. Great site, and very useful insights. I posted the below on the Guardian site as well, but wd be interested in hearing your views on this:

    I think the debate about India’s World No. 1 status is because our bowlers aren’t terrors. We dont bully batting sides into abject surrender. Everyone chips in with a wicket or two, and Harbhajan or Zaheer get a few more, an Ishant here, a Mishra there, a Nehra out of the blue, and we get home somehow. Yes we get 20 wickets, but its the batting where the heavy artillery is. People remember West Indies of 1976-90 because of Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall – along with Richards, Lloyd, Greenidge and Haynes. They have no problems calling Australia of 1997-2007 world champions because of McGrath and Warne (along with Gilchrist and the Waughs).
    Championship is not about beating teams, it is about dominating them in every respect. Shutting them out. Owning them. Sampras did. Hewitt didn’t. India doesnt, either, yet. Number One or otherwise…

    • The no. 1 ranking determines which is currently, statistically (can’t go by gut sometimes) the best team in the world – the India of 2010 can hardly compete v WI 1984 or Aus 2003. That particular comparison is just for debate’s sake.

      Championship is not about beating teams, but dominating them? Fine, why don’t you tell Lleyton Hewitt that he has to return his 2 Grand Slam titles because he didn’t “dominate” the opposition for years, instead of just dominating them in those particular tournaments, which he absolutely did.

      • Oh I agree with you. I was merely trying to understand why there is so much debate and ambivalence about the Number One status. There seems to be some general tacit consensus that India’s reign as No. 1 is more of a statistical oddity. a transcient phenomenon, a stop-gap arrangement until someone more worthy came along and took it away. I was trying to get to the bottom of this sentiment, and it occurred to me that this aspect of domination by bowlers (rather than batsmen) might be at the bottom of it. Ironically, I write this on a day when Tendulkar simply murdered the SAffers for 200, and so I have changed my mind – it is indeed possible for a batting side to devastate opponents mentally and physically – and this is why we SHOULD be acknowledged unequivocally as champions.


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