Posted by: nestaquin | April 5, 2008

A Test of Character

graeme smithI’ve heard it said that there is little of value that cricket does not teach. I’m not entirely convinced but I do know that Test match cricket is a raw examination of a man’s and perhaps even a nation’s character. The length of the game combined with few restrictions on tactic and strategy compel men to great feats and conversely, perverse abject failure.

In the seven days cricket contested between South Africa and India during the current three Test series, the tourists have proved themselves a tough, committed well-coached side that is determined to succeed despite the obstacles continually put in their way by meddling politicians, bureaucrats and well intentioned social engineers.

Led admirably and intelligently by the domineering Graeme Smith, the men of the Rainbow nation are displaying the same characteristics that has made Australia, and the West Indies before them, a dominant force in world cricket.

Smith, a premature veteran at 27, was thrust into the captaincy in only his eighth Test and after 57 as captain the squad is beginning to resemble him in style and substance. He is now the master of his domain and the younger players – Steyn, de Villiers, Morkel, Amla, Prince – all have a skipper that they admire and respond to with discipline and affection.

Senior players like Boucher and Kallis are playing with an increased sense of responsibility and Smith now knows that he can rely on them when the chips are down be it with bat, in the field or in the dressing room.

The presence of a strong charismatic leader cannot be overstated or underestimated in a cricket side as Steve Waugh, Clive Lloyd, Peter May and Don Bradman have demonstrated. Of course, to be successful you need talent but with a leader who possesses experience, respect and patience, a team willing to believe in him coupled with a burning desire to win and you have a potent brew for lasting success.

With an insurmountable first innings lead of 417 at stumps on day two in Ahmedabad, it appears a near certainty that South Africa will not lose the current series in India. Apart from one remarkable innings by Virender Sehwag combined with a big partnership with Rahul Dravid, the Proteas have dominated this series in a way that suggests that they are on the rise as a cricketing nation.

Sometime tomorrow, we will discover the true nature of the Indian team’s character. They were easily excited by winning a meaningless dead rubber Test match and a pair of equally unimportant ODI finals in Australia. Against Smith’s men in the morning they will be batting to save the outcome of the series. If they fail, and that is likely, and do not lose by an innings I think we can judge yesterday’s 20 over capitulation as an aberration. However, if they turn it up without a struggle I think we can say quite fairly that this Indian team’s visions of grandeur are a complete fantasy.

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Responses

  1. It’s a big day for a few reputations tomorrow. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that class is permanent and that some of the order will come good and, if not save the Test, at least make the Saffers work. To lose by an innings would be hugely deflating.

    I remain unconvinced by the Saffers. Smith is a bit of a Strauss to the full ball and the one that leaves him. Kallis is a superb technician but seldom dominates; Prince too to some extent. Amla seems to have something about him but is making his way. AB is a flat track bully. Boucher is a good keeper and fine batsman, so why hasn’t he won more? Good players shouldn’t get out to Ntini on a flat wicket (though I suspect he’s better than he looks). Morkel might be another Courtney Walsh, taking wickets regularly without ever firing (like Ambrose). Steyn looks very good indeed, but there’s such whip in that action that I doubt if his back will let him play right through to the end of the English summer. Of course, there’s no spin to speak of.

    Perhaps you’re right: SA are like their captain. Flawed, but occasionally devestating; a bit charisma-free, but capable of attractive cricket; experienced, but curiously lacking self-belief.

    Let’s see.

  2. I’m not going to argue with your assessment Toots, it just struck me that South Africa are beginning to play with an energy, discipline and maturity that has been lacking for many years.

    When confronted with a challenge they are responding as a team and not as individuals. Something that the Proteas have seldom done.

    Day 3 at Ahmedabad promises to be a classic day’s Test cricket. You are better to judge a man, or team for that matter, when under adversity and today we will discover more than a few things about both South Africa and India.

    And if I may add one more note; there will be runs galore on offer for the bats today as Smith will be setting very attacking fields. Rather than judge the Indians on the scoreboard I think it would be wiser to watch the clock.

  3. It was a brave, but correct, decision to give Sehwag out. AS I write, India are 160-4 with Ganguly and Dhoni playing positive cricket, but scores so far are very poor. As you say, it’s a day to bat time.

    The Saffers didn’t look too united just then, as Ntini essayed a hopeless attempt at catching a Dhoni hook. I’ll need a little more evidence of team spirit before I’ll be happy to say that problem is solved. And Harris!!!

  4. its your blog and you can wrte anything you want…though i thought one writes after checking facts…

    but your post proved me wrong!!

    if perth test was dead rubber according to you then i seriously doubt your cricketing sense and acumen…

    and if i take you to the last series between SA and India in SA…they too got bundled for paltry 84 lead by the same ‘great captain’ …

    one collapse can not wipe out the credit they have earned be it SA or India…

    its only when a team does it consistently over a period of time one can say it authoritatively…

    but i guess patience is the virtue which is rare to find these days…

  5. Not very good that. Irfan Pathan should be the next captain and soon.

  6. Straight Point, thank you for your contribution to 99.94. I welcome your comments and enjoyed reading them.

    I do understand your frustration, no-one likes to be humiliated especially on their own soil. If I may, in my defence, respond.

    The Perth Test was effectively a dead rubber. Australia’s win in Sydney gave them a 2-0 lead and in doing so they retained the Border/Gavaskar Trophy for the third time in succession. That was the prize and the meaning of the series. What happened thereafter was indeed meaningless. Obviously, meaning could be created but it would only be by invention.

    Nowhere do I write that Graeme Smith is a great captain. What I do assert is that after beginning his captaincy at a very young age the team is now beginning to play for him and he has their respect.
    These are the foundations to a successful era.

    You are correct that a team should be judged consistently over a period of time and that is why I find it somewhat baffling that inconsistent India believe themselves to be on the cusp of greatness.

  7. nestaquin, I agree with the substance of what sp said. Though the trophy was retained after Sydney, there’s still a significant difference between a drawn series and a lost series. England’s 2-2 draw with the Windies in 1991 was an excellent result for them, even though they went into the last Test 2-1 down.

  8. David, a warm welcome to 99.94.

    After reading your excellent blog (http://pappubahry.blogspot.com) I’m a touch intimidated by your abstruse logistical and statistical polemic to offer any defence. The graphs alone had my head spinning!

    If it interests I’d love to know the ratio of live (when the trophy was undecided) to meaningless (or should I say less meaningful) Tests won in Ashes contests. I once read that McGrath never lost a live Ashes Test.

    You’d have to agree that that is an impressive stat!

  9. nice blog uve got going mate…i really liked the “An Indian Dilemma” u really hit the nail on its head…
    i agree with u when u said that the perth test match was really a dead rubber match….but i have pondered long and hard but i dont understand how the ODI’s where “unimportant”???

  10. G’Day Vishnu and thank you for the praise.

    Perhaps it’s a uniquely Australian view of one day cricket but the only trophy worth playing for in the 50 over game is the World Cup, hence Australia’s focus on that event and that event alone.

    Everything in between are essentially practice matches primarily to raise revenue, trial innovation and blood players. Of course they try to win but the consequences of losing are not significant.

    To emphasise, Australia regularly rest players during the ComBank tournament however at World Cups the best XI play every match. During their campaign in the West Indies they used the same team in 9 of the 10 matches and only 12 players overall.

    In the Ponting era the Champions Trophy has gained more significance and I expect as holders of that trophy they will be full throttle later on this year in Pakistan, if they bother to turn up.

    If the BCCI and Cricket Australia created an enduring trophy like the Border/Gavaskar trophy or The Ashes or the Frank Worrell Trophy that was played in perpetuum then ODIs between India and Australia would have a greater purpose.

    Something like The Ghandi Cup or the Kapil Dev Plate played over 5 matches would suffice.

    England defeated Australia in last years ODI finals and 6 weeks later Australia swept all before them in the West Indies. Australia’s then coach John Buchanan said at the time that they were using the games to sort out strategy for the real competition in the Caribbean. He wasn’t lying.

    Australia and New Zealand play for the Chappell/Hadlee Trophy in ODI’s and that has far greater significance then the interminable Commonwealth Bank Cup. Still, before the last World Cup they sent a second string side to NZ to contest it.

    India played well in the finals and were deserving winners however their celebrations were at best, extravagant. I understand their excitement but to suggest that they are world’s best after being knocked out of the last World Cup in the first round, played just 11 months ago, is laughable and somewhat disrespectful to the 4 times World Champions.

  11. I’ve taken all Tests between Australia and England, not just Ashes Tests (it makes a slight difference, but I would have to change it manually). I’ve also taken the definition of live and dead as ‘if the Ashes are at stake’ or not. I didn’t realise when I made my earlier comment that I use this definition for Ashes Tests as a matter of course. It seems that for non-Ashes series I care more for the series result than the trophy. (A more recent example than that one from 1991: Graeme Smith made a wildly desperate declaration in Sydney a couple of years ago, even though a win would have only given them a drawn series, and not the trophy, if they have a trophy in Aus-SA series).

    Anyway, the breakdown of wins and losses in Australia-England Tests:

    live: Aus 105, Eng 76
    dead: Aus 26, Eng 21

    Since (and incl.) 1989:
    live: Aus 25, Eng 3
    dead: Aus 9, Eng 6

    And Glenn McGrath did lose one live Ashes Test – the first in 1997.

  12. Thank you David a superb and thorough analysis. And there is a trophy between Australia and South Africa, The Mandela Trophy or Cup or somesuch.

    I must say I am impressed at the speed of your response. It is much appreciated. You won’t see many stats in my posts but if you ever feel the urge to chide my ponderings and musings with an eqaution or two, please do.

  13. No worries nestaquin. Usually if someone asks a cricket stats question, I’m interested enough to answer it. I’ve only got six weeks or so before I’m back into my PhD, however, and then I’ll probably have to cut back on all the cricket analysis.

  14. David – Thanks for the link. Impressive stuff!

    I shall go back slowly, very slowly, through the archive.


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