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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Test Cricket: South Africa Delivers One More Overseas Drubbing For India!



New look or old look, new wine or old wine, old bottle or new bottle—whatever way you tend to look at Team India it has been historically proven that India never had answers to sheer fast bowling on green and bouncy tracks overseas. Indian batsmen from times immemorial get bogged down and bat tentatively when faced with fiery spells of pace bowling. That India have never won a single Test Series in Australia and in South Africa in its entire cricketing history is something the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) must not go on ignoring. A few wins here and there have been aberrations rather than being real. BCCI must veer away from its money-oriented policy of preparing ‘commercial’ dry tracks for one-day cricket, and spinning, often unplayable, tracks for Tests. It is not being cynical when we comment that Indian batsmen are kings at home and Indian spinners create wicket-taking records on pitches tailor made for them. While South African or other country fast bowlers generate bowling speed in excess of 150+ km per hour Indian ‘pace’ bowlers struggle to get to even 140. This is only natural because they do not have pace-friendly tracks at home where they play most of their cricket.


AB de Villers And F du Plessis
Even then, the ‘new look’ Team India dominated four days of the fantastic first cricket Test against South Africa in Johannesburg and got themselves into an immensely winnable position at stumps on the fourth day. Set a stiff target of 458 runs for victory in about one and half days South Africa were 138 for 2 at stumps. India just needed to mop up 8 wickets on the last day for a morale boosting victory after 2-0 drubbing in the ODI Series (3rd ODI was abandoned due to rains). A tremendous batting display by South Africa not only saved the Test but gave them a real chance to make history successfully chasing the highest ever target in the last innings. A brilliant double-century partnership between F du Plessis and AB de Villiers put India fully on the defensive and the hero-at-home Indian spinner R Ashwin went wicket-less on the fifth day whereas he is used to get it all over in three or four days back home. South Africa needed just 16 runs in the last 3 overs, but they started defending after losing the 7th wicket in the form of du Plessis run out in the previous over and with Morkel unfit to bat. Nobody wanted to go one down in the BCCI-style two-Test Series and in the final analysis no team deserved to lose. However, Team India missed a great opportunity to go one up. The India cricket Board must learn from this that Test cricket is not gone yet, but can get you absorbed for five full days. Make way for exciting Tests at home too.

There was a similar situation in the Second Test in Durban at stumps on the fourth day when India were 68 for 2 and needed to bat out the full fifth day to draw the Series. But fiery spells of genuine fast bowling from Dale Steyn (total of 9 wickets in the match) and Philander paved the way for a meek Indian surrender like in so many overseas occasions. Their spinner Peterson too captured 4 scalps against a team supposed to be masters of spin. South Africa won by 10 wickets thus winning the Series 1-0. One more zero-margin drubbing for India on foreign soil. Leadership tactics and batting of the Indian captain MS Dhoni overseas are also matters that need lot of probing attention.

Kallis Goodby in Style
The most memorable part of the Durban Test was Jacques Kallis who suddenly announced his retirement from Test cricket after the Johannesburg match. The second Test was his last and what a fantastic way to say goodbye to cricket. Coming in a crucial juncture in the first innings the greatest all-rounder of modern cricket stayed put and crafted his 45th Test century thus contributing immensely for his team’s win. Exit of Jacques Kallis would put a lot of pressure on South Africa just about to face Australia.

This year India have several overseas cricket tours starting with New Zealand later this month. It is up to them and the BCCI to try change history.
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