I am referring of course to India’s thrilling, series-levelling victory over South Africa at Eden Gardens . We have been fortunate to see a number of epic Test finishes recently ( Pakistan in NZ, England in South Africa ) and this one was merely the latest. I don’t know whether whether they will be enough to ensure the continued existence of Test cricket but they certainly can’t hurt. My thoughts on the series:
India’s Resilience : This emphatic victory , and the manner in which it was achieved , says a lot for India’s mindset and resilience. It is all the more commendable because it comes on the heels of the devastating innings defeat at Nagpur. In the past, Indian teams would have lost confidence and , at best , settled for a draw at Kolkata In actuality, the team plugged away both in the first innings ( when the Proteas started with a bang ) and in the second ( even when the main strike bowler, Zaheer Khan , was injured. They stayed aggressive throughout and pushed hard for a well-deserved victory. Where does this new-found self belief come from ? Some may feel it comes from past successes but I think credit should be given first and foremost to the captaincy of M.S. Dhoni. The aggressiveness that he shows in his batting is also reflected in his leadership. By setting attacking fields , by chivvying his bowlers to give it that all , by his killer instinct and his drive to win he has transformed his team fom a bunch of gracious losers to a hardnosed professional team. Modern coaching methods, not least the appointment of a mental conditioning coach, have also helped but Dhoni, I feel, should get the most credit.
There’s Life in the Old Dog (s) Yet : While this was a team victory, three senior members of the team ( Tendulkar, Laxman and Harbhajan Singh)contributed mightily to it. Tendulkar has been in form recently but Laxman’s and particularly Bhajji’s effort came as a bit of a surprise. Not only did Laxman score a stylish century , he played unselfishly and kept the scoreboard moving. He also took a very good catch in the first innings to dismiss the dangerous Jacques Kallis . In the past, I felt he was overly concerned with his individual score and so focussed on not losing his wicket that he would go into his shell even when the circumstances demanded otherwise. Not this time. Bhajji had not been impressive in several prior series , easily disheartened and defensive in his bowling when batsmen attacked him . This time , he attacked constantly and , in Zaheer Khan’s absence, became the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack. Now , if only he could cut out his antics and be a bit more gracious in his demeanor…
The Newcomers Performance was like the curate’s egg , good in parts. Given a chance because of the injuries to Dravid and Yuvraj Singh , they did well enough to bode well for the future.They had a tough time against the Protea pacemen but so did the rest of the team , at least in Nagpur. Wriddhiman Saha showed fighting spirit in his knock of 32and perhaps did enough to merit further chances if wicketkeeper Dhoni has to be rested. Badrinath , who got his chance after a long , long wait , impressed during his 56 at Nagpur. M.Vijay failed but has done enough in the past to earn a place in the Test team but he will face competition from Virat Kohli and perhaps Cheteshwar Pujara. Amit Mishra, who has been in and out of the team , really came through in the second innings at Kolkata when India was in need of a bowler to support Harbhajan.
The Magnificent Hashim Amla : was deservedly adjudged Man -of-the -Match and Man of the Series. We have been hearing about his abilities for a few years now but,in the past, he has has been overshadowed by Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis , A.B. de Villiers and J.P.Duminy . This time ,however, he was the lynchpin of the South African batting as Smith and Mark Boucher were injured and the rest of the middle order failed ( except for Kallis) . Two matches, three innings, twice not out , 490 runs. The figures are almost unbelievable. What was even more commendable was the manner of his heroic rearguard action at Kolkatta when he almost staved off defeat. To bat throughout a day and a half when all the other recognised batsmen are back in the pavilion, , and to remain calm and unperturbed in front of a hostile crowd is remarkable. No wonder that, when the last wicket fell and after the Indians celebrated on the field , several of the Indian fielders rushed over to congratulate him on a valiant effort. It was a nice gesture and I’m glad and proud that they did so.
Amla for Captain ? Graeme Smith is one of the best captains in the world and ,since he is still young , will be around for a long time . However, when he is out due to injury, someone has to step in.Besides, a succession plan is always a good idea and it is important to groom an eventual replacement. With Smith unavailable because of injury, Jacques Kallis has been appointed captain for the ODI series though there is some sentiment in South African circles for Johan Botha. When the South Africans talk about the Test captain of the future, the names bruited about are those of A.B. de Villiers and now, Hashim Amla. Amla, it is pointed out has captained sides with success at the school, U-19 and regional levels. In spite of that, I have my doubts about Amla as a captain. As one fan remarked, “I dont see him as the national captain. For me, being the captain of the national team, is like being the general, a marshal, The Commander in Chief. You need to be intimidating, somewhat arrogant, a bit of a bully. The build up to a series should be all about mind games, psyching the opposition out before a ball is even bowled. And I dont see Hashim doing that. For me Graeme Smith is what a captain should be.” I agree . Amla reminds me of Rahul Dravid who captained India with indifferent success. Dravid was a true gentleman, a cerebral hardworking batsman and fielder, very knowledgeable about the game, great fighting spirit and yet, not aggressive enough and without that touch of nastiness that is in the psyche of the truly great captains. Anyway, it is premature to think of Smith’s successor just yet.
Onto the ODI’s; let’s hope they are a cracker of a series and continue where the Test series left off. Both sides have some key injuries but I think the absence of Zaheer Kan will cost India dear.