Some Indian cricket fans may not be happy that India only managed to tie their series with SA. Not me . Before the series even started I had predicted a 1-1 result with South Africa winning the first Test , India winning one of the other two and the remaining one ending in a draw. I can’t be unhappy that India failed to capitalize on their chances when they had SA at 130 for 6 on the fourth day of the Test. I think that the result was a true indicator of how evenly the teams were matched.
Besides, it would not have been fair for either team to lose. After the tremendous efforts of Kallis and Steyn ( for SA) and Laxman , Tendulkar and Zaheer ( for India) none of them deserved to be on the losing side.
I must however deplore the manner in which the third Test ended, with a whimper instead of a bang. Both captains must share some of the blame for this, Smith more than Dhoni.We were poised for an exciting finish midway through the fourth day as SA battled back from a difficult position.Surprisingly Smith did not declare and the SA batsmen played till stumps to set India the daunting task of scoring 340 for a win . If he had declared 45 minutes or an hour earlier, it might have made a big difference. It would have a) given Steyn and Morkel a crack at the Indian openers and b) given the Indians at least a sporting chance at victory . Enticing India to go for it would at the same time have given SA a chance to bowl them out. As it was , a target of 340 on a fifth day pitch at Newlands ( where the previous highest successful case had been 331 by a super Aussie team ) and facing a rampant SA pace attack was just too much. Dhoni and his men were absolutely right to play for a draw; there was no reasonable chance of a win , particularly after Sehwag fell cheaply.On the other hand,Dhoni can be blamed for the defensive field placings he set as soon as SA threatened. Some Indian uber-fans blasted Dhoni for not going for a win early on and then directing the batsmen to pull down the shutters after a couple of early wickets. Such thinking is foolish. If there had been some early reverses , it would have given Steyn and Co. encouragement and the remaining batsmen would not have been able to last out the day.
Both captains appeared to be playing not to lose , rather than to win. However, it is easy for armchair critics like myself to criticise this mindset . The pressures on Smith and Dhoni must have been intense.
No words can be enough to praise Jacques Kallis’ gutsy performance . His second innings century , made while playing with a very painful rib contusion , is the stuff of legend. Not only did he cement his place as the greatest all-rounder in the world , he also staked his claims for consideration as the world’s greatest batsman. Statistically , he has a chance at overtaking Tendulkar for most Test centuries. He is two years younger and only 11 behind. The one thing that militates against him breaking Sachin’s record is that SA play many fewer Tests than do India. In fact , the next Test they play is nine months down the road . India , by contrast , have a full schedule , with more chances for Sachin to add to his totals.
Not that it is going to be easy for Sachin .. the next Test series is against England , in England, against a very deep and talented Test side . After England drubbed Australia , Ian Chappell called their bowling attack the best in the world and a threat in all conditions. I agree.It is a little too early though for England to thump their chests and proclaim they are the best Test side in the world. Time enough for that after they have faced India .
There is one aspect of the SA tour that has me feeling unhappy and that is Sreesanth’s behavior. There is no doubt in my mind that Sreesanth crossed the line . I know that some will try to excuse his behavior on the grounds that a) this is the way that players ( particularly pace bowlers) release their latent aggression and b)he was not the only one to indulge in ” chirping”. Steyn , Zaheer and others did it too.Besides , where do you draw the line ? What is OK and what is not when it comes to sledging ?
The last is a difficult question to answer. If you read some of the famous sledges of the past , some of them did involve comments about wives and girlfriends and mothers. They might have been couched less bluntly but they did tread on dangerous ground. The difference with Sreesanth ,I think, is that a) he expresses himself more crudely and b) he never lets up but carries his aggression with him even when he is not playing. Others may share a drink and some laughs afterwards but not Sree. I think this guy has a screw loose somewhere and I hope the BCCI reads him the riot act before he creates an incident. No amount of talent can excuse boorish behavior. At one time , Harbhajan was just as nasty and combative as Sreesanth but he has since matured. Several times , during this Test , he was the one to talk to Sree and calm him down . Perhaps there is still hope for Sreesanth .