6 January 2011
It seems like just yesterday the TV news networks were advertising Test Cricket’s clash of the titans. The series was eagerly anticipated and commercially it promised to be the series that ‘has it all’. Seems like the ponytails weren’t far wrong. Aside from there being no clear winner, the series served to stand as a great advertisement for Test cricket, and a confirmation if there was ever any doubt, of the two teams’ respective rankings in world cricket.
After the first Test at Centurion where SA won by an innings, many punters predicted a landslide series win for the local side. SA punters mostly. That India is ranked number 1 for their performances over time, should have warned us that they would come back fighting. And so it turned out to be, much to the relief of Indian fans I am sure, who knew all along their team was better than the Centurion result indicated.
On a difficult wicket in Durban, the Indians gave as good as they got (no, they gave better than they got), and we were all set for a series decider in Cape Town. That the third Test and indeed the series was drawn should not detract from what was a great series. In the hearts and minds of neutral supporters (if those even exist anymore) this series competed for face time with another reasonably well-followed rivalry, The Ashes. While England grow from strength to strength, even they will concede that the current Australia team is a shadow of its former self. Apart from the fact that Australia were outplayed in every facet, and England fans got to enjoy a long awaited series win, the series was never in the balance, there was always one team with the ascendancy.
The SA-IND series offered both sets of fans a glimpse of potential glory, and when Boucher strode out to the wicket on Day 4 at Newlands, a billion people thought the time had come for India to break their duck in South Africa. 4 hours later, SA would have definitely fancied their chances having set a 340 target for the visitors on a tricky final day wicket. As it turns out, the Indian top order held on for the draw, and fought the pace battery off with distinction to obtain it.
Only 6 centuries were scored in the 15 day battle, and 3 of them belonged to 1 man. Kallis was at his vintage best and any thoughts of him being past his prime must now well and truly be out the window. For now. You see the thing is, as Mark Boucher so rightly put it in his press interview after day 4 in Cape Town, that we have “one of the greatest cricketers in the history of the game” right here among us, and that many South Africans still do not appreciate his value to the team over the last 14 years. Despite 40 Test tons, and over 250 wickets, many local fans still somehow point out his low strike rate as a weakness. I choose my words carefully when I say that despite Tendulkar’s longevity and ability to perform at the very highest level for such a prolonged period, I believe Jacques Kallis to be the greatest cricketer that ever lived. Better than The Don, better than Viv Richards, better than Ricky Ponting. As a batsman alone, obviously Tendulkar is the best ever, but Kallis’ wickets in the Test arena puts his nose in front as a cricketer.
It must be pointed out that Tendulkar’s contribution to the series and the way he fought especially in Cape Town, went a long way to securing the draw for India. Without his ability to stick around and keep the board ticking, the relative failures of Sehwag, Laxman and Pujara would have cost India the series. The same could be said about SA to a lesser extent, where without King Kallis’ 498 runs, only Amla really stood up to be counted, with 250 runs at an average of 50. For SA, Prince, Petersen and Smith were all disappointing.
Since the series was not played on a host of flat tracks, it was a rare chance for bowlers to see their names up in lights, and for the most part, as long as Neither Kallis nor Tendulkar were at the crease, the trundlers took their opportunities. 5-wicket hauls however, were in relatively short supply despite consistently good bowling from each teams’ top 3. Dale Steyn was head and shoulders above the rest, and is destined to get a career haul over 400. Along with his 21 wickets, he often bowled wicketless spells where one felt he deserved better.
For India, Singh, Khan and Sreesanth were the standouts, but in the end they weren’t as consistently menacing as Steyn and to a lesser extent, Morkel. It must also be said that SA got the benefit of the toss in 2 of the 3 games, and as a result SA’s bowlers would have enjoyed marginally better conditions over the course of the 3 Tests.
All said and done, I think 1-1 is a fair result. A one-eyed South African supporter can seldom say that without going into the ifs, ands or buts. The reality is that whenever SA had India on the rack, the Indians fought back. When SA were in trouble at Newlands early on day 4, they too fought back. An excellent series that lived up to its billing, long may the rivalry continue.
Bring on the ODI’s.