The glorious Draw!

“When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure.”
― Alice Hoffman

You could easily add cricket to the above and it would still hold true. Predict in cricket at your own peril, who could have predicted the Australian’s winning 3-0 in the Ashes and who could have predicted India’s intensity going into the first test after their uninspiring show in the ODI’s. The game of glorious uncertainties was at its best at the Wanderer’s at Johannesburg.

A team was written off, Steyn and co mocked at the uncomfortable Indian’s against genuine pace, the pitch was hailed as bouncy and pacy, a grave had been dug to bury the Indians. Yet, India won the toss elected to bat, surprising the commentators and fans, the captain perhaps sent a message to his own team about a belief in its abilities. The team stood up and fought. A wonderfully crafted innings by Kohli forming the back bone and India raised a moderate but fighting total of 280! They did not cow down to the short stuff and actually most of their wickets on the first day were to their own faults more than the bowler’s skill. The pitch had enough in it and yet India buckled and put out wonderful judgement of the off stump and played judiciously. At the end of day 2 India could say they had their noses ahead.

Day two saw a comeback of sorts and after bowling India for 280 and the score at 130/1 you had to say SA were running away with it. Amazingly when you are just ready to give up hope, cricket bites you back and India took 5 wickets for 16 runs to wreck the African top order and all of a sudden they could think of a BIG lead! Yet again an African allrounder fought and ensured not too much was given. Whilst India again ended day two ahead, on day 3 morning almost all of that initiative was wrested back and a slender 40 run lead was yielded. Africa were to bat last which meant they were behind the game. End of day 3 and India had completely taken control of the Test. Two young batsmen from India dug their heels in whilst the bowlers were fresh and fought it out and pulverized the home team in the last session that gave 175 runs to make all three days belong to them. Day 4 was sort of the same, however, India could not post 500 lead, they had 450+ which was perceived by one and all as enough.

458 has never been chased successfully in the history of the game in the 4th innings of a Test Match. 8 wickets in hand Africa started day 5 with caution, Indian’s attacked and pitched up the ball a lot more than African bowlers and leaked runs but looked for wickets. Two African star’s though had other idea’s from judiciously batting and punishing the lose ball and displaying amazing restrain the two went into tea on day 5 with the Test match alive and left the crowd in huge anticipation of what could be in the last session.

As the end came neigh the Indian’s were perhaps staring at an unlikely loss, Africa were favourites and by the time the mandatory last hour began you almost started regretting why India bowled that one over extra. The game was Africa’s however, unlike in a limited overs match in a Test match apart from a win and a loss there is the draw as well as a possible result. I think that adds more drama, when players are not sure whether to go for a win or a loss. De’villier’s getting out at such a delicate situation threw major drama into the event. A silly run out of Faf Duplesis who had played most wonderfully ensured that crowd could not bear to watch the nail biting stuff.

A match where both teams gave all they had and yet could not come up with a result, however, the display put up was more interesting then any win or loss you might have witnessed.

A match where both teams gave all they had and yet could not come up with a result, however, the display put up was more interesting then any win or loss you might have witnessed.

Its easy to say South Africa should have gone for the win or criticise India for bowling bouncers at Steyn, but when faced with such a situation it is difficult to predict how most would go about it. In the end you also had a feeling that both the teams had fought tooth and nail and that neither deserved to lose. In the end cricket won, the uncertainty of the game won. Not the teams but the sport won. There are victories and there are losses and then there are these wonderful draws that are unmatched!

Pics Courtesy : Espncricinfo.com

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Coming of age…

Apparently the match was evenly poised with India’s noses slightly ahead at the end of day two, however, day three was something no one expected. Everyone thought the match was going to be a close one and with lots of ups and downs. Day three though was a day when India went up and South Africa went down.

Philander and Duplesis had forged a partnership that ensured India did not lead by too many, the first over of the day started badly for India with Ishant not fully warmed up and gave away a couple of boundaries and it seemed like South Africa might get away if Indian’s let up their intensity, however, Zak was on the money and Ishant got his lines right and South Africa were soon dismissed. It was also heartening to see Steyn getting some lifters and being rapped on the fingers. Morkel not getting behind the line and Philander too struck on his fingers. So many times has India had to face this and it was good to see it being dished out back.

Whilst India led by 36, there were still murmurs of dismissing India cheaply keeping a chase around 200, India though had completely other ideas.

This is a new India it seems, they do not want to flash and show talent or go for that boundary. This team was ready to buckle in, patient, determined, skillful and harsh on only the lose stuff. They respected the good balls, did play and miss on a few occasions but by and large did not play loose shots and kept a big prize on their wicket. South Africa had to get them out, Shikhar Dhawan might have been disappointed with his dismissal in the first innings, but in the second he can take heart that he was picked by a very good piece of bowling and that he did not throw it away. The ball before he got out was the one that made him play that ball and got him out.

Vijay and Pujara together gritted it out, however, you were wondering if just staying in and not scoring too many might mean the game goes no where. Aided by the unfortunate injury to Morne Morkel though they found that South Africa’s back up bowling after Steyn and Philander was just not going to be able to trouble. Kallis at 38 can maybe deliver 5-7 good overs. Vijay was unfortunate to fall the way he did, he missed out on a golden chance to bat whilst the bowlers were tiring and the sun was out.

However, Pujara knows nothing else but how to bat and bat and bat. This guy has some tremendous appetite for batting and in many ways reminds me of England Captain Cook, nothing seems to affect him nor too bothered, he just bats and bats and bats. After tea the way he cashed in and made sure his hard work earlier paid plenty of dividends was wonderful to watch. Kohli on the other hand was again calm and reassuring, any Indian fan who was worried about the loss of the legends might have breathed a sigh of relief.

Indian Batting Order's no3 and no4 prove their worth in their first challenge.

Indian Batting Order’s no3 and no4 prove their worth in their first challenge.

In the end it was good, proper, basic Test match cricket that India played better in the three days gone by. The batsman have applied themselves and tried to stay in and score of loose deliveries without doing anything flash or trying to do anything extraordinary. The bowlers have tried to bowl in the right areas with good intensity and not allowed too many pressure free moments. The fact that India have 3 proper seam bowlers is something we have not always had, plus the fact that Bhuvaneshwar and Umesh Yadav sit on the benches is also a heartening fact.

South Africa have been left with many questions really, frankly none of their top order batsman can claim they looked comfortable in their stay on the wicket, not even Smith who got a shaky 68. Infact Philander looked like the best batsman in this innings by a distance, he too was aided by a tiring bowling attack on day 2. Their bigger worry though might be their bowling, I was wondering why they never tried to give a bouncer work over to Kohli and Pujara? I thought they did not test the Indian batsmen enough in this area. Their lines and their lengths in my opinion can be still a little more closer to the wicket. India gave away a few straight drives and cover drives but I think that is what also got them wickets.

India must also thank the sun for coming out when they batted, whether it was the sun or their superior batting we can only find out if South Africa get to bat in the sun and they are still bundled out. All said and done the match has shifted completely in India’s favour by some wonderfully determined proper Test Cricket by our boys.

They can feel proud about how they have played so far and keep up the intensity as there is a Test Match to be won here.

Photo’s Courtesy ESPNCRICINFO

Evenly poised

End of day two and this Test Match keeps see sawing from one end to another. Whilst the first day the honour’s were shared the first two sessions on day two went to SA. The last session though was a total ripper, as India found inspiration in the old ball and 5 wickets were taken for 16 at one stage. However, tiring bowlers and a softer ball combined with some grit shown by Philander South Africa might want to think they escaped from a big lead. India will rue the missed chances. Smith caught at 19 would have made matters very very different. South Africa would still like to add a few runs, they have to bat last and just because of that India can consider their noses a little ahead.

At the start of the second day, I felt India could have maybe look for runs alongside defence. The problem with being cautious is that if you get out the game has just not moved ahead. India will have to find a way of mixing aggression with caution and also look for runs, singles are also runs by the way. Dropping the ball and scampering like mad is one option, brings the field in closer and then the boundaries follow. Also pressure doesn’t rise and the game keeps moving forward.

The Indian bowling performance will give a lot of heart to MS, he has an attack that can take 20 wickets in these conditions, whilst I expect Zaheer’s performance to imporove, I am sure he will be happy with the way Ishant and Shami bowled. Also in hindsight perhaps its better to play Yadav or Bhuvi in place of Ashwin. Whilst Yadav could give pace and bounce yet could be erratic, Bhuvi will not just move the ball around but also give Dhoni a lot of control. Unless something drastic is done by Ashwin bowling wise in the 2nd innings, I guess we must field a 4 pronged pace attack in Durban.

South African batting order will have a lot of questions, apparently Kallis has been short of runs for a while now and all of them were caught at the crease, talking of Indian batsmen not coming forward, so far actually Indian’s have shown a better technique. Indian’s will have to find ways to score a few more runs though.

Day three normally tells you the way this Test is headed, however, I suspect this one will go down to the wire and keep Yoyo-ing till the end.

Not for nothing do they call Test Cricket, Real Cricket. I can never understand or comprehend such riveting, see-sawing battles ever in a T-20 or an ODI!!

Jitter’s be calmed!

Day one of a new Test series in a foreign country is always a nervous moment, especially when it is played in countries like Australia / South Africa / England for teams from the subcontinent. The perennial question is always raised how will our batsmen adjust to the pace, bounce and movement on these pitches. Will our players show heart or shy away, whilst India’s four best batsman aided with Sehwag for a while had kept these nervous moments at bay. The last two series were 4-0 in England and Australia. However, most of the current team was not there to share this pain. Whilst Kohli played two matches of the 8, one in Perth and one in Adelaide, he got 74 in Perth and a century in Adelaide, so really he had no baggage. Apart from Dhoni really no one from this team was in the 8-0 drubbing.

The first two ODI’s had the tongues wagging and all of Africa were licking their lips, whilst almost all of India dreaded the Test series.

The gauntlet was thrown at India, Wanderer’s is their most bouncy pitch, talk of a fast bouncy track, add to that India won the toss. I suspect South Africa were surprised by the Indian decision to bat first! Full marks to M S Dhoni to bite the bullet and bat first, so many times Indian captains will look for an easier alternative and insert the opposition in and see them score 400+ and then be chasing the game.

In many ways this was also a message to the team that yes, we can do it. India began cautiously and Shikhar’s ego got the better of him. Vijay got stuck at one end and ended up falling to pressure that was rising.

24-2

Well, no Rahul at no.3 and no Sachin at no.4, Indian cricket fan was one nervous soul at that moment I tell you. However, contrary to anyone’s imagination, Virat Kohli batted with absolutely aplomb. No, this was not a stroke a ball century, but it was a wonderful display of proper, responsible batsmanship. He left well outside off, had a couple of close moments with Morkel but apart from that it was judicious stroke play till he got out. He was very decisive in leaving the ball or going for it. There were no half measures and it was an innings even Sachin would have been proud of. He went for the lose ball, be it short into his body for thumping pulls or outside off when he would lash at short wide ones, he was not running high on emotion and would go for any short ball that was too short keeping adrenalin under control and there was no tentativeness.

A superb knock that not only puts India in a good position but calms the dressing room and gets rid of all nerves

A superb knock that not only puts India in a good position but calms the dressing room and gets rid of all nerves

This will give a lot of people in the team assurance, calm the nerves and also raise hopes. Virat didn’t just get a hundred but scored a lot of psychological points more so for his team’s batsmen. Now is the time for the other batsman in the team to rally around and raise the level.

Pujara was solid and was settling in when a bad judgement by Kohli sent him away. Apparently though what is evident is he is not going to throw his wicket away and SA will have to bowl better. Rohit will be very disappointed at the way he threw his wicket away. He lost out on a golden opportunity to bat at a time when 50+ overs had been bowled the bowlers tired and the pitch flattened out. There will not be such easy chances always available in overseas conditions and Rohit would have done well to not let this go. One man’s failure is another man’s opportunity and Rahane cashed in on what Rohit missed.

Day 1 may look even, but psychologically it will serve India greatly, they now know they can compete and they are not going to be blown away.

South Africa came into this match after a lot of talk, the commentators, media all were cocky and had thought that the bowlers just had to turn up and India would be blown away. Infact at many times it looked South Africa were bowling far too wide outside off stump. Smith and his bowlers showed little imagination when Indian’s didn’t go after the wide outside off line. They know it now, they are in for a fight. They might adjust and work harder now on, however, on day one they were caught napping. Neither did they make the batsmen drive enough for my money and there in they made their biggest mistake nor did they properly work out Kohli with the short stuff with Morkel going around the wicket or Steyn going around the wicket and testing them out.

I guess the pace battery was just shell shocked at the application and clarity of judgement shown by our batters. At the end of the day if you clearly look at it, just Vijay was a batsman that they got out. Shikhar got out to his own ego, which was bigger than the team cause. Pujara was run out, Kohli & Sharma played lose shots to rather innocuous deliveries and got themselves out. So let’s say the world’s best bowling line up as it it dubbed had a rather poor day or were largely kept out at bay by some gritty and solid batting. 😀 😀

Frankly, never thought I would be able to write this after the first day’s play. 😀 My chest swells and it feels extremely wonderful to be in this position, lets hope we can add atleast another 100-150 runs tomorrow and then it will be over to the bowlers 😀

Photos Courtesy ESPNCRICINFO