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The Johannesburg Test may have ended in an epic draw, but India gained a lot from the first Test against South Africa at the Wanderers. H Natarajan lists the many positives for MS Dhoni and his men.
When VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid turned what looked like an inevitable innings defeat into a Ripleyesque victory in the 2001 Kolkata Test against Australia, we lavished praises on the duo’s epic batting efforts. But when Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers altered the script from an almost certain Indian victory to what was arguably the greatest draw in Test history, we look for negatives in the bowling, rather than positives in the South African batting. The Indian cricket fan needs to get his perspective right and give due credit to the opposition.
Any Test that raises the possibility of all four results — a win for either side, draw and tie — is a great advert for the traditional format of the sport. It’s a format that is suffering a much worse battle than healthy eats against fast-food. And the Jo’Burg Test that ended in a near photo-finish has to be ranked among the great classics of the 133-year-old history of Test cricket. The players of either team deserve all the hosannas for making it such a riveting contest.
After being dominated for four days and a considerable portion of the final day, South Africa brought out the beautiful vicissitudes of the game by providing a brilliant twist to the script. The never-say-die spirit of this energetic young Indian side and the run-out of du Plessis by Ajinkya Rahane provided the final twist, at which point an Indian victory was a distinct possibility. With Morne Morkel in the casualty list and Imran Tahir no threat with the bat, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn understandably did not want to fritter away the match, though one cannot entirely blame the South African cricket fans for feeling that their team lost an opportunity when 16 were needed off a possible 19 legal deliveries.
Almost everyone, including cerebral experts who played the game with distinction for their countries, felt that 250 would be a winning target on a tricky Wanderers pitch, with the anti-MS Dhoni brigade lampooning the Indian captain for delaying the declaration. The target of 458 was Himalayan, yet the closeness of the encounter justified the calculations of the Indian skipper.
Virat Kohli said in a post-match chat with the media that he was surprised South Africa did not press on for victory, while Graeme Smith understandably defended Philander and Steyn for pulling down the shutters. The South African captain, however, spoilt the occasion a bit by saying that “India did not show enough desire to win.” His remarks were quite uncharitable.
It would be cruel to blame any team and it was celestial justice that the game ended in one of the most exciting draws, though a tie would have given the Test the aura it deserved.
The dawn of an exciting new era in Indian cricket
If there was one team which walked away with many plusses to its credit at the end of the first Test, it is India. Few offered the team much of a chance on South African wickets that offered disconcerting bounce and copious pace, against the likes of Steyn, Philander and Morkel. When you add Jacques Kallis to that troika, we are looking at a relentless pace attack — not the kind of diet Indian batsmen have an appetite for, a fact that was quickly underlined in the One-Day International (ODI) series preceding the Test series.
Let’s list the positives:
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma may not have got too many runs in the Test, but there is no mistaking that the two, along with the likes of Kohli, Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, and others of Generation Next, make this Indian team a lot different from those of the past. It brings with it a flair that can take the best the opposition has to offer, and in the opposition’s den. One just have to look at a highly-professional team like Australia to realise the painful pangs of transition to appreciate the worth of the newcomers in the Indian team who have ensured that we don’t miss the like of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has taken a lot of flak, mostly justified. However, the Indian board needs to be given full credit for giving young Indian talent generous exposure overseas, which has made the transition quite painless. Well done, BCCI!
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan)
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