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India vs South Africa 1st Test at Johannesburg: When a game of cricket became difficult to decode

The historic draw in the 1st Test between India and South Africa brought out the best and worst reactions on the internet © AFP
The historic draw in the 1st Test between India and South Africa brought out the best and worst reactions on the internet © AFP

 

Cricket is mostly an easy game to watch and understand, but there are times when the game of cricket becomes difficult to understand, and one needs an Aryabhatta to explain what’s transpiring on the 22 yards. As the South African tail-enders, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander opted to give up the chase with their side just a few hits away from a historic win, the cricketing fraternity online remained divided over what should exactly have transpired — a South African win or an Indian. Madhav Sharma says it was one of those days when a simple game like cricket became difficult to understand.

 

Cricket lovers are a very chirpy breed, and they are all experts in their own customary ways. I have seen a 10-year-old giving his “expert” advice on how Sachin Tendulkar should improve his technique. And I am not the only who has seen this. From field placements to shot-selection; the people on the internet, know it all. But, as I said before, there are times when cricket gets as confusing as a word that starts from X but pronounced as Z. And, when this happens, there are views, comments, more comments, opinions, contradictions, more contradictions, and some more contradictions. From a game that can be explained by a 10-year-old, cricket suddenly becomes a game that is even more difficult than Rafael Nadal on a clay court.

 

***

 

The first Test match at the Wanderers, Johannesburg was nicely poised in favour of South Africa, and it was all due to the marathon partnership between Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. Both du Plessis and de Villiers were looking to open up after completing their hundreds, but a short and wide delivery that did not deserve a wicket ended their resistance. De Villiers tried to deflect that ball to third man, but only managed to drag it onto his stumps. But with du Plessis batting comfortably at the other end, Proteas were still favourites to win the match.

 

The people on the internet were also with South Africa, and there was no drama yet.

 

***

 

JP Duminy came in after de Villiers’s dismissal, and played a marvellous straight drive to hit his first boundary. South Africa were slowly inching towards the target. Mohammad Shami continued to bowl full in search of reverse-swing, and he finally got one to nip back a bit, and Duminy, who was trying to score quickly, failed to make proper contact, and his stumps were shattered.

 

Finally, there was some drama, but, with du Plessis standing solid at the other end, and Vernon Philander‘s good show with bat in the first innings, the netizens were still with South Africa. Not all of them, but yeah, most of them.

 

***

 

Philander joined du Plessis in the middle, and the roles in the middle changed. Du Plessis was now looking to occupy one end, and Philander was playing his shots. South Africa were pushed backwards momentarily, but they were still the favourites. The real change in the momentum came when du Plessis, in search of a single to retain the strike ran himself out. Ajinkya Rahane, once again was brilliant at mid-off, and he smashed the stumps direct to dismiss the South African batsman.

 

Suddenly, it looked as if India could win the game. Du Plessis was walking back after a brilliant knock.

 

Now, the people on the internet were a lot more aggressive. Indian supporters finally had something to cheer about and they were making it count big time. It was 60-40, still in the favour of South Africa.

 

***

 

No one knew what was going to happen, but Dale Steyn and Philander had decided they will play for the draw. In the third last over of the match, Shami kept bowling short-ones, and Steyn kept ducking. There was no intent at all — neither from the bowler nor from the batsman. The crowd at the Wanderers started booing, and Shami ended a maiden over. Zaheer Khan came in to bowl the penultimate over of the day, and again, there was no intent shown by the South Africans to win the game. Philander kept blocking with a dead bat. The crowd was still booing, this time, even more. It all came down to the last over, with South Africa needing 16 more to win. Steyn and Philander stuck to their plan, and the match resulted in a draw. It was a great game of cricket.

 

All this while, the people on the internet kept changing their views. As momentum swung from one side to the other, there was a flood of tweets and posts. They were unsure, but they were not ready to give up. They started criticising South Africa for not trying to win the game. The major argument was, “they [South Africa] should have tried to win the game, because they are the No 1 Test team in the world.” The people on the internet were fighting with each other.

 

It was one of those days, when cricket became a slightly difficult game to understand. Not for all, but yes, for most of them.

 

***

 

Author’s take: Considering Morne Morkel‘s injury and Imran Tahir’s inability to bat, it was a good decision by Steyn and Philander to look for a draw. Until du Plessis’s wicket, South Africa were pushing for a win, but after his dismissal, they were pushed on the back foot. It was a wise decision to settle with for a draw. There is one more Test match left in the series, and being the No 1 Test team in the world, South Africa will back  themselves to beat India and win the series 1-0.

 

(Madhav Sharma wanted to be a cricketer. Unfortunately, he has today more words than runs to his credit! He blogs at http://madhavsharmacricket.wordpress.com/ and tweets at https://twitter.com/HashTagCricket)

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