By Faisal Caesar
Bored with the Ashes? No problem then. Focus your eyes on the Cape Town Test between India and South Africa. If you are a passionate follower of the game, you won’t mind paying money and flying to Cape Town and watch Test cricket at its very best. The battle between the best fast bowler in the world and the best batsman of the world is something that any connoisseur of the game would love to go miles to see.
I would like to know what Dale Steyn what he had for lunch on the third day of the Test as the South African paceman’s spell in the middle session was simply stupendous. It was a display of hostile swing bowling to put shiver down any of the best batsman’s spine. In the pre-lunch session, Steyn was on top of his game, but post lunch there were some extra zing in his bowling - classical outswing at high pace. Often he pitched on leg and missed off. He was simply and too hot to handle for any one. The control was immaculate and the length spot on. Steyn hardly gave any respite to the batsmen. He was almost the epitome of fast bowling perfection. If you love fast bowlers firing at full tilt with all the nuances, this was it.
He went wicketless in the pre-lunch session, but in the post-lunch session he got rid of Cheteshwar Pujara with a Shane Warne-like special – just that this delivery was bowled at 134 kmph! Steyn got the away movement going, this time from leg stump. It landed on a length and opened Pujara up as he desperately tried to cover the line. It defeated his prod and thudded into the back pad in front of middle. What a Ball!
Steyn finished the day with 5 for 72.
Steyn even tested the best batsman in the world, Sachin Tendulkar. But Tendulkar is a commando with the willow. It was a fascinating battle. Steyn was all fired up to unsettle the maestro, and Tendulkar determined not to lose the battle. Tendulkar faced 48 of the 66 balls Steyn bowled in pre-lunch and post-lunch sessions and negotiated the hostility with utmost authority. The master defended the pace with soft hands, and left the dangerous outswingers whizzing perilously outside the off stump.
Tendulkar kept his launching power for Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel. Tsotsobe was effective, but not red hot like Steyn. Tendulkar unleashed the pull and the upper-cut. It was time for the master to reap rewards for his hard work in the first hour. The glorious cover drives were scripted, the drives straight down the ground, the paddle sweep, the nudges and the steers to third man…it was a sight for sore eyes. Yes, he was lucky to get away with the edges. But fortune favours the brave and he deservedly notched up his 51st Test hundred - in style, with a six off Morkel.
Tendulkar played the role which Kallis did for South Africa in their first innings. Much responsible this time, he shielded the tail and protected Harbhajan Singh from Steyn to string together a stand of 76 - critical in ensuring a respectable total. In the end Tendulkar’s resistance broke to Morkel, castled for 146. But it was a job he would be very proud of.
Whatever the result of the Test, one will long remember Steyn’s two hostile spells and Tendulkar’s masterly negotiation of the South African pace. This was Test cricket was at its very best.
(Faisal Caesar is a doctor by profession whose dream of becoming a remained a dream. But his passion is very much alive and he translates that passion in writing about the game)