Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Paul Harris were made to realize that they are no match for Steyn and Morkel, and despite occasional flashes of quality from Tsotsobe, they were always there to be scored off © Getty Images
Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Paul Harris were made to realize that they are no match for Steyn and Morkel, and despite occasional flashes of quality from Tsotsobe, they were always there to be scored off © Getty Images



By Avinash Iyer


As an Indian living in Canada, I miss many things about the country. Yes, I am away from family. Yes, I am far away from Murugan Idly and its sambar, or MTR and its full meal. Yes, I am away from a lot of friends with whom I share a deep cultural bonding. And yes, all of these factors do cause a certain degree of emotional longing every once in a while. But, the biggest disadvantage of being in Canada is the time zone. Except for the Caribbean and Australia, all cricket playing countries play at godforsaken time which ensures one among two things:


1. I miss a game, but excel at work and am able to do a good job in proving to my bosses that they are paying me a salary for a good reason.


2. Contribute to the handsome profits of Starbucks and it’s cronies as I start consuming copious amounts of coffee to cover up the fact that a game kept me awake all night!


Which of these scenarios happen more often? I will give you one guess (Hint: My neighborhood Starbucks guy is a very happy man!)


For all its socio-politico-economic domination, the US and its 51st state, Canada, do very little to help cricket fans residing in its shores. Yes, Americans don’t play cricket, but aren’t Americans a minority in America?


Yes, NBA and NFL are pretty rich leagues, but hey, who outside of America care about basketball or worse, “American” Football? For that matter, that distant cousin of cricket: baseball? Anyway, not everyone is known to look at plain staring-at-your-face facts and that thing called common sense.


So, I know that international cricket in these parts is going to be as rare as a warm January in Calgary and there really is no choice except to accumulate frequent coffee miles at Starbucks.


So, here I am, deprived of sleep, deprived of non-coffee money writing about something that makes all of it completely worth it.


The last two months have been fantastic for the game and its fans. Like any other non-Aussie cricket follower, I have received oodles of pleasure watching the Poms pummel them. Like any other Indian, I was stunned to see a comprehensive victory in Kingsmead. Like any other connoisseur, I enjoyed watching Dale Steyn’s ability to make the ball talk, make the batsmen look like they have just arrived from Mars and his wonderful tussle with the God of all things, Sachin Tendulkar.


I also enjoyed Mitchell Johnson’s magical spell at the WACA, though a corner of my mind kept yelling about being a traitor and supporting an Aussie performance. And I was thoroughly enamoured by Jacques Kallis and Alastair Cook scripting one master class after another.


Now that all the Tests are over, and we get onto the ODI mode I think it is a good time to bring out my perspective, my review of how both these series panned out and some subtle points that I think needs to be brought out. I will start with the IndiaSouth Africa series first.


Despite the No 1 ranking, I don’t think even the most optimistic fan would have thought that India will finish the series with a creditable draw.


There were a lot of factors that was in favour of India getting thrashed:


1. A not-so-great home series against New Zealand where we just about managed to win the series.


2. The miniscule time available between the two series. This assumes great significance considering India has never been able to adapt to the South Africa conditions easily.


3. An unfit Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh as a batting force only, a hopelessly off-color Ishant Sharma, and unknown Jaydev Unadkat and an unpredictable Shantakumaran Sreesanth.


4. An untested set of backup batsmen comprising of Suresh Raina, Cheteshwara Pujara and Murali Vijay.


5. South Africa’s potent pace force in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.


Barring point No 4, I considered all the other points to be serious enough to prevent India from competing well in the series. Well, they did compete, and compete very well at that.


So what was it that led to this result?


1. India’s batting line-up: Barring an out-of-form Rahul Dravid and a weak No 6, all the other batters were in phenomenal form. Virender Sehwag had an off-color series but Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni more than made up for it. One of them always raised his hands and often contributed heavily when required.


2. Plan for Steyn and Morkel: This is perhaps the most crucial factor for the way the series panned out. Indian batsmen normally capitulate to the South African new ball attack, but this time they had a plan that was somewhat different. Both these bowlers were given due respect and there was never any attempt to thrash them out of the attack. The team realized that aggression is not the way these guys need to be handled, but caution was the keyword. Steyn is such a wonderful bowler and due recognition was given to this fact. This led to classical Test cricket between the two teams and the lack of anything fancy blunted their potency to a large extent.


3. The third seamer and spinner: This was a no-brainer and this part of the plan was executed perfectly. Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Paul Harris were made to realize that they are no match for Steyn and Morkel, and despite occasional flashes of quality from Tsotsobe, they were always there to be scored off.


4. Harbhajan’s return: Not that he was at his best, but his bowling did more talking than his batting, and that is always a good sign. He still has a long way to go to in recapturing his old form. Hopefully, this is the first step.


5. Graeme Smith’s captaincy: This was probably the single biggest reason why South Africa could not force a series victory. Strange defensive fields ensured that whenever South Africa was ahead, India managed to crawl back. When Steyn was bowling the spell of this year at Newlands, there was no aggression shown by Smith in tightening the noose around India. Both he and Dhoni adopted the follow-the-previous-boundary approach in field placing – a policy that enabled the batsmen to take easy singles and ease the pressure. Safety first is a good principle, but it’s not what we expect from the No 1 team and the team aspiring to become No 1. Nevertheless, Smith provided copious come-out-of-jail moments especially in the 3rd Test, and that helped India tremendously.


Of course there were other moments of individual brilliance, by batsmen, bowlers and umpires as well! But all in all, it was a great series and helped to dispel doubts of fans like me that India are not just No 1 because of some crazy ICC system. They rightfully belong there.


I will cover the Ashes in my next post!


(Avinash Iyer is a Director in a software company in Canada and an avid cricket fan, a legacy he inherited from his dad. In between indulging in software-giri and braving the awful cold weather here, he soaks in cricket. Cricket statistics stick in his memory more easily than the menu at last night’s dinner. Loves the traditional game of Test cricket)