India’s triumph in the third Test against South Africa was among the best achieved overseas. It was a tough match played on a treacherous pitch and against heavy odds. The hardship quotient made victory even sweeter.The series, of course, had been lost earlier, but pride had been redeemed. Yet, it was not till Shami, mojo suddenly regained, came on to strike repeated blows to in the last session on the fourth day did the outcome become clear.
For three hours earlier, the classy Amla and resilient Dean Elgar threatened to thwart India and complete a 3-0 whitewash. Once Shami exposed the tail by removing Philander, however, the end came swiftly.
On a spiteful pitch, the remaining, non-specialist batsmen stood no chance, leaving Elgar, who had fought tooth and nail, unconquered.
This was not without some irony, for the left-handed opener was at the centre of a storm that almost caused the Test to be called off.
The blow to Elgar’s head on the third evening prompted the umpires to suspend play, much to the chagrin, not just of the Indian team, but several cricket experts and fans across the world who saw this as travesty.
It can’t be anybody’s case that umpires should not have jurisdiction over play, or that safety of players should be glossed over. In fact safety has been paramount ever since the unfortunate accident that took Phil Hughes life, and one would expect umpires to be cautious.
The crux of the problem was the pitch. It was nasty. Variable bounce made it a threat – both technical and physical to batsmen. Cracks that started showing up from the first day itself made it even more difficult to play on.
Too often, touring teams visiting the sub-continent, especially India, complain of pitches `doctored’ to suit spinners. Any team getting monumental advantage from extraneous factors is hardly desirable. But pitches that are a threat to life debilitate the very basis of sport.
Whether terribly sub-standard pitches of any kind are worthy of Test cricket, and what should be done to cricket boards who prepare these is something that the ICC will have to examine hard and come up with solutions/punishments.
At the Wanderers, however, what was intriguing (infuriating to the Indian team and cricket aficionados) was that the umpires didn’t see the same pitch to be as dangerous when the Indian team – including the tail-enders – had batted on the same day, including the tail-enders!
This `different strokes for different folks’ by the umpires seemed palpably incongruous. Happily, the issue was resolved and play resumed next day, leading to a tingling climax.
Looking back, India’s bowlers were magnificent in picking up 60 wickets, putting South Africa batsmen under pressure throughout. Incidentally, for the first time ever, India took the field at Wanderers with five fast bowlers and without a spinner!
The success of Shami, Bhuvneshwar, Ishant and particularly debutant Bumrah augurs well for the future. All three are pacy and have varied skills. With series’s scheduled against England mid-year and Australia by end-2018, they have a major role to play.
Unfortunately, it was only in the last Test that the batsmen showed some nerve and came good. This made a tangible difference to the result but also raised the question at what might have been had the batsmen shown similar fortitude earlier too.
That realization will hurt. Even in a series played on nasty pitches and dominated by bowlers, batsmen could have done better, especially with bowlers in the playing XI. But except in the last innings of the third Test, the top order looked vulnerable — in technique and mindset.
The exception was Virat Kohli, easily the outstanding batsman on either side. He wasn’t cowed down by tough situations, playing with aplomb where others looked shaken and jittery.
In fact, when conditions got more difficult and tilted heavily in favour of bowlers, Kohli upped his game even more. Challenges clearly bring out the best in him, and he has the temerity to take them head on rather than find excuses.
Argue with him on technique, tantrums and tactics if you must, but I will aver Kohli is a great batsman and a bold captain, willing to take risks in pursuit of victory. Even in adversity, he led with aggression and authority.
Of course, a couple of selections were questionable. The gutsy Rahane gave a stern reminder in the third Test that he could have been included as least one match earlier. And Bhuvaneshwar’s omission from the second Test was inexplicable.
But Kohii’s desire to succeed is laudable. And contagious. Despite the loss of two Tests, he got the team to regroup quickly and fight back hard to win the third, not throw in the towel. He is a quick learner and can only get better.
First Published: January 29, 2018, 9:04 AM IST
Source: Google Sports