Samir Chopra February 19, 2010

A pair of knockouts - the India-SA Tests

Despite the lopsided nature of the games (at least far as the margins went), these were both very good Tests, just because there was so much outstanding cricket on display

Two Tests did not do justice for the rivalry between the teams © AFP

Let me get in the obligatory quick slam against the BCCI before saying anything else about this India-South Africa 'series'. Two Tests? Are you for real?

Now, on to the series itself. This putative world championship of cricket featured two big, lopsided wins; both by an innings. If one were to cast about for sporting metaphors this would be a pair of boxing matches where each boxer knocked the other one out once (Schmeling-Louis anyone?) India looked outclassed in the first Test, and South Africa, despite the closeness of the finish, were severely outgunned in the second (to think they were 218-1 on the first day and ended up batting 347 runs behind in the second innings!).

Despite the lopsided nature of the games (at least far as the margins went), these were both very good Tests, just because there was so much outstanding cricket on display: high-quality swing bowling, determined, gritty, stylish, pugnacious batting, and some very good spin bowling at times.

But the margins of defeat in each Test showed that the two teams, despite being the top two in the world, did display some inconsistency and vulnerability. India's lack of resistance to Dale Steyn in Nagpur was perhaps more understandable in that any batting line-up, especially one weakened by injuries and dubious selection strategies, will always be susceptible to the kind of high-quality display Steyn put on. More worrying for India in that Test was the failure of the bowling attack to drive home the early first-day advantage or to even exert any sustained pressure thereafter.

South Africa's performance in Kolkata indicated a greater breakdown of sorts: they collapsed from 218-1 to 296 all out; they left their bowling plans in the hotel; they dropped catches and then when the time came to save the game, they played into India's hands by never remotely looking like they would get past 347 (the second innings ran for 131 overs and resulted in 290 runs).

There were other data points in the tests that are interesting: South Africa's batting is shaky (Graeme Smith kept playing Zaheer Khan with gaping gaps in his defense and the JP Duminy - Ashwell Prince pair always looked out of sorts); India's youngsters were disappointing at best (S Badrinath played one good innings and then looked out of his depth thereafter; M Vijay wasted his chances; and there were some dropped catches by the new brigade as well). While Gautam Gambhir failed to come to the party, the rest of the Indian batting line-up prospered: Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni all did their reputations no harm, with the former two shining in particular. And Hashim Amla's serene journey to almost 500 runs in three innings will long be remembered by those who watched him play; the impassive nature of his reaction to a painful blow on the elbow on the fifth day was inspirational (if only I could summon up such a response to the adversities of life!)

India's strong finish in the series makes them come across as marginally stronger, especially in home conditions. Kolkata emphasized that point strongly, for there was no doubt that the presence of that crowd had an effect on both the teams. South Africa will be keen to use their home-grown pitches to try and put one over the Indians when they visit, and one can only hope the Indian batting will be up to the task (I'm optimistic that a full-strength Indian fast-bowling attack will be a handful in those conditions).

Which brings me back to the point with which I began this post. The BCCI's biggest problem is not its supposed greed or mendacity; it's that it lacks imagination. This series, with more Tests played in the metropolitan centres like Mumbai, Chennai et al, could have been a genuine humdinger and would have allowed for the building of a rivalry similar to that India enjoys with Australia (and possibly one without all the nastiness that has come to be associated with it). Not for the first, and certainly not for the last, will I bemoan the failure to grasp the obvious by the powers that be.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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