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February 19, 2010

Samir Chopra

A pair of knockouts - the India-SA Tests

Samir Chopra

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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Posted by Vikash on (September 1, 2010, 22:51 GMT)

Man of the series and for his doggedness and master play has to be Hashim Amla. I just cannot fathom why the SA team do not play him in the 20/20 outfit? Or maybe there have a colour issue with the up and coming great.

Posted by Aditya on (July 22, 2010, 10:34 GMT)

India were looking shaky in the bowling. SA would have liked to stay alive for another over. Yes, there should be an odd number of tests.

Posted by AB de Villiers on (July 22, 2010, 10:32 GMT)

I am looking to score a 100 against India...HAHA

Posted by CricketFan on (March 1, 2010, 12:59 GMT)

Wasn't this to be a THREE test match series as per the original FTP? Then it was changed because of the IPL taking place early in March. SA when they come to India should always have 3 test matches. That would make for an interesting battle between two top test playing nations.

Posted by barinder on (February 24, 2010, 2:38 GMT)

test matches india play are not always so good it was a marvelous comeback by india moreover india showed that they desire to be no 1 test team

Posted by Iqbal TTP on (February 23, 2010, 9:17 GMT)

There should be at least 2 seris of 3 tests matches in every year and 2 seris ovewrseas. this will be interesting to see the test matches.

Posted by Sumit Gupta, Dehradun on (February 20, 2010, 16:54 GMT)

India played well to square the series at Edens.Perhaps,one more match would have made the series more engrossing.Nevertheless,there were some commendable performaces in both bowling and batting department.Virendra Sehwag catapulted to no.1 position in Test Rankings.Sachin continued his good form making tons in both the matches.Harbhajan silenced his critics by taking a five wicket haul in his favourite hunting ground. Hashim Amla emerged as a sheet anchor for Proteas.His ability to play his strokes late and indefatigable spirit made him the highest scorer of runs in the series.Truly,a well deserved man of the series.India-South Africa rivalry is growing and I hope we will witness some excellent matches between the two teams in years to come.

Posted by gomakant on (February 20, 2010, 10:15 GMT)

Nice Article. A Test Series should be of atleast 3 tests and India should play the top teams like SA & AUS atleast once in 2 years on home & away basis. The Test series should be played in venues like Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi where there is support from the public and the wicket is sporting so contests like the one in Kolkata keep repeating, which also keep the public glued to cricket. Test Cricket is the Ultimate CHALLENGE.

Posted by Anonymous on (February 20, 2010, 6:12 GMT)

Nice article. But don't discount the fact that the nastiness in India-Aus rivalary is good for business and perhaps that is a missing factor in promoting the India-SA matches.

Posted by Kalyan Chelluri on (February 20, 2010, 5:04 GMT)

Yes Samir i agree with you,there should have been more than 2 tests, i say at least a 5 test match series would have really shown to the world who was the best team .BCCI having made so much of money over the years with ODI's and T20's should now concentrate on playing more tests.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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