India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 3rd day February 16, 2010

We didn't take our opportunities - Wessels

S Aga

There's a reason these two teams are at the top of the Test rankings. The best teams don't just win games. They're also capable of fighting back from reverses that would crush lesser sides. Moments of genius can illuminate Tests, but they're usually won or saved with grit. Even in the days when they thrashed all before them, you could count plenty of occasions when Steve Waugh's side was dug out of a hole by Adam Gilchrist and the tail.

Like a groggy boxer tangled in the ropes, India were thought to be there for the taking after the four-day defeat in Nagpur. Instead, they have stunned South Africa at Eden Gardens with the ferocity of the riposte. Now, it's the visitors who need to box clever and survive, in order to seal the series win they so crave.

In this era of placid pitches, survival is far from impossible. Less than a year ago, India batted 180 overs after being asked to follow on in Napier. Gautam Gambhir batted nearly 11 hours and VVS Laxman made a century as they lost just four wickets in two days.

Kepler Wessels, South Africa's batting consultant, was quietly confident that South Africa could hold on for the draw. "It's a pretty good pitch," he said. "I think you can still bat on it for extended periods of time. Clearly, we're going to be under more pressure than India were, so it'll be more difficult. It should spin a little as the game goes on."

In his view, the approach was going to be crucial. "We're in a position where we have to save the game to win the series," he said. "There's two days of tough Test cricket ahead and we'll fight as hard as we can. We can't just play the survival game. We've still got to look to score runs and play a normal game - form partnerships and bat for long periods."

South Africa find themselves in this predicament largely because of a dismal final session on the opening day, when they surrendered the huge advantage that came with winning the toss. "In the first Test match, we concentrated really well," Wessels said. "We were very tight. We didn't play loosely at any stage. In the first innings here, we were very loose. I think that was the problem.

"In Hashim's case, you can understand it because he batted for such a long time and so well in Nagpur. He was always going to go through phases where it was tough to concentrate for as long again. For Alviro [Petersen] in his first Test, reaching a milestone was quite an emotional thing. I think the guys all accept that there were a few too many loose shots and that got us into trouble."

The sloppiness with the bat was compounded by dropped catches aplenty, with Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith among the culprits on day three. "If you don't take your opportunities against a good side, you're going to pay the price," Wessels said. "You can't drop good players and expect to get away with it, particularly on good surfaces like this."

South Africa weren't helped by the back spasms that ruled out Mark Boucher and the fractured finger that prevented Smith from fielding at first slip. JP Duminy, who took his place, dropped Virender Sehwag on 47 and Laxman on 48, and AB de Villiers, donning the webbed gloves, missed a stumping when Sehwag had 129.

"It's always difficult when you have to reinvent your slip cordon," Wessels said. "We've got an experienced keeper who wasn't there and the most experienced first slip wasn't either. It's challenging but you have to adapt and take the opportunities that come your way. We didn't."

By afternoon, the jauntiness of Nagpur had given way to grim faces. "We expected India to come back strongly," he said. "They're a very good team under their own conditions. We certainly expected them to put up this sort of fight. The body language is inevitable when you're under the cosh and after missing a few opportunities."

The key moments came right at the start of the day, with nine coming from each of the opening two overs, as Amit Mishra made it clear that he wasn't out there to block up one end. In between being dropped twice and the ball darting past the outside edge umpteen times, he played a couple of punishing strokes, adding 48 with Laxman.

"We wanted to bowl well this morning, get some wickets and finish India off," Wessels said. "Perhaps even if they had a lead of a 100 or so, we'd have been happy with that. But they played well, and we just couldn't get the breakthroughs. I thought Dale Steyn bowled well with the second new ball. Morne Morkel came in with one good spell as well. But consistency is an issue for us."

Given that the light has caused play to be called on all three days so far, South Africa have to bat close to 140 overs to make sure they don't lose this game. Like India at Napier, they too have such an effort to summon inspiration from. At Lord's in 2008, they followed on 346 behind. Smith, Neil McKenzie and Amla all made centuries as they played out 167 overs for the draw. Wins in the next two Tests gave them the series.

"South African batsmen have had many similar challenges over the last two years and come through those quite well," said Wessels. "This will be a difficult one, but that's what experienced top international batsmen are for. They've coped with it well in the past and will hopefully do so again tomorrow."

If they do, not a soul, not even at this venue where the home crowd can be a 12th man, will grudge them that No.1 ranking.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andre on February 17, 2010, 14:38 GMT

    I see the point Bollo is making. I think alongside Bang and Zim, we can add NZ, they have only managed to draw series with W.I. and a disrupted Pak in their own backyard. I therefore think that the only meaningful away series victory that Ind has had of late is against Eng. Now NO-1 IS SAYING IND IS NOT A GOOD SIDE! They just have much to prove before every1 comes to an agreement that hey, Ind is the best cricket test team in the world and not just for a month, or at home or against subcontinental teams. These days, despite the rankings, Aus and SA at times when they play well ALSO look just as good a team. One thing that Aus and SA have as well is BALANCE! Ind finding a good all-rounder will go a long way in solving that problem.

  • Dave on February 17, 2010, 10:32 GMT

    Don`t quite understand why Indian fans are getting uptight about comments re.their strength at home. Yes, all teams perform better home than away, but the subtext to this is that of all the major nations, the difference between India`s home/away performances is the starkest. Particularly recently, they have been very difficult to beat at home, while remaining poor travellers. Discounting matches against Bang/Zim, India have only won 25 tests outside India ever, that`s 25 wins in 200 matches. (Australia won 31 away tests last decade). Until India address the imbalance, people will continue to make the observation. Deal with it.

  • Shailesh on February 17, 2010, 9:26 GMT

    current Scenario of the match 111/3 they can save this match only 120 over from here and they have good batting line u p like Amla and Prince is still there and Ab divilliers and Duminy is still to come and weather also not well.

  • andrews on February 17, 2010, 8:51 GMT

    Popcorn, mate, I really hate to disagree with you as a balanced aussie fan. But Dhoni's field for Katich had 8 on the off-side. Rules don't allow that many on the leg-side. Agree with the spirit if what you said, though. As for the beginning of your article, Aga, there is a reason these two are at the top of the rankings. It's called a baffling, inaccurate, irrelevant system. No matter what they do in this Test, India will have won no more than 5 of their last nine series, seven of which have been played in the sub-continent. When you think of disastrous losses in Colombo, Ahmedabad, and Nagpur-losses of the magnitude that the true top two sides have not suffered for decades, India's record is nowhere near the stuff of a number one side. This ranking system is so misleading, yet it appears to be revered as infallible. It's worth noting that if SA do survive for a draw here, the points under the original rankings as suggested by Wisden would be: Aus 26, SA 26, India 21.

  • Vinayak on February 17, 2010, 8:39 GMT

    I don't understand why Wessels, Smith or for that matter every foreign coach/player who comes to India has to state the fact that India is a strong side Especially at Home umpteen number of times!!! I am guessing these guys are weak at home!!plain stupidity to say the least, give credit where credit is due and keep shut. Do we crib that seaming conditions which help their bowlers at home making it difficult for us, that's the basis of having a home advantage you fools, deal with it!

  • HARI RAO on February 17, 2010, 7:20 GMT

    While watching the Kolkota Test, I was deeply concerned with the depondent look on the face of Ajay Mishra. He has good action, delivery, good Leg break, a clever googly all required to make an excellent Leggie. But why is he bowling so many NO BALLS and often err on the length, direction, to get severely punished by top class batrsmen? It is crime to bowl short and particularly No Balls by a slow bowler. Even in days when we bowled from the Bowling crease, we never bowled a single no ball. Harbhajan doesn't bowl no balls. But why is Mishra so indisciplined in his bowling. He is supposed to provide the fillup for great Anil Kumble who was accuracy personified, and worlds' greatest batsmen feared ball after ball attacking the stumps which they had to so carefully watch. With Mishra's way-ward direction he cannot win matches for us despite his good repertoitre of breaks. What is the Bowling Coach doing? Please help him, discipline him, & Bbuild bak his confidence Hari Rao, R.C.

  • Mark on February 17, 2010, 5:47 GMT

    Wessels was not making excuses. He was stating that SA messed up. He said that you have to take your chances, despite injuries. Bottom line, it was not SA's game. They batted badly, then followed that by bowling and fielding poorly. Although SA could bat out, I do not see it happening. I see the series ending 1-1. India retain number 1 ranking. But, the truth is, they did not beat SA at hoime, so, the number one ranking is a little emptier than it should have been. To be number one, you should be able to win a home series. That goes for SA as well.

    To be honest, there is no clear number one at the moment. It is a 3 way fight.

  • Steve on February 17, 2010, 5:11 GMT

    Is it only excuses when other teams make them? All anyone has had to listen to coming out of India for the last week and a bit is how if only Dravid and Laxman had played the 1st test SA wouldnt have won it! No one will ever know...As for this test and this article, Wessels did not make any excuses, he said that the opportunities were not taken. Just like the replacements did not score Dravid's or Laxman's runs in the 1st test, AB did not take Bouchers stumping, and JP dropped Smiths catch at 1st slip! Games between 2 top teams can swing on such small things. Would England have won the ashes in 2005 had McGrath not trod on the ball at Edgbaston? I'll say no! But he did...and they did. History.

    India will win this test because they capitalised on the 2nd chances their very good batsmen were given. Unlike SA in this match, they did take the opoprtunities. This series remains a very good one, between two very good teams - it is just a pity that there isnt a 3rd test.

  • Dave on February 17, 2010, 4:47 GMT

    Maui3 and others, people still talk about India being a very good team `under their own conditions` because their overseas record remains average at best. Since 2000, they have played 58 tests away from home, won 21 and lost 19 and 9 of those wins came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe - hardly a dominant record. Even their stats at home are less then imposing (21 wins from 49 tests). Compare this to Australia`s record in the same period, 61 home tests, 47 wins and 5 losses, 53 away tests, 31 wins and 13 losses. They`re the sorts of figures which can`t be argued with. So, until India can consistently win series away from home, as they failed to do last time in Sri Lanka, and have NEVER managed to do in either South Africa or Australia, these arguments will hold weight.

  • Sajid on February 17, 2010, 4:20 GMT

    a very great article... thumbs up !

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