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

We didn't take our opportunities - Wessels

S Aga

February 16, 2010

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith is devastated as another catch goes down, India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 3rd day, February 16, 2010
Graeme Smith reacts as another catch goes down © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Kepler Wessels
Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of India

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.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by NEUTRAL_FAN 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.

Posted by Bollo 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.

Posted by sshailesh 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.

Posted by andrew-schulz 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.

Posted by Schuldiner 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!

Posted by HariRao 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.

Posted by Marktc 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.

Posted by Sanders101 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.

Posted by Bollo 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.

Posted by sajid_afridi on (February 17, 2010, 4:20 GMT)

a very great article... thumbs up !

Posted by RoshanF on (February 17, 2010, 4:09 GMT)

Well of course Wessels is right. I think critical Indian fans here have got it wrong. The fact is this : Australia and South Africa rose up the world rankings not just because of their bowilng and batting but also significantly due to their marvellous fielding including of course catching. Now India, Pakistan and to a certain extent Sri Lanka cannot claim to being great fielding sides. India have risen due to their batting prowess especially and a good attack. So when Wessels laments the crucial drops off Sehwag and Laxman he is talking of not-to-be-expected lapses from a top fielding side such as South Africa. And that has to be accepted. By the way it is doubtful that Dravid and Laxman would have made much difference in the 1st test except maybe a lesser margin of defeat given the way Steyn and Morkel bowled. As for Yuvraj he wouldn't have made a jot of a difference as he is susceptible against quality pace bowling especially in TESTS.

Posted by NEUTRAL_FAN on (February 17, 2010, 3:59 GMT)

India have outplayed SA in this game and I said already, SA should not give excuses for their poor fielding! We all know that India are a class batting team, in my opinion 1 of the best ever but to see their fans (hopefully not the team) STILL using the excuse that they ONLY LOST because they were missing VVS, Dravid and insignificant Yuraj is disappointing. Credit should be given where credit is due. SA were fantastic with the ball in the 1st test and they only missed 1 catch in that match . Ind were exposed very badly in the 1st test and whilst I think they have what it takes to be a true #1 close to W.I. and Aus, they need to address their HUGE bowling and fielding prob. 1 can't expect SA to field this badly or throw their wickets after dominating some avg. Ind bowling very often ..or if the balance between bat and ball is corrected EVERYWHERE. The last thing Ind want is to become to comfortable and relying on opposition to play poorer rather than them improving!

Posted by popcorn on (February 17, 2010, 3:51 GMT)

Strange that the umpire should rule that the South Africans were bowling a negative line and the Indian Cricket writers and ex cricketers should complain.

None of these so-called experts said a word when MS Dhoni, the modern day Douglas Jardine, set an 8 -1 leg side field to Simon Katich and asked his bowlers to bowl outside the leg stump.


Posted by   on (February 17, 2010, 2:23 GMT)

A superb piece of article, very well thought & very intelligently drafted. Afterall Kepler Wessel is a seasoned, hard fought, gritty opening Batsman having represented two TOP OF THE LINE countries, Australia & South Africa. A great cricketer with great wisdom. ICC should utilise him for better of international cricket. Himansu Desai

Posted by AvidCricFan on (February 17, 2010, 1:13 GMT)

SA will be batting on a wicket that will increasingly turn more. With two specialist spinners, India will be in a good position to put tremendous pressure on SA batsmen. While Bhajji has special affinity to Eden Garden, Ishant and Zaheer can become handfull if he finds his grove.

Posted by Maui3 on (February 17, 2010, 0:31 GMT)

Typical excuses, as though dropping catches is separate from playing cricket. Also, injuries cant be an excuse, especially when your opposition has had worse in the series.

I do agree with Wessels, SA is more capable than most teams in the world in saving this test. Kallis, Amla, Smith, DeVillliers and out-of-form Prince and Duminy are all capable of gringing it out. The key to india would be the spinners and I wouldn't be surprised to see Sehwag strike with the ball.

Yet another comment about India being a very good team "under their own condition". Seems like it is a religion to not look at the stats of India's oversees success in the last few years. It's hard to be #1 without that. Oh yeah, thats right, the ranking doesn't make sense unless the #1 team beats every team every where. And then there is Sanjay Manjerekar, who speaks for eveyone when he says "everyone know who the best team in the world is: It's Australia". It's like a denial thingy with the old foggies.

Posted by sashi94 on (February 16, 2010, 19:57 GMT)

The coaches and captains of opposition teams saying that India is a great team.. "in their own backyard", does not do justice to this unit. The assessment that Indian batsmen can score heavily only on flat pitches is not fare. In the last 10 years, India scored 400 runs or more AWAY from home on 28 occasions (Exactly the same number as Australia). Thats 28 matches without a loss because they were able to put up more than 400 runs in an innings. The highest of these totals coming in Australia at 705 runs. Why not give this batting unit the credit they deserve? They will retain their #1 ranking after beating SA in kolkata!! Thank you, come again and keep complaining.

Posted by NairUSA on (February 16, 2010, 19:39 GMT)

Interesting turn of events. Indian grit and Saffian lapses. However, in two days, the better champion will emerge. India still will have bowling worries unless Zaheer comes out with another inspired spell. SA definitely have batsmen like Amla who can tire out the bowlers and force a draw. Indian selectors should evaluate the performances of their new batsmen like Vijay and Badri as they struggled to cope up with quality SA bowling. Can Rohit, Raina and Kohli now be given a chance? As for Indian bowling, there is no bowler other than Zaheer and to some extent, Harbhajan who looks threatening. Suddenly, the bowling bench strength appears to have dried up. India needs a new breed of intelligent, reverse swinging and resilient seamers like Zaheer to keep the No. 1 flag flying.

Posted by sureshreddy536 on (February 16, 2010, 18:21 GMT)

from this point i dont see SA coming back, tough ask to face bajji&mishra on eden 4th day track.......go india.

Posted by Pablo123 on (February 16, 2010, 18:18 GMT)

i strongly feel SA will bat this one out. The pitch is easy, but harbajan might have other plans.

Posted by   on (February 16, 2010, 17:32 GMT)

Its now Khan n Bhajji vs SA. Interesting to watch it tomorrow.

Posted by schnoggs on (February 16, 2010, 16:52 GMT)

SA will need to win this with 4 frontline batsman as Smith's hand is injured, and Prince and JP are in no mental shape to score a run, never mind a boundary. Those 2 are effectively playing each other for their place in the side. Odds against SA, having Boucher in the middle order would make it alot easier for SA - they miss him big time.

It shows how important missed chances are, I know if's dont matter as if Laxman was fit for the first test it could of been different, but IF Smith was at slip and boucher keeping, we could of had India out for 400 at most - which would of made this a cracking contest. Same as when Collingwood injured his finger and Swann dropped Smith in the slips. Fielding in the slips is very under-rated.

Posted by mrmonty on (February 16, 2010, 16:44 GMT)

It was just the absence of 3 front line Indian batsmen that allowed SA to win the Nagpur test. Else, they don't have it in them to win anything in India.

Posted by TiwariIndia on (February 16, 2010, 16:36 GMT)

What a great contest this has been! I am not really bothered about the result, but Test Cricket does need such games to save his survival. I am sure this form of game will regain its respect and interest for years. Come back to this match, I'd like to give credit to the curators, as they have made such a beautiful pitch for cricket. It has an adequate substance for both batsmen and bowlers, though favours the batsmen a bit. But that's how it should be. SA had a tough luck today, they started well but as they say it's more about holding your nerve in stress circumstances. They couldn't capitalize their chances. VVS was awesome to watch, and today he showed the difference his presence makes in Indian Test team, I would have loved to see Dravid batting with him today. We got to be careful though; SA will not let it go easily, Smith, Amla and Kallis to watch out for tomorrow's game. No matter what, but we cricket lovers are going to have a thrilling day tomorrow. Go India Go....

Posted by KTiwari on (February 16, 2010, 16:13 GMT)

SA will be all out before end of Day 4. Amit Mishra will get 5 wickets...

Posted by   on (February 16, 2010, 15:29 GMT)

No matter what batting order Wessels boast off, i really feel that india would win this test by a huge margin. The statements that wessels made also show the helplessness of south african team.

Posted by henchart on (February 16, 2010, 15:21 GMT)

My gut instinct says that SA will be defeated in this test.Harbhajan,Mishra and Sehwag will prove more than handful for SA.

Posted by Sumeet.Gupta on (February 16, 2010, 14:53 GMT)

I think it will be tough for the SAfricans to survive for 2 days. They are not known to be very good players of spin and spinners will come into the scene tomorrow onwards. And if India, cannot win this test, well they do not deserve no. 1 spot. Time for bhajji to prove himself once more. BTW, it's an irony that after so many years, he still has to prove himself.

Posted by Rajesh. on (February 16, 2010, 14:39 GMT)

South Africa can save the Test...... there doesn't seem to be any demons in the pitch. If anything, it would be in the mind. So, basically it's going to be an uphill mental battle for SA..... they can still play out a draw though it won't be as easy as saying it

Posted by anurag23bhide on (February 16, 2010, 14:05 GMT)

This comeback India have made from 1-0 down reminds me of the one SA made just recently against England at home. In that case, as in this one, the fightback was not very surprising; on the contrary most people expected the strong reply and got one. This clearly proves that India and SA are the top 2 sides in the world as they have that winning ability to raise their game just when the chips are down. In all probability, the series will be squared and India will retain their slim lead in the rankings, but the 2 sides are as evenly matched as they come.

Posted by Nampally on (February 16, 2010, 13:54 GMT)

First of all well batted Laxman, Dhoni & Mishra. Wessel gave a lot of excuses for SA due to injuries. What does he think India had in the first test. Dravid, Laxman & Yuvraj missing due to injuries. That is the heart of the Indian batting. Dravid also has the highest catches in tests in slips.Dhoni played recovering from back spasms too. Now even with Dravid missing, India piled on 4 centuries. Only Gambhir missed the fun due to run out. I think Dhoni should have batted for 2 hours on day 4 before declaring.Now can Indan bowlers do their job? Zaheer & Ishant must control their length & direction instead of just giving balls to hit on the leg side with plenty of wides & No balls. Attack the stumps and bowl to the field set. On Fourth day, the ball will not turn as much. So keeping down runs is just as important. India do not want to bat again on Day 5. Dhoni must use Sehwag & Sachin too, as bowlers. This is the best chance for India to draw level if they field well and take catches.

Posted by NEUTRAL_FAN on (February 16, 2010, 13:51 GMT)

There are NO EXCUSES for poor fielding! By SA? of all teams? Disruption of the slip cordon is no excuse! They have CHOKED! They can say what they want and claim to have moved on but they still have a serious mental block when it comes to the final hurdle. On a pitch so good for batting, that even Dhoni (poor technique) and Mishra could play shots, the Saffers really should have held their chances to make up for 1 of histories worst ever collapses. VVS came very good! The best batsmen always put dropped catches and edges and beats behind them and play every ball on merit. His duel with Steyn was fantastic.

Posted by AnuragAcharya on (February 16, 2010, 13:28 GMT)

I think SA missed lots of chances, but India played superb cricket. Full credits to them. And what is Duminy upto????!!!!

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