India aim for one final push
VVS Laxman apart, this is the same Indian side that lost by an innings inside four days in Nagpur a week ago. After four days in Kolkata, they are just seven wickets away from a series-equalling victory that would silence many of those that have questioned their position at the top of the Test-match tree. This has been no designer dustbowl, and India didn't even have the advantage of batting first. Despite that, the wicket of Jacques Kallis in what turned out to be the penultimate over of the day's play has given them an outstanding chance of closing out the match, provided the inclement weather that allowed only 34.1 overs on Wednesday stays away.
"It was handy getting Kallis out before the bad light," said Gary Kirsten, India's coach. "They've got some good players all the way through. Amit [Mishra] bowled really well today. So did Harbhajan [Singh]. With the two of them bowling really well, and with Ishant [Sharma] and Zaheer [Khan] adding in as well, we are in a good position. It obviously depends on how many overs are available to us tomorrow."
Instead of starting at 8:57am as scheduled, play got underway only at 10:30 on Wednesday morning. "When we arrived, we could have got play in," Kirsten said, when asked about the time lost. "It was disappointing not to be on the field. That's the way it is. We can't fight the weather. It would have been handy to have 50 overs today. We've just got to get on with it and use the time available to us."
Had it not been for the bowlers' run-ups being soft underfoot because of inadequate cover overnight, play could have resumed earlier, but Kirsten refused to be drawn into any controversy. "It was disappointing not to have had more time this morning" was as much as he would say. "We were off the field for an hour-and-a-half this morning. But that's not for me to take up. Just the way it is."
With Ashwell Prince and JP Duminy having struggled to find form in recent times, the biggest obstacle in India's path will be Hashim Amla, who already has 416 runs for the series. "He's a quality player and he's played really good cricket this series," Kirsten said. "It's up to us to make sure we bowl well. There are lots of players in the South African team, as there are in the Indian side, who will punish you if you give them too many chances or let them off the hook."
The only slight worry for the Indians was the fitness of Zaheer, who went off the field a couple of times in the afternoon. "He's got a bit of tightness in his quadricep," Kirsten said. "He came off the field just to get some ice on it. But it's just precautionary at the moment. We'll see how it goes tomorrow."
For the moment, Kirsten is quite content with the manner in which the team has fought back after the pasting in Nagpur. "We didn't become the No.1 ranked team for nothing," he said. "We've got guys that are breaking records in world cricket. We're very proud of our performances. We had a wobble in the last Test, and we have had a lot of injuries as well. And we bounced back here. The guys have shown for a while now, in the last 18 months, that when their backs are against the wall, they can bounce back. Not only the batsmen, but the bowlers as well."
Paddy Upton, Kirsten's deputy, arranged a couple of motivational talks from Mike Horn, the South African explorer who now lives in Switzerland. "He's someone that was fantastic to listen to," Kirsten said. "And the timing did work well. He's a busy man, and he's sailing around the world for environmental awareness. He just happened to be in this area at the time. The guys really enjoyed it. It was inspirational stuff."
With clearer skies expected tomorrow, India will need one big push to reach their destination. For the coach who has helped turn things around, it's a matter of playing the big moments well and playing with pride. "It's amazing how Test cricket works," Kirsten said. "Funny things happen. South Africa were 220 for one and we were able to turn it around. One thing this team has done really well is build pressure for a period of time and then make it count. We know in a two-Test series, one session can make the difference. It happened with South Africa in Nagpur and it happened with us here."
On Thursday morning, the rallying cry might well be: Once more, with feeling.