South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion, 4th day December 19, 2010

India show fight at last

Two-and-a-half days too late, but India did take on the challenge. A strong message has been sent. That the team wouldn't roll over and die

It has to be difficult to be Sachin Tendulkar. Ten minutes after he had finished re-setting the bar for the number of Test centuries, in the process threatening to save India a match from a situation where safety was just a wild dream, Dale Steyn produced the kind of special delivery that wins you Test matches. With one wicket came two, and despite a 172-run, momentum-changing partnership with MS Dhoni, India found themselves on the verge of a Test defeat. Another 16 minutes later, a crazy storm brought along crazy rain. Perhaps Tendulkar's 50th century was meant to come in a losing cause.

The outsiders didn't know how to feel about the man and his mark, leave alone Tendulkar. It was conflicting: it was without doubt a great landmark reached, and a special innings under pressure, but once again, as has been the theme right from the toss, everything that could go wrong was going wrong for India. And the sick old feeling of a great Tendulkar effort going in vain was coming back.

It was fitting that in such a time the man himself sorted out the confusion. "It was extremely important for us to come back strong and send a strong message," Tendulkar said. "I think we have been able to do that. Many positives have come from the match. We need to continue this for the rest of the series."

Without blaming the entire match state on the toss - he knows they could have batted and bowled better than they did in the first innings of the match - Tendulkar said, "The first day, the conditions were completely different, and after the wicket got some sun and a bit of roll, the surface changed and our batsmen put up a good response. There were some very good innings from [Virender] Sehwag, Gautam [Gambhir], and then Rahul [Dravid] was gritty and obviously MS Dhoni played some brilliant shots. There are positives from this Test.

"I wouldn't want to make excuses. Definitely the conditions were different on the first day, both teams would agree to that. [However] whatever challenge is there is front of you, you have to take that on."

Two-and-a-half days too late, but India did take on the challenge. As Tendulkar said, a strong message has been sent. That the team wouldn't roll over and die. It is a message both the teams will carry into the rest of the series. A few players might have been exposed during this Test, but mentally this team is different from the Indian teams of yore. In two years, this team has crossed 450 in the second innings of away Tests twice. In their whole Test-playing history, India have done so only six times.

In what is a cruel irony, Tendulkar's landmark took over the match state at the end of the day. Tendulkar knew he would be hounded by the media in the team hotel, so he let every reporter individually ask him a question that would meet the demands of their organisations. He would have hated to take all the spotlight, especially given the match state, but in the larger interest of a peaceful night for both himself and the reporters, he made that gesture. Never mind that possibly memories such as Chennai 1999 could be running through his mind.

"It was extremely important for us to come back strong and send a strong message. I think we have been able to do that"
Sachin Tendulkar

Perhaps not. For this is not like the team of 1999, when it used to be Tendulkar or nothing. Even today, it was not all about Tendulkar. What seems doomed to be forgotten is perhaps Dhoni's finest Test innings, to rank alongside his match-saving effort at Lord's in 2007. He came in, and in his unique manner, shocked South Africa. India had been fighting gamely until then except for Suresh Raina but it was this shock that they needed to slightly rattle South Africa. His feet moved well, and he counterattacked with a clear mind, letting Tendulkar peacefully play for time.

In quick time, against both new ball and old, India were on their way to erasing the deficit. However, it had not been about Dhoni and Tendulkar alone. Never mind the flat track, it takes a lot of buckling down when you know that you have to bat two-and-a-half days to save a Test. Sehwag and Gambhir bounced back from their first-innings failures well, Dravid batted like he was a fixture there until Morne Morkel produced a beauty to remove him, and Ishant Sharma showed a lot of character in battling it out for 69 minutes and his body was targeted more than often. Full credit, though, to South Africa for coming up with those special deliveries to Dravid and Dhoni at times when they desperately needed them.

There are issues still with the Indian team. Raina's position will definitely be reviewed; Ishant and Sreesanth looked pedestrian in Zaheer's absence, which should never be the case; on the field they couldn't do the containing job on the third day to delay the declaration, which would have gone a long way in their fight to save the game. Those issues will need to be addressed over the next five days if they are to convert this second-innings fight into something substantial for the rest of their stay in South Africa.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 21, 2010, 12:43 GMT

    Even Cheteshwar Pujara would be a good option in place of Raina...

  • Mehedi on December 20, 2010, 17:09 GMT

    @Vallabh, SA actually won a series under Hansie in India in 2000 (2-0). The first test was real low scoring match and spinners from both team got most wickets. But SA won both tests. In recent years SA drew the latest 2 series. So, why so fuss? You guys win a series in SA and then there will be no talk. It is as simple as this. Winning only in johannesburg playin g for 18 years does not show that India play well in SA. But SA won 5 tests and one series in India. AB, Amla both scored double hundreds in India. Sachin himself proved that it is possible to do well in SA, also AUS won in SA. SO, you can also win when you fous on performance rather showing lame excuses. I see so few SA fans here in this comments, because they are not crying here , they are celebrating innings victory, LOL

  • mahjut on December 20, 2010, 16:51 GMT

    @vallabh obviously you know that SA didn't lose to England (in fact despite the result they dominated 3 tests - but failed to kill two off - for that reason they are still a developing side) at home ... and have always competed very well in India (better than any other team) they have not figured out SL at all - that much is true but [and this is @everyone else] this is a young side with some batsmen more adept at slow pitches than those Saffers "known to be mentally weak" or "not good at playing spin. now, Kallis will be a huge loss to SA but now if JP fills his boots and a good third seamer cements his place, I think SAs future looks bright - I'm not commenting on India who has loads of talent both playing and in the wings but let's all just calm down a bit! obviously no-one likes to be beaten and worse by an innings but there are two more tests and we are still likely to see some good cricket at some point. i was enjoying the pre-series banter but now having read all these posts.:(

  • mahjut on December 20, 2010, 16:41 GMT

    @sweetspot you're sort of right. there aren't many phenomenal fast bowlers who cab get wickets everywhere but Steyn's average in the subcontinent is 23 (as in Africa) and in India i believe it drops to 20. Certainly not bad :)

  • mahjut on December 20, 2010, 16:13 GMT

    @stormy16 you cannot bowl a side like Indias out cheaply every time and it will be VERY tough when the wicket has deadened ... but, SA don't have to now to win the series and the question really now is: how do India bowl SA out twice??

  • Vallabh on December 20, 2010, 11:46 GMT

    @Davo47 do you mean the pitch and the toss???

  • Vallabh on December 20, 2010, 11:43 GMT

    @shovwar if SA can loose back to back series to Aus and Eng in their own backyard i should say you are an optimist.

    on one hand you complain india always perform well in india alone (which is not true if u know ur cricket) and on the other hand teams like SA can offord to perform badly in home soil. for the record you guys have to win a series in india in spite of providing a pitch suiting your conditions!

    the theory of spin friendly pitches and all other lame excuses. IF You can design a Trampoline pitch to bowl out an opposition why the bloody hell cant we design a spin friendly track!

    India played more matches than SA theory: Commercials my dear friend. sport is money and if two school teams play no one makes money. thats the bloody reason india plays more matches than anyone else. India is centrifugal to world cricket. IPL Champions league are examples. we did a world of good to your economy by moving IPL to yours for instance....

  • Sachin on December 20, 2010, 11:23 GMT

    India will do just fine in the 2nd test. No wholesale changes are required. I know people are calling for Raina's head but not so soon my friends.

  • Mashuq on December 20, 2010, 11:17 GMT

    I have to agree with @Davo47. There is a gulf between the fast bowlers of the teams. "Ishant and Sreesanth looked pedestrian in Zaheer's absence" - even with him back they won't take 20 wickets. Why? Because in SA there is always little reverse swing, unlike in Australia. Here you need to bend your back and extract bounce and seam. No one in the present team (or in the whole of India) can do this and so they will always fail in SA. The vaunted batsmen may sometimes click and make runs, but how is that enough to be the number one team in the world (but don't dare suggest this to Indian supporters - btw I'm a an Indian well-wisher).

  • Clayton on December 20, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    Let us see Pujara for the last two tests please. Think there is something special about him and he didn't struggle with the short-ball against the Aussies.

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