South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town

The calm before the storm

India have gone in to a final Test with the series level once before in South Africa, but this side has a mental calm that inspires confidence, and MS Dhoni says the dressing-room atmosphere is the best he's even experienced

Sidharth Monga in Cape Town

January 1, 2011

Comments: 45 | Text size: A | A

MS Dhoni address the media in Pretoria, Pretoria, December 13, 2010
MS Dhoni says the experienced players just want to enjoy their cricket and that makes for a great dressing-room atmosphere © Associated Press
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George Mallory immortalised the challenge of the mountain, and man's urge to conquer it, in four simple words: "because it is there." Mountains have been there for ages, challenging man for ages, watching at times quietly, and at times with fury. On one side of Newlands stands the Table Mountain, staggeringly large, yet bewitchingly beautiful; watching visiting teams come and get conquered by the hosts, with the exception of Australia who have won three times in Cape Town. Many, like India this year and four years ago, have come here with the series level, only to be tripped at the peak. The Table watches in approval, at times quietly, at times with fury, through the wind that talks and whistles.

The last time India came here, it was on the back of a loss in Durban that killed the high they were on after they won the first Test of the series. Still they got off to a good start, securing a valuable first-innings lead on a turning pitch, but batted badly in the second. Then, a bowler short in the fourth innings, India couldn't conquer the summit and lost the match and the series. It was similar to what happened in Sydney 2003-04: going in to the final Test level, getting the lead against a formidable host, and then failing to close out the issue.

A repeat will be too heart-breaking for them, especially after the heart they showed in Durban in response to the Centurion drubbing. Also this could also be the last time many of this line-up are playing in South Africa. Who knows what the next Future Tours Programme has in store for them? To add to it, this could also be India's last Test with Gary Kirsten as their coach, since he may not renew his contract once it expires after the 2011 World Cup.

This is not just another Test for India, even though they are trying their best to make it sound like one. They are mindful that the situation is similar to the one four years ago. But, though the scoreline is the same, there is a difference between now and then. India will be carrying the kind of confidence a tennis player does in to the final set after he has come back from two sets to love down.

MS Dhoni says there is another difference. "The dressing-room atmosphere is much better right now," Dhoni said on the eve of the match. "Not that it wasn't good earlier, but right now it's the best atmosphere I have felt in the five years I have played international cricket. Most of the guys have achieved a lot in their Test careers, so now they are just enjoying their cricket and it feels like a very complete dressing room. We have youngsters in the side who are getting groomed under experienced cricketers. The squad and the support staff deserve a lot of credit."

The mental calm that seems to permeate through the India Test squad simultaneously draws from, and contributes to their recent ability to succeed when pushed into a corner. Even immediately after Centurion, in fact even towards the end of it, you could sense India were recovering, rather than panicking. They lost on the fifth morning, but soon after they were practising on the centre pitch and not wallowing. From the mood in that practice session, you couldn't tell whether India had won or lost an hour ago.

Dhoni puts down that mental calm to focussing on small things, and just hanging in there for long enough during tough situations. "I don't know what the reason is [for India never having won a series in South Africa]. But what we now focus on is the little things that we think are important. Preparing for the game, having good plans and executing those plans on the field; these are the small things that we take care of, and at the end of the day you will get the desired results more often than not."

The next five days might well be India's best chance of winning a series in South Africa, a feat managed by only Australia and England since South Africa's readmission to international cricket. India know the quality of some of their current cricketers who are nearing retirement, and the mental space the team is in, is not easy to replicate. "This is one of the best chances [to win a series in South Africa]. If you look at the last series in 2006, we were in the same position. We came to Cape Town when the series was level. The team that plays consistently over the next five days will be lifting the trophy.

"It's a chance to create history. The last game was historic as it was our first-ever Test win in Durban, and it proved we have the talent and the temperament to achieve success in South Africa. But it is not about the past. It is not about the last game or before that. It's all about those five days."

Between India and history stand the next five days and Newlands, watched over by the Table Mountain. Because it is there.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Drew2 on (January 2, 2011, 13:07 GMT)

Sai Prasad. Australian may have won only 1 series in the last 40 years ( a convenient stat as they won 41 years ago as well) but that is still more series than India have won in Australia in test crickets entire history. Plain and simple - Aust have won 4 times in India and India 0 times in Australia.

Posted by Hraig on (January 2, 2011, 11:22 GMT)

Now India has shown to every one in the world that they can defeat any side in any conditions. India is real no.1 and only team close to them is England. Next to england is SA. But SA is no.3 team they don`t even deserve to be no.2 side.

No debate is required now lets enjoy new game ie 3rd test.

Posted by handsomedoc on (January 2, 2011, 10:46 GMT)

In the batting order MS DHONI SHOULD BAT AT 6 AHEAD OF PUJARA ALLOWING PUJARA TO PLAY FREELY A CAMEO

Posted by yankanna on (January 2, 2011, 10:36 GMT)

Team INDIA wish you happy new year.....all the best for third test....team INDIA with give series win in SA as a new year GIFT :)

Posted by RealPablo on (January 2, 2011, 10:33 GMT)

BCCI should do everything in its power to maintain the Dhone-Kirsten team. They have consolidated the gains made during the Wright-Ganguly era, and losing a quality coach and the back-room staff at this point in time would set Indian cricket back. We need not just to stay as nos.1 for a year or two, but to build a dynasty that can dominate for a whole era playing our characteristic style, and to do so, we need permanent structures in place. This is not the time for petty egos, but we have to put the team and the future first. Renew Kirsten's contract now.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2011, 7:45 GMT)

Those who talk about England's series win in South Africa in 2004 must note the fact that England played 3 tour games before the start of the test series (although wickets conditions in South Africa is much similar to English than those in sub-continent). I cant remember when England started an away test without having a tour match. The current Indian team is far better than it actually is, and they shown the world that they can play competitive cricket straight from day one in any part of the world. I am sure there wont be many who would disagree with me.

Posted by sili on (January 2, 2011, 7:27 GMT)

definately india would show the world they can win the series outside india also...unfortunate timings of the game 2.30CST and hope to getup early in the morning to see some of the action...

Posted by   on (January 2, 2011, 7:22 GMT)

HAPPY NEW YEAR All & Team INDIA. LET THE BEST WIN THE GAME, CHEERS!!!

Posted by Arok on (January 2, 2011, 7:07 GMT)

Thanks Sidd, for a very well written article. India may be in same position as in their last tour to SA but the confidence level definitely very high. This time the Table Mountain will see a completely different result.

Posted by MasterClass on (January 2, 2011, 7:04 GMT)

I predict Ind will get to bowl first for a change this time! Why? Because SA will want to make a statement by batting first (if they win toss), to get on top of India and also because they would not like prospect of facing Bhajji/Zak on 5th day pitch (spin and reverse). Dhoni will want to bowl first to take advantage of conditions. So no matter who wins toss India will bowl first, 99% guarantee. Let's see...

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