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...

Posted by   on (January 2, 2011, 6:40 GMT)

certainly this is the best opportunity 2 show d world that we are not a flat track bullies n v can win anywhere on dis planet in any condition(in sea also)..//!!best time 4 our batting guns 2 shoot!"!Between India and history stand the next five days and Newlands, watched over by the Table Mountain..very nice. "".This way series win ll give testimony and honour to the Indians 2 excel everywhere !!

Posted by sabee66 on (January 2, 2011, 6:27 GMT)

SA will smashed INdia on boucny wicket as we all knwo they can't face the good bounce, they will be in a big s''t, sorry to say but i would like to see that..lol

Posted by BullPUP on (January 2, 2011, 5:46 GMT)

True. India has changed a lot since 2000. Before that we used to fall like a pack of cards in South africa, australia, nz and even in england at times. Now the times have changed. India won in england, nz & WI. managed a draw in sri lanka & australia. The word managed is no means to belittle the team. Its just that they made a comeback. But the truth remains that India should be more attacking at times. If so there wont be a necessity of a comeback. But still. Climate, conditions, etc., make an impact. You cant fly to SA overnight and win tests. SA is a powerful team. In a previous article related to bowlers you can see that steyn couldn make an impact on indian pitces, whereas zaheer is good on not so juicy tracks as well. Personally i adore steyn's speed and accuracy. A legend in waiting. Anyways. I ll sit tight and watch this match as fan of cricket and enjoy the game. Because THE GAME IS GREATER THAN ANYTHING ELSE.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2011, 5:16 GMT)

@anand bharadwaj u r mistaken.england have won a series in SA under Vaughan's captaincy.check d statistics

Posted by FallsDown on (January 2, 2011, 5:13 GMT)

Anand Bhardwaj: England have a won a series in South Africa: 2-1 in 2004.

Posted by Flat_Track_bullies on (January 2, 2011, 5:09 GMT)

PREDICTION: Dhoni to win the toss (finally), bat first and score 450ish. Saffers return favours with 500 (pitch best on day 3?), then India getting 300 odd with match ending in a draw. What do you guys think?

Posted by   on (January 2, 2011, 5:05 GMT)

@IndianaJones To add to that fact, Aus has won only one test series in India in the past 40 years(under Gilly's captaincy in 2004 I think). It was a much hyped series with the media calling it "Final Frontier " and stuff and that was the last time they won a series in India. But still get to be number one. BY flat tracks these critics mean spin friendly tracks on which their bottoms are whipped by our spinners and they can't take it!

Posted by Marcian on (January 2, 2011, 4:42 GMT)

soorajiyer - FYI, England beat India in India a few years ago, I think it was 2006 - I remember India being all out for 100 runs, in the second innings. Not sure of the year but it was the series where Marcus Tresscothik bailed out and ran home and Alestair Cook made his debut. As for India being the number one side; first win the current TEST series against South Africa and win the TEST series downunder next year - then India is number one for sure - and undisputed. But, at the moment, India is number one by default.

Posted by KannanSR on (January 2, 2011, 4:32 GMT)

Best Wishes to Dhoni & Co.Nothing New to India,Levelling the Series and then Losing in the Decider,But the difference is that they go into the Final Five Days with the morality level at the peak.Hope they create history and see off some of the Seniors in a memorable fashion.Durban has given a good lesson for the batsmen and has seen Very Very Special Innings under pressure.Let the other Seniors provide some sparkling knocks for the bowlers to defend.KUDOS to the Indian Team.

Posted by East_West on (January 2, 2011, 4:29 GMT)

DRAVID - should step up NOW!! In first test, it was SACHIN, second it was LAXMAN..and now Dravid should better start talking with BAT...here is a guy who IS NOT GREEDY like others and gave up captaincy stressing the "SHELF-LIFE", and now as a player he has become a HUGE BURDEN on the team! Dravid used to be THE WALL but now..he has become THE WALL WITH CREAKS ..come on Rahul!!

Posted by moBlue on (January 2, 2011, 4:23 GMT)

...myth #2 i want to bust: IND bowlers suck, and that is why IND lose when they play SA in SA. again, i have several contrary pieces of evidence which prove that SA batting (nearly the same team/strength in 06 and 11) is pretty *brittle and unreliable* even against weaker IND bowling units. durban 2010 was not an accident... no, really, SA batting can be - and has been - pretty pathetic, though it may come as a shock to some of you! :-) in 2006, IND bowlers won them the first test and came close to winning T3 for IND. do you know the top-score that the much ballyhooed SA batting made against a weak IND bowling attack in 6 innings at home in 2006? 373. yes, that is under 400! ...and SA collapsed once - abjectly, i might add, since they were batting second after all, chasing the famed "flat-track bullies" who scored only 249 - for 84! IND bowlers may have won T3 in cape town if they could have defended 300. SA were 211 for 5 (munaf hurt) after giving zak a 4-fer! harbhajan didn't play.

Posted by moBlue on (January 2, 2011, 3:45 GMT)

i want to bust a few *myths* not supported by facts: 1. SA batting is "better" than IND in their familiar "hostile" [meaning, seamy, bouncy, sometimes fast] home conditions. I have several contrary pieces of evidence. 2001 T1 day 1: IND put in to bat reeling at 68 for 4 [even after VVS contemptuously and effortlessly swatted a shaun pollock fly of a bouncer for a six! :-) ], but then SRT and sehwag (on debut) sent SA scurrying on a nice leather hunt the rest of the day on their "super-fast" track while collecting a century each. 2006 T1 day 1: IND put in to bat yet again, labored to 249, i.e., no collapse. contrast that with what followed. SA, batting second, single-handedly demolished by sreesanth for 84! yeah... no doubt that *that* is called a collapse, in fact, an abject, humiliating one, the kind that loses you a test match... which it did SA in 2006. same with durban recently. both times SA batted second after IND faced the "hostile" conditions! still think SA bats reliably? :-)

Posted by soorajiyer on (January 2, 2011, 2:50 GMT)

IndianaJones79 - Also we need to add the fact that over last 3 years England/Australia/Sri lanka or New zealand have not won a test inIndia. England lost against australia/pakistan in England. Australia lost against india/england and SA at home. SA have lost against Australia/India at home..

SA is the only team to have won a test in India. We are talking about India the No 1 since 2008 and not since 2000. SA is a close chaser, may be just a few points difference. India not playing abroad since 2008 is not its fault, its the fault of FTP. And if you read the point system carefully, away wins gives more points than home wins. So India is no 1, but not by much - but still its no 1.

Posted by AnoopKerala on (January 2, 2011, 1:59 GMT)

Still India is not able to negotiate with pace and bounce. We saw it in Durban, where only one batsman stood ahead and that too because of him being a wild genius or rare species. We saw Rahul, our most technically prolific batsman struggling against Morkel and Steyn. Steyn is a very good bowler, but he's not intelligent. That's the only reason why India wins the Durban match. He can't trap a batsman by tricks, but attacks him straight away. That is heroics only, but to win you should apply tricks like Mcgrath, Vaas, Zaheer, and Anderson uses. Even Donald is also of Steyn type. That's the only reason why Donald misses 500 wickets in Tests inspite of bowling at his favourite venues. At the peak time of Donald, it is kallis and Klusener who sharess the majority of wickets because of their intelligent bowling rather than attacking the batsman from front.

Posted by scorbos15 on (January 2, 2011, 1:58 GMT)

From the mood in that practice session, you couldn't tell whether India had won or lost an hour ago - Awesome, that depicts the mood of the players and as the column says "Calm before the storm" absolutely justifies the title..I am sure Sehwag storm is around corner and who knows it might come when India needs it the most - All the best Men in Blue :-)

Posted by vinaykmr on (January 2, 2011, 1:34 GMT)

agreed with indianajones. only thing is v need 2 b consistent.

Posted by kriskini on (January 2, 2011, 1:32 GMT)

Toss plays critical role in cricket compared to other sports. This should be stopped I have a suggestion for overcoming this. The right to bowl first or bat first should be switched after every test. For example if its a 3 test series then the visiting team will take the bat or bowl decision in the first test the host will take the decision in the second test and so on. The visiting team will get one more than the host in a 3 t est series. That should be fine since the host has the crowd support and familiarity with pitches etc.

Posted by AvidCricFan on (January 2, 2011, 0:42 GMT)

While India has lot of talent, most of the talent is aging. This is the venerability of the team. RD seems to be past his peak. While SRT may have revived his career at 35 plus, its not that all Tom, Dick and Harry can do it. Laxman is breaking down a lot and so is Zaheer. The bench is still untested and does not exhibit the talent of SRT, RD and VVS. The bowling dept is non existent.

Posted by   on (January 1, 2011, 23:58 GMT)

England has never won a series in South Africa after the latter's readmission in 1993. Australia is the only country to have won - three series in fact.

Posted by Sal_CricFan on (January 1, 2011, 23:51 GMT)

SA will choke as usual and India will certainly make a history.

Posted by   on (January 1, 2011, 23:37 GMT)

@ IndianaJones79 - Its just that bein No.1, every team has 2 cope with lots of pressure... They alwayz have 2 try 2 prove the world that they r the best and others alwayz be critical while judgin 'em since they r on top... The same has alwayz been the case, I'm sure even u used 2 b critical of Australia wen they were on top and I am also sure that u wud still be critical while judging ;em in ODI's since they are No.1 in ODI's...

Posted by   on (January 1, 2011, 22:56 GMT)

Totally agree with you indianajones. Data speaks the truth

Posted by cricdick on (January 1, 2011, 22:48 GMT)

It is ICC that gives slots of No.1-2-3. Untill now people did not object becoz usually it was Australlia holding that position. Now that an Asan country got this slot. so many people are screaming foul. Is this regional jealousy ? Or a belief that a white team is more suitable this slot? I strongly denounce those who negatively comment on India but keep quiet when No.1 team was blasted by a Junion Bangladeshis. What a shame, so called cricket lovers comment here. Gone are the days of Richi Benuad, Warrel.....Larwoods are here.

Posted by   on (January 1, 2011, 22:46 GMT)

Wonderful article....its worth a read...hope history is made over the next 5 days !

Posted by baskar_guha on (January 1, 2011, 22:30 GMT)

Bat well in innings one and the match is yours, Team India.

Posted by NairUSA on (January 1, 2011, 20:38 GMT)

Indian Team should be able to maintain this professional attitude about wins and losses. This alone will keep them in their #1 status along with contribution from individual talented players.

Posted by cyberobe on (January 1, 2011, 19:53 GMT)

Bowling needs to click on less assistive pitch, otherwise there's no doubt Kallis and co. will be as brutal as they were on Centurion. Indian batting is enough to hold the fort not win the match by themselves.

Posted by IndianaJones79 on (January 1, 2011, 19:33 GMT)

People can not see indian get number 1 ranking. That's why everybody attacks india when india play bad. These people are purely hypocrites.

India bundled out 136 - Indians are flat track bully and can not play fast bowling on bouncy track. SA bundled out on 131, Aus bundled out on 98,110. Nobody speaks about their ability to handle pacy tracks. When SA win at home, they should be considered number 1, when india win at home they are flat track bully(Remember this is people call flat track where SA fold up like cards and other teams are experiencing same). India won series in England/NZ/WI/Pakistan. And they performed amazingly in Australia in 2003(1-1 series and last match was in india's hand, Aus could draw because of our friend Bucknor),2007(because of Sydney sega we lost 2-1, and in Sydney we forced aussies to take root of unsportmanship to win), SA in last tour we lost (2-1), now (1-1). Where is bad performance folks. India performed good @home as well as away. india is no 1.

Posted by mihircricbuff on (January 1, 2011, 19:15 GMT)

hopefuly India will wi..and dis mountain would be an become a witness of india's supremecyl

Posted by   on (January 1, 2011, 19:13 GMT)

Certainly a big of the tests of all the experienced batting guns in the team,this may be probably few last chance to win test series in south Africa.If not now, then when??..Come on Team India prove to the world ur still No.1..!!

Posted by addiemanav on (January 1, 2011, 18:29 GMT)

if we do win it,this will be probably the biggest series win for ind ever..especially for this team!!a very difficult task but lets hope the boys do it!hoping for an exciting new year test match..also seek redemption from the last tour!

Posted by cricbuff11 on (January 1, 2011, 17:27 GMT)

I agree,despite the moral boosting win in Durban, it will amt to nothing if India loses the 3rd test. Being the # 1 side,India has to learn to dominate rathen than always come from behind once they are down. Go Blues!!!

Posted by   on (January 1, 2011, 17:21 GMT)

Dhoni wins the toss, India wins the match. Go India.

Posted by Aussasinator on (January 1, 2011, 17:10 GMT)

India can do it. Certainly can. SA normally chokes in such key matches.

Posted by badnaam_munni on (January 1, 2011, 17:02 GMT)

Beautifully written. Last Paragraph sums up everything. I have faith in Team India and they can definitely achieve it. I feel, the players will want this win more than the fans. Even if we loose, I'll still be happy cause I know the team gave their best! Go Team India...

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Tour Results
South Africa v India at Centurion - Jan 23, 2011
South Africa won by 33 runs (D/L method)
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