South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 4th day January 5, 2011

Defensive India pay the price

Both teams have been guilty of taking a backward step in what has otherwise been an enthralling series, but India's tactics on the fourth day could prove decisive in the outcome

This series will be remembered for many high-quality passages of play both with the bat and the ball - moments, spells, hours, days of individual brilliance - but for every such passage you will find uninspiring spells of defensive captaincy from both camps. The template was set on the first day of the series when Sachin Tendulkar - with the score 40 for 3 on a damp pitch - pulled Lonwabo Tsotsobe for a four. It was a calculated risk, a shot that avoided midwicket not by much, but Graeme Smith responded by sending the fielder back to the boundary.

By the time the teams came to the decider, the captains were trying to outdo each other. In the first innings of this game, MS Dhoni refused to try and get Jacques Kallis out after a Sreesanth burst in the middle of the innings. In the second, with batting even more difficult, and with Tendulkar having to struggle for longer than Kallis did, it took just one six from Harbhajan Singh for Smith to spread the field out. And this when Dale Steyn was bowling one of the spells of our times.

Dhoni might just end up with the last word here, though, with what could be a decisive show of defensive captaincy on the fourth day. It was quite extraordinary that an injured Kallis walked out in the second innings, with the score effectively reading 51 for 3, soon to become 62 for 4, with a long-on in place. Harbhajan, at that moment, was exploiting the rough outside off appreciably. His bowling figures were 4 for 10, and Kallis was starting out on a fresh innings. Soon Kallis reverse-swept him, a brilliant, calculated shot all right, but one that involved risk. The man that went from short third man to collect the ball from the boundary was asked to stay back there. After just one boundary. In a remarkable show of following the ball, that deep fielder kept moving to wherever the previous shot went, and Kallis had established the psychological upper hand already.

This is to take nothing away from a superb century under pressure and in pain, but Kallis couldn't have asked for anything better at that point of time than the easy singles down to long-on. It was quite similar to what India did to Thilan Samaraweera in the deciding Test of their Sri Lanka tour earlier this year. On the fourth day at the P Sara Oval, India had taken five second-innings wickets for 24 runs, reducing Sri Lanka to effectively 76 for 7, and Samaraweera was 4 when Lasith Malinga came out to join him. It took one boundary from him to open up the easy-single route to sweeper-cover, and another hit over mid-off to spread the field for good. The last three wickets then added 180 runs, and it took special innings from VVS Laxman and Tendulkar to level the series.

Not learning a lesson, India perhaps took it a step further here. Kallis was not even batting with the tail; he started off with Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher. Of the four, de Villiers, too, was shown remarkable respect when he was welcomed with a long-on in place already. Why not ask a batsman to clear mid-on on a pitch that is offering you turn and variable bounce? Sadly, as Smith and other modern captains have shown over the years, this is not a problem with India and Dhoni alone. The moment they see a lesser batsman, they choose to attack only one of the two men batting, and invariably they get only two balls an over where they are actually trying to take wickets.

Boucher, one of the beneficiaries of India's defensive field-sets, gave an insight into modern captains' mindsets. "Not really [not surprised at those fields]," he said. "We have been in that situation as well before. I came out looking to play aggressively, I had an aggressive mindset. I think in the back of a captain's mind, you don't want to give away many boundaries. If there's stuff happening out there, you'd rather have catchers and in-and-out fields. Like I said, to protect the boundaries, and make the guys work the singles."

They are all worried about tailenders - admittedly better batsmen than the breed used to be in the era before heavy bats and protective cushioning on their bodies - adding quick runs, and the recognised batsman counterattacking. In the process they tell the opposition, they are worried and nervous. The bowlers start responding accordingly; it can't be easy from bowling defensively to one batsman and aggressively to the other. That's what happened with India today: they spent the last two sessions confused, conceding 220 runs for five wickets.

Four years ago, when India came to Cape Town, they went in to lunch on fourth day with two second-innings wickets down and a lead of 114 in the bag. The next two sessions featured confused cricket, and India lost the series there. Here, too, going into lunch India had South Africa effectively at 119 for 5, soon to be 130 for 6. But the rest of the day almost played India out of the Test. Now it's up to the Indian batsmen to put in yet another special show to prevent a repeat.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hareesh on January 6, 2011, 16:20 GMT

    even smith prasie sachin, dhoni didn't spoke any word for sachin, he is a stupid crickter

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2011, 15:52 GMT

    Well lads, We played an utmost defensive Test match in England to register the the series win against England, Similarly India Never Drew a series in SA forget about winning. So Dhoni and India would feel much better to rewrite the records atleast with a series draw. On the flipside the ball dint do as much as we expected it to do on the 4th and the 5th day of the match. with the ball not doing as we have expected it to do, what will the skipper think who is actually seeing it happen in the middle??? obviously take a defensive approach which both Smith and Dhoni took. and yes Prestige and honour was at stake one single move and the media will hit them really bad especially the indian media- So i'd think thee was nothing wrong in their approach!

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2011, 15:51 GMT

    Another terrible match from India - B-O-R-I-N-G. Defensive all the way. You have on of the largest populations and all that you turn up on the 5th day of the 3rd test is crap. Shame on Tendulkar for playing like he did after Kallis played his heart out. You have no heart Tendulkar, talent yes - heart NO. Best batsman in the world - give me a break. SA did not help playing Harris (the most overrated test cricketer in the world).

  • omkar on January 6, 2011, 15:51 GMT

    Congrats to all of BharatMa sons.

    All those who predicted a 3 game licking should now acknowledge that India is a deservedly #1.

    The fact is South Africa failed to beat the #1 side in their own backyard.

    Kallis is a fine cricketer and deserves all the kudos.

    Sachin is the master and will remain so.

    Once again congrats to Dhoni and the other Karmayogis for a job well done.

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2011, 15:43 GMT

    I think England right now is the No.1 Team and plus i see dark times coming for our team . 1) Dhoni is not able to Discipline the team. 2) we don't have bench strength ( not even in batting ) 3) Team India is going to face a real tough time if they dont look for replacement right now england is the best ex they have got replacement for every one . You need solid bench strength and please let them build a team. Sorry to say Dhoni is going to have very bad time once all this starts happening & please Sharma and Shree are good blowers but they don't have the Discipline. Most probably you need an Head master rather then a coach out their.

    Thank you for boring us Mr Dhoni.

  • Faraz on January 6, 2011, 15:39 GMT

    I believe that S.Waugh & C'Liyod were the only 2 Captains who always willing to win no matter by trying so may be they loose but always gone to KILL that;s why they were successful. Smith & Dhoni both played for DRAW niether of them try to win & tell the world they are better than the other.... INDIA who is ranked Test :1 will no longer be Rank:1 when ever they will meet PK . IND have poorest record in all formats v/s PK & I am sure with this attitude they will never going to improve that.

  • Sebi on January 6, 2011, 15:35 GMT

    I do not know one thing I found, may be a bit superstitious when ever India play and If I follow the commentaries of Cricinfo India is always in a receiving end so I follow other websites, or because cricinfo is one sided or anti Indian

  • John on January 6, 2011, 15:32 GMT

    Hey all you Curd Rice guys, Do not pick on Dhoni. Cricket is for all Indians,not just for the decendants of the FC peons from the British era.

  • Venkatesan on January 6, 2011, 15:17 GMT

    What are the other youngsters doing, when will you young prtospects perform consistently(that includes the captain also) and till such time dear captain, please do not ask for fresh young legs in place of players like Dravid, he deserves a graceful exit and I suppose he can still be around for some more time, just needing to eliminate his circumspect phsycological approach. Dravid - play with a clear mind, like you used to do in the past. I believe the Indian needs good phsycological support and with all the revenue the Indian Cricket Board generates, they can afford to have someone permanently to support the team on moral grounds. This is a must, with the world cup around the corner and with the current coach about to leave us shortly.

  • Venkatesan on January 6, 2011, 15:16 GMT

    All in all the Indians should beleive from now that they are professionals, like all of us who work at office 8 hours a day(now it is even 10 hours in most places). We cannot give an excuse like "It was just one bad day/moment on/in field/office", we're fired that instance, for once. Indian team, justify your position, for other countries it may be different, but here you almost have the importance of an Indian Prim Minister & his cabinet of ministers. Perform to your potential and justify your selection. I'm happy at least to see this moment that Tendulkar & Lakshman are battling out to save this third test, of course with some gritty innings from Dravid previously, all three are veterans excepting Gambhir.

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