South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 5th day January 6, 2011

No risk, no reward for South Africa

South Africa made sure they wouldn't lose this Test by not declaring in their second innings, but in the process might have missed out on winning it too

As the sun began to disappear behind Table Mountain and the curtain began to fall on the fourth day of the deciding Test between South Africa and India, one question hovered over Newlands: When would South Africa declare? When they reached 270 and still had about 100 overs to bowl India out? When Jacques Kallis reached his second hundred of the match? When the lead had swelled to 300? The answer ended up being never, because South Africa waited to be bowled out for 341, setting India a target that, if reached, would have been a record at Newlands.

Like a child reaching for its security blanket in times of anxiety, South Africa wanted to be in as comfortable a position as they could. Their first priority was not to lose the series. That might have been anyone's reaction, when at 130 for 6, it looked as though defeat, albeit to the world's number one Test side, was imminent. "We really had our backs to the wall then," Graeme Smith said, which may have explained why they didn't want to stop building their wall of resistance until the bricks had run out.

It was sensible in that it guaranteed two results, a South Africa win or a draw because India had been set a total that they would not be interested in chasing. In terms of a safety net, it was a good one, but in terms of applying the principles of an aggressive mindset, something team psychologist Dr Henning Gericke swears by, it was flawed. Gericke told ESPNCricinfo before the Test that South Africa had to learn to "take more risks and not be afraid to try things." Dangling a carrot like a target of 280 in front of India would have been a gamble but it would have sporting. It would have showed intent and positivity and it would have made for a more testing end to what's been an enthralling series.

The statistics were all in South Africa's favour. A team had only chased more than 300 once at Newlands. Not any team, but Australia at the height of their powers in 2002. South Africa have only failed to defend a target over 250 at home under Smith once (against Australia in Johannesburg in 2006) and India are historically poor chasers.

Still, something in Smith's mind wanted safety above all else. At the post match press conference he gave a little insight into what that might have been. "You are looking for your spinner to contribute more and more as the game goes on," Smith said, "Harbhajan did it for them yesterday," Paul Harris battled to be effective on the Newlands pitch, because, despite the bounce, he would only be able to find turn in the rough, and for that he would have needed to be a different bowler as Harbhajan himself said after day four. "I don't think he will have an impact. He would have to be a right arm-offspinner to find the rough."

Harris has proved himself invaluable in containing roles, he often gets key wickets during crucial passages of play, but he is self-admittedly not an attacking spin bowler. His value for the team comes in other areas, for example, he only gave away 29 runs in his 30 overs on the final day and he is part of the brains trust of the team, but he is not a bowler who is known for being aggressive. South Africa have been happy with a containing spinner in their side but have shown signs of wanting a more attacking one, and with Imran Tahir becoming eligible to play for them, they may have found one. This Test match highlighted why, at times, they will need one.

For large portions of the day's play, South Africa had five men around the bat and set attacking fields. It wasn't enough to bag them wickets because, besides being one bowler short, there was little support for Dale Steyn. Morne Morkel, who was exceptional in Centurion, has been inconsistent since then, and Lonwabo Tsotsobe was unlucky, as catches were dropped off his bowling in all three Tests. While Tsotsobe did manage a few important scalps, his name is still not glued to the position of third seamer.

While the series highlighted more about the bowling than it did about the batting, the aspect of South Africa's game it really put under a microscope was the mental one. South Africa are a team that can perform superbly to plans, as they showed in Centurion. They panic when things get beyond their control as they did in Durban, and they have not yet reached the point where they are willing to play the brand of brave cricket to which they once claimed to be dedicated. That courage is not the type that sees Jacques Kallis bat for hours with a pain in his rib that made him feel like he had been "stabbed" in that area, it's not the type that sees Smith walk out to bat with a broken hand, it's not the type that overcomes physical pain at all. It's the courage to overcome a mental hurdle, the one that says "we need to be safe" and to take a chance on the unknown.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • StJohn on January 8, 2011, 9:50 GMT

    "No risk, no reward for South Africa"? We should say exactly the same about India: 166-3 off 82 overs was an uncourageous and risk averse effort on the final day, with such a lauded batting line-up and the opportunity to secure an undisputed win over the contender on his home ground. A rather anti-climactic, disappointing and safety-first end to an otherwise great series between two great teams. The reality is that both SA and India need to be less cautious if they're to have any chance at domination and sustaining their no.1 and no.2 positions, as opposed to being just first among equals.

  • Dru on January 8, 2011, 6:41 GMT

    A drawn series on paper but India are the winners without a doubt. They didint have the same fire power SA had and the conditions were unfamiliar yet they stood up to SA time and again. I thought Gambir was a sensation keeping out Steyn and Morkel with the new ball on more occassions than not. Sree was the same and are easily Indias best on toru. Dravid is at the cross roads I reckon and Sharma will be dropped unless he shows something special soon. Sachin and Lax showed just what we know they are. For SA Kallis and Amla were good with AB showing enough but not when it mattered. Steyn was sensational. Morkel was dissappointing I thought and Tsotsobe was unlucky but you dont get the feeling he is going to knock over sides. SA need a new plan for their spinner the Harris experiment hasnt worked and doesnt give them prospects of winning tests. All in all great series any who had doubts about India's #1 status can start to look for ways to other teams to beat them.

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2011, 2:32 GMT

    @Shamit Bringi Dev , with fans as pessimistic as you who needs haters. I mean really even when indians had upper hand in last two test matches all you can think is how indians would have lost this series with all your ifs and buts. Shame on you.

  • Nadeem on January 7, 2011, 21:12 GMT

    Its not the end of the world for SA, when they were 130-6 , they were in position to lose it and the only option left was to save it. draw it. I like SA approach that they were going to lose on the basis of 130-6 but indian bowling did help them and they got out of danger.

    I dont think its feasible to call trouble on your self two times by giving 250 + to india to try and win. Luck would never help SA twice.

    I like SA decsion and Indian decsion too becuase their bowling let them down. Good tight series.

  • Shulz Van on January 7, 2011, 20:58 GMT

    We can atleast say that there is no clear best team in the world at the moment....true India ahead in papers but in reality they did not look an inch better than SA and England is also breathing down their neck....The rankings would be changing a lot in the next few years.....and lot of good players would be retiring as well...the World at the moment does not have a team like Aus and WI in their prime...Yea SA is just short of an attacking spinner to get their...Hope Imran Tahir makes a different.....But i gotta give this Indian team credit for not losing the series which would be the best possible result for this top ranked team in papers....

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2011, 19:59 GMT

    Historically, Indians are poor chasers? 404 to win in Windies in 76, 421 for 8 chasing 429 at Oval in 1979, 447 losing to Aus chasing 484 in Australia in 1978. 390 for 4 against England 2 years ago on a wretched track, consecutive chases of 200 plus just in last 4 months. Where have you been? Who chases better?

    I do agree with you that Smith played it conservatively. A target of 285 withh Sten having a go at the end of day 4 against Indian opener was certainly worth the risk. But when SA threw a chalange to australia few years ago, Ponting walloped them and this may be at the back of thier mind. Unfortunately, SA are better challanger than leaders.

  • ultra on January 7, 2011, 18:38 GMT

    Smith was right. A gettable target of 280 followed by Sehwag cameo would have put India on track for a first ever series win in South Africa This article sucks

  • pavan on January 7, 2011, 17:50 GMT

    proteas are defensive at the time of declaration and placing the aggressive field positions around the defensive indian batsman.should have placed some more fielders near indian batsman bcoz there is variable bounce in the pitch and no need to make the batsman face the entire over without changing the strike.just crowd the batsman and bowl stright or wicket to wicket is my idea

  • Athol on January 7, 2011, 17:17 GMT

    I think India did very well and laid to rest the perception that they cannot play well outside of the subcontinent. However, to my mind they have not emphatically proved themselves a superior team. England and SA are still contenders and if they can consistently beat (not draw) these sides then they are true world beaters. For now, they are a very god team but they are not head and shoulders above the rest. SA drew in India and India drew in SA, what does that tell you? Maybe it is time for SA and Inda to play a 5 test series. Ohhhhh my mouth waters. I think the series was tense and magnificent and I am sorry that there were not two more games.

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2011, 16:42 GMT

    South Africa played safe knowing well that THIS particular batting line up of India cannot be taken lightly.. records can be broken any time.. if they had declared before 300 thinking they were beaten only once when the target was > 250, they would have committed a blunder.. It is HIGH risk.. I do not blame South Africa or India for the way they played... both teams had enough respect for each other. it is as simple as that.. Smith not declaring clearly indicates how highly he respects the Indian batsmen.. Could you imagine him doing this against the current Australian side?? of course, he would have happily declared at 300.. Indians are poor chasers?? already forgotten the 387 against England? this current wicket was far from being effective.. India settled with draw only because they never did even that in SA.. it is a great achievement.. India were not expected to do any better than what they did in the first test.. now the critics can talk.. :))

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