India in South Africa 2010-11 January 8, 2011

A stalemate to savour

Shouldn't the most anticipated Test series since the 2005 Ashes have been decided over five Tests?

So it has ended without a winner or a loser. After 14 days of action, at times frenetic, at times tense, at times combative, at times confrontational, at times serene, at times so exciting you couldn't afford to miss a ball, at times extremely skilful, at times strangely defensive, we don't have a winner. Shouldn't the most anticipated Test series since the 2005 Ashes have been decided over five Tests?

South Africa can feel pleased with the result after effectively having been 128 for 6 in the second innings of the deciding Test. India can feel pleased with the result, having come back from the Centurion defeat and to win in some of the most testing conditions their batsmen have encountered. South Africa can feel disappointed they haven't won any of their last three home series, that when it came to pressure situations they didn't look good enough without Jacques Kallis, that this is the third time they have beaten India by an innings to take a 1-0 lead without going on to win the series. India can feel disappointed they have let slip their best chance of winning a series in South Africa, for in all likelihood they won't have the services of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid the next time they come here.

We can feel pleased we got to see Dale Steyn, Laxman, Kallis and Tendulkar at their best, with the side cast not disappointing much either. We can feel disappointed that the defensive captaincy, the spread-out fields, the fear of declaration, the fear of losing, the slow over-rates, didn't give us a clear winner.

It was a fascinating contest between two different cricketing cultures. South Africa, often good starters but not always good when in the lead, came out full of intent in Centurion. India, often poor starters but good when in a corner, came back in a manner few expected them to in Durban.

South Africa's attack was based - aside from Steyn's swing - on pace and bounce, on hurting the batsmen, on testing their courage. India's attack relied on skill of wrist, on attacking the stumps and not bodies, on getting just enough movement to get wickets. Even though Zaheer Khan's comeback was a turning point for an ailing attack, Harbhajan Singh went on to become their most successful bowler, level with Morne Morkel at 15 wickets and behind Steyn (21) on the wicket-taking chart.

South Africa's batsmen showed their better knowledge of the conditions, leaving deliveries better than India did. That South Africa took 16 catches in the slips and gully as opposed to India's four doesn't lie. India had to work hard on that aspect, on making batsmen play, and then beating them with the movement, which meant the edges - when earned - went to the wicketkeeper, and not the slips.

The cultures interchanged too. South Africa, for a change, ran away with the individual honours. Kallis was by far the most consistent batsman in the series, and it seemed only freak run-outs and freak deliveries spitting from a good-length area could get him out. Steyn's swing bowling was phenomenal. His two spells on the third day in Cape Town, 66 deliveries of pure venom, is one of the best we are likely to see. India, despite their attack's reliance on Zaheer for direction, went the traditional South African way, getting small contributions from everywhere. Their whole side registered two centuries and two five-fors; Kallis alone scored three centuries, and Steyn alone took two five-wicket hauls.

No new stars were found, but Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Cheteshwar Pujara showed promise. The old men in form continued to defy age: Tendulkar scored one of his more challenging centuries to keep India alive in Cape Town, Kallis was again the rescue man for South Africa, and Laxman was just being Laxman in scoring 96 on a pitch where 39 and 38 (Laxman in the first innings) were the next-best scores. The old men under pressure struggled, but both Dravid and Mark Boucher played their part in saving the deciding Test for their team. The setting sun can wait.

The last three series between these two top teams in the world have been drawn. Most will find 1-1 a fair result here. However, those greedy for great Test cricket will find it unfair that when it came to the last two days, neither captain showed that his will to win was greater than the fear of losing. India were scared of a South African counterattack that could take their target beyond their reach. Once safe, South Africa never thought of declaring on the fourth evening. Did they over-rate the threat of Virender Sehwag? Did they fear the sacrilege of losing to India at home? Neither of that, though, explained Paul Harris bowling with a deep point in place on the final morning, when it was abundantly clear that India had shut shop, and more importantly when he was constantly getting balls to rear towards Gautam Gambhir's chest from the rough outside the left-hander's off stump.

Those last two days notwithstanding this series cannot be bad news for the world order. India and South Africa have been the most consistent teams over the last two years, and it shows in the rankings. South Africa's record of not having won any of their last three home series shows in their being No. 2. England have joined the race with a smashing Ashes win. We're back to the days before Australia started dominating world cricket. Bring on another year of similar hard-fought Test cricket.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan38076863 on January 11, 2011, 16:44 GMT

    Test matches since 2000:

    In India: SA won 4, India won 2, Drawn 2

    In South Africa: SA won 4, India won 3, Drawn 2

    Series since 2000: SA won 3 (1 away, 2 at home), India won 1 (at home), drawn 3 (1 in SA, 2 in India)

    Last 4 series: SA won 1, India won 0, 3 drawn

    Who is the better team?

  • shovwar on January 10, 2011, 10:57 GMT

    SA still holds the Ind vs SA test contest because the last time India visited SA they lost 2-1...and after that SA visited India twice but India failed to win the series...and a draw in this series means its a 5-4 for SA...India are still yet to beat SA and they could not prove they are better than SA....Maybe India are a better team than before but still not better than SA....Come on they drawn the series arent they the no.1 side? That means SA are equally no.1......They played less test than India thats why they have less points ...check the ranking stats.........In my view They are both the best teams in the world...With SA looking a bit more dangerous......

  • dummy4fb on January 10, 2011, 8:51 GMT

    @k.mithilesh... even though pujara hasnt scored much runs he has shown a lot of promise... got a good technique... those who have watched the match will understand.... just dont go by what the score card tells you.. @Rajesh Thadani... chasing 340 on the capetown pitch on day 5 is suicidal.... the ball was really keeping low... scoring 160-180 in t20 is common... but we should remember that we lose 6-8 wickets in 20 overs scoring 180... so it was not practical to go bang bang...

  • memoriesofthepast on January 10, 2011, 5:55 GMT

    Steyn and Morkel were able to take only 3 indian wickets on day 5 of cape town test. The spinner Harbhajan took 6 and 7 wickets at Durban and Capetown which were suited for Steyn and Morkel. This SA team was the worst in terms of fielding with Tsotsobe at the receiving end of dropped catches. Jonty Rhodes will be disappointed with the SA fielding. Smith should have declared 2nd innings when new ball was taken on day 4 and made India bat the remaining overs of day 4. Gambhir fought for his three half centuries and has fixed his position as test match opener for India even on overseas tour. Indian bowlers were able to take 20SA wickets in each of Durban and CapeTown tests.

  • memoriesofthepast on January 10, 2011, 5:45 GMT

    It can be made to a 4 tests series. Smith's SA team missed out on an opportunity to win a test series at home which they have not done since 2008. Smith's team had lost a 2 tests series in India in 2004 and then levelled the next two series in India as 1-1. Dhoni's team has levelled two series vs SA as 1-1. This is the 1st time India have remained undefeated in a test series in SA and Dhoni's team has maintained its record of not losing a test series anywhere in the world. Bad light and rain made 90 overs per day play impossible in Centurion and Durban. 18 wickets fell in one day at Durban and that match ended in 3.5 days. Durban is an example of a pitch bad for 5 day test.

  • KrazyCricketKid on January 10, 2011, 0:08 GMT

    India's ODI batting line-up:

    1. Sachin Tendulkar 2. Rohit Sharma 3. Virat Kohli 4. Yuvraj Singh 5. Yusuf Pathan 6. Suresh Raina 7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni 8. Harbhajan Singh 9. Zaheer Khan 10. Praveen Kumar 11. Munaf Patel

  • rajrele on January 9, 2011, 15:51 GMT

    To all the south africans who were gonna take the indians heads off...what happened ??? Smith got scared of declaring even with Steyn and Morkel the best fast bowlers around....he is more scared of a sub par sehwag and indian batting than confident of his bowling, which is the best new ball attack....if a captain is not confident of the best weapons available in the best conditions whats the point ? India were one wicket away from getting into a winning position and had zaheer khan and sharma been able to deliver one wicket, it would have been a very different match. SAF need to stop talking so much and first win atelast one series at home, they havent done so in 3 years, atleast india wins at home !!!! All in all this series shows that SAF is number 2 because there is no serious challenger till date, without Kallis and Steyn SAF is a number 4 side with a number 1 ego....India havent lost a series for two and a quarter years, how many teams have done that..Bring on England please...

  • Ravi_kumar_Kinnera on January 9, 2011, 3:33 GMT

    Yes I recomend 5 match test series. India reallyhave missed out of winning a test series in SA. But thanks for the both teams for showing standards of test cricket. It had been a great show from little Master, Laxman, Kallis and great swing bowling from the Dale Steyn. End of the series once again it is proved how exciting is test cricket and SA bowling attack was tested indian batsmen technical ability.

  • dummy4fb on January 9, 2011, 3:21 GMT

    this was d best chance to win d series in SA but it was against d BEST SA TEAM it came 1-1...........great series that was great to watch.

  • Nampally on January 9, 2011, 0:59 GMT

    This series clearly showed the limitations of the India bowling. Indian bowlers were incincistent and failed to rise to the occasion. Harbhajan had no support from the other end in the second innings of the 3rd test.With 128 for 6 India needed to rise up and go for the kill. That is the sign of the Champions - never let up. India failed in the first innings too when the SA batting added 80 runs for the last 2 wickets. India need a tail end wrapper like Kumble & Irfan Pathan use to be. Too much Reliance on Zaheer is another short coming. I feel India needs to go with 5 bowlers - 3 pace & 2 spin or 4 pace & one spin. Alternately they need an all rounder like Kallis who can bowl & take wickets as the 5th bowler. Yuvraj is the only one available. He needs to take Pujara's place.In England such an all rounder needs to be a pace bowler. Unfortunately India has none. Can they find one? So this is the biggest lesson of the series - limitations of Indian bowling to finish the innings.

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