Series review

India v South Africa 2007-08

Anand Vasu

Test matches (3): India 1, South Africa 1


Virender Sehwag readies to bludgeon the ball, India v South Africa, 1st Test, Chennai, 2nd day, March 28, 2008
Virender Sehwag clocked up a frenetic triple-century in an inevitable draw in Chennai © Getty Images
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South Africa arrived in India in March amid the now routine controversies surrounding racial quotas in their squads. Charl Langeveldt had pulled out after he was chosen for the Test-only tour ahead of his fellow fast bowler, Andre Nel, saying that "You just have to look at Andre's Test record compared to mine. I have always fought for a place in the team, but I don't want to be put there because of my colour. I have been very happy in the one-day team and I know my value there." He told Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola that the selection controversy had upset him "to the extent that he would not be in the right frame of mind to tour India and do his best".

But once the South Africans landed, they found the focus shifting to the conditions in which they would play three Tests. At first it was the oppressive heat - Chennai, Ahmedabad and Kanpur are among the most inhospitable venues at that time of year - but quickly all eyes turned to the pitches. Traditionally, visiting teams have arrived on Indian shores expecting dust bowls and rank turners but, in the recent past, the wickets have been of an acceptable standard. This Test series, though, was one in which the performance of each team was so directly correlated to the pitches that it almost seemed scripted.

Chennai offered a batting beauty, hard and even, with little lateral movement for either fast or slow bowlers; Virender Sehwag clocked up a frenetic triple-century in an inevitable draw. At Ahmedabad, the sight of a bit of live grass on the track was enough for India's batsmen to have a collective brain-freeze, handing Dale Steyn a five-wicket bag in a first- innings collapse which gave the match to the tourists. India found themselves in the unfamiliar position of trailing in a home series, and the Kanpur pitch was predictably underprepared. South Africa stumbled and the Indian spinners led a rout; for the second time running the match finished inside three days, this time in India's favour.

But to dismiss the series merely as one dictated by pitches would be unfair to several cricketers who enhanced their reputations. Neil McKenzie, restored to the fold as an opening batsman, narrowly missed out on a century in the first innings of the series, but made up for it in the second to cement his place. In the middle order A. B. de Villiers, not usually at his best against spin, played almost flawlessly for a double-hundred. Steyn, whose previous seven Tests had brought him 54 wickets - albeit from New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh - showed his express pace could trouble the best batsmen even on placid pitches.

India had gains too. Harbhajan Singh, out of sorts in Test cricket over the last couple of years, clawed his way back among the wickets on docile surfaces, and then showed that he could be unplayable in helpful conditions. Sourav Ganguly batted as well as he ever has done on the spiteful pitch for the Second Test, confirming his rehabilitation in the team. Ishant Sharma arrived as India's next fast bowling hope, returning from injury to demonstrate genuine pace and accuracy.

Of all countries to tour India over the last two decades, only South Africa and Pakistan have held their own, while more fancied teams like Australia have lost more Tests than they have won. Once more the South Africans stuck to their guns and played gritty - if not always pretty - cricket, which enabled them to walk away with a result that no one back in South Africa could complain about. "If we were playing India at home and it was 1-1, we would be sitting in our dressing-room a touch disappointed. Both teams are strong at home," said their captain, Graeme Smith. "We would obviously have loved to win the series, but we have played some terrific cricket so far this season. We have won eight out of 12 Test matches and lost two."

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who at Kanpur became the first wicketkeeper to lead India in a Test when Anil Kumble was injured, defended the pitch on which India levelled the series. "If we go to Australia, we get bouncy tracks; when we go to England, we get swinging tracks. When you come to India, you expect turning and bouncing tracks, and that's what this one was. It's better to stick to the specialities of certain places." But at the end of the tour his side had eked out a 1-1 draw, while South Africa had been in the best possible situation to pull off a rare series win on Indian soil. It was evident which team had come out on top.

Match reports for

1st Test: India v South Africa at Chennai, Mar 26-30, 2008
Scorecard

2nd Test: India v South Africa at Ahmedabad, Apr 3-5, 2008
Scorecard

3rd Test: India v South Africa at Kanpur, Apr 11-13, 2008
Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co.