'The architect of the revival was undoubtedly Graeme Smith, who came back strongly after an abysmal start to the series
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Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest of all sports coaches, once said:
"Teams do not go physically flat, they go mentally stale." This afternoon,
at a suitably grey Newlands, India were not only mentally stale, but as
physically flat as beer left under a harsh sun. With the exception of a
couple of new faces fuelled by the exuberance of youth, and another driven
by the urge to reestablish himself, the rest were unathletic old men
bereft of energy and desire. At day's end, the young lions were perfectly
entitled to look accusingly at the toothless, clawless old ones and wonder
when the urge to fight had dissipated.
It would have been a travesty if rain had denied South Africa. Ever since
the loss at the Wanderers, they had been patently the hungrier side,
winning the decisive sessions and making the running against an Indian
team that didn't even recognise the key moments, leave alone seize them.
The architect of the revival was undoubtedly Graeme Smith, whose pugnacity
under pressure fetched him three straight half-centuries after a truly
abysmal start to the series. When he walked back out this morning, the
game was still in the balance, with Hashim Amla falling to the last
ball of the fourth day. As ally, he had a man with oceans of experience,
and a batting technique capable of coping with the best that Anil Kumble
and friends could muster.
Promoting Shaun Pollock to No.4 was a masterstroke. It gave Smith someone
at the other end that was unafraid to play his strokes, and more
importantly, someone who wouldn't shy away from taking on Kumble. With
Pollock knocking the ball around sweetly, Smith had the freedom to express
himself, and by the time the rain arrived, 56 had been whittled away from
the target in just 10.5 overs.
Both India's bowling and fielding were listless and insipid in that
passage of play. Unlike Shane Warne, Kumble has never really been
comfortable bowling round the wicket into the rough, and his attempts to
settle into a length were easily frustrated. The pace bowlers were all
over the place, and instead of a steady build-up of pressure, the runs
came with the ease that they would on a first-day pitch.
When the players came back nearly four hours later, things were markedly
better. Zaheer Khan produced a magnificent spell to nab both Smith and
Pollock, leaving some to wonder what might have been had such urgency and
aggression been on display in the morning. Suddenly, Kumble too appeared
to find some extra zip and for a while, there must have been more than the
odd chewed finger-nail in the South African dressing room.
Such games turn on little things, and India's moment perhaps came and went
with a Kumble googly. Kallis was always going to be the key man, utterly
impervious to the prattling from behind the stumps and possessed of a
temperament perfectly suited to the strains of a run chase. Yet, he had no
idea about a wrong 'un that Kumble threw up, and the shouts of anguish as
the ball narrowly cleared the stumped summed up India's day.
Once Ashwell Prince overcame a nervous start, the path to victory became
far less rocky. India's new-found intensity vanished just before tea, and
16 runs in the first two overs after tea pretty much settled it. Dinesh
Karthik, whose superb catch to dismiss Smith offered a frisson of hope,
never lost his voice behind the stumps, while Sreesanth and Zaheer were
never found wanting in the commitment stakes.
A clearly unfit Munaf Patel bowled just one over, the 48th of the innings,
but the real disappointment was Kumble. The man the South Africans feared
most on a wearing pitch couldn't summon up anything like his best when it
mattered most, and once again, Indian dreams of a series victory abroad
vanished like the rain clouds that had initially enveloped Table Mountain.
It was no surprise when a misfield sealed South Africa's triumph,
encapsulating India's inability to cling on to a series that was theirs
for the taking after the opening day.
Looking back, it would be easy to say that India lost it with their
deplorable batting on the fourth afternoon, but in fairness South Africa
won it by being prepared to go the extra yard when needed. Unlike India's
old-timers, who flunked their test miserably, the duo of Pollock and
Kallis were impeccable with the ball, even as one for the future - Dale
Steyn - devastated any slim Indian hopes of a revival.
Most of all, this was Smith's victory. His innate self-belief and swagger
would perhaps have been embraced in Australia, though they appear to make
people uncomfortable here. And when his team needed to be shown the way,
he was the first one out of the trenches. No praise can be too high for
that. Like Lombardi, he had understood one of life's fundamental truths:
"It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the
hearts of men."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo