The Drought Is Over: India Wins in South Africa
Congratulations to Team India on a marvellous performance out there in the harsh conditions that South Africa throws up. Congratulations to all the supporters out there who stuck with the team during the lean times, to those supporters who didn't call for Chappell's head or Tendulkar's and Dravid's for that matter. In these last few days we have witnessed what a threat the Indian team is and what a bit of commitment can bring about. There were a number of factors for this decisive victory, on which I intend to elaborate.
First of all, let's keep in mind who India was playing and where they were playing. South Africa is just as formidable at home as is Australia and India for that matter. Out of the last 80-odd test matches, they have only lost 13, with eight of them being against the conquering Australians. To add to this, the pitches were biased in terms of South Africa and this was probably the toughest ground that India would play at on tour. The Wanderers is regarded as one of the fastest and bounciest tracks in the world.
One of the key components to this victory was Sreesanth. He bowled with pace, control and aggression. He was constantly up and around the 140km/h mark and this coupled with prodigious swing was in the end too hot for the opposition batsmen to handle. Let's hope that this genuine fast bowler does not suddenly lose his pace, as many pace bowlers have done before him. Let's also hope he can stay fit and strong and not fall to the deadly plague of injuries and loss of form which is currently gripping Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan respectively.
All of us who were able to watch the match saw how much Sreesanth loves to have a chat. In this game he was able to back that chat up with actions which is always a good thing. What he must not do is fall into the trap Andre Nel has and go over the top with everything. This will only lead to him losing his intimidation factor and losing respect in the batsmen's eyes. Not only that, it will also lead to him being seen as a complete idiot like Nel is in the minds of many cricket fans around the world. Sledging is a part and parcel of the game, yet it needs to be done in a classy way like a McGrath or Warne might do it. There is a fine line between that and becoming a Nel.
One of the biggest letdowns of the match would have to be Vikram Raj Vir Singh. All throughout his short career we have been hearing how quick the lad is meant to be. In fact reports were that he was the quickest bowler in India. With this in mind, I didn't expect much of him as he is only young. But what I did expect was a fiery and hostile spell of genuine fast bowling from him. We didn't see that, neither did we see him move the ball much, a combination which can only lead to doom and gloom. If one is not an outright quick bowler than he must know how to move the ball, especially in the international levels, otherwise he just becomes bread and butter for the batsmen. Just ask Jimmy Anderson about that.
The bowlers did their job and the batsmen are slowly starting to find their feet. Sehwag looked good during the second innings, until he threw his wicket away by giving Gibbs some catching practice. Jaffer looked out of sorts in both innings and I don't know why he is even in the team. I have constantly said that Gambhir would be a much better option at the top of the order with Sehwag, as they have a good working relationship and Gambhir is in some pretty decent form at the moment.
I think we should all leave Dravid alone at the moment. He did what a courageous captain would do and play with a broken finger, which isn't fully healed at the moment. The time out in the middle should do him good for the remainder of the series. Along with Sreesanth's bowling, the other most pleasing aspect of the game was Sachin Tendulkar's batting. The man looked in total control right from the outset. Obviously Chappell and co had got into his ear and he made some technical adjustments, something which great batsmen do.
He was constantly trying to get on to the front foot and his stride was looking nearly as big as that of Ricky Ponting. His judgement was impeccable, he just knew which balls to leave and which ones to hit. The ones that were hit were just sublime. It reminded me of the great man that once tormented attacks all over the world. Lets not forget that Tendulkar has had injury troubles over the last couple of years and the only way to pile on the runs like he is used to doing is to keep consistently playing cricket, something which he has not been able to do. But the signs are there and I can confidently say that a big knock is just around the corner. It took a great piece of bowling to get him out in the first innings and was unlucky in the second to chop a low one on to his stumps.
Ganguly and Laxman also looked good and solid in both innings and have silenced their critics for the meantime. It is important for both of them to realise, especially Ganguly, that one good knock isn't the end of it all. He needs to back this up and do it consistently for India game after game. Dhoni will also come good soon. His technique means he will not be as consistent as the other batsmen but is always going to be a danger for opposition teams. He has the ability to take the game away from the opposition, much like a Gilchrist. All he needs to do is get in the nets and work on his shot selection, if able to do that than I can see no hindrance to him being on par with Gilchrist.
Although it was a convincing victory, a few changes could be made in the team. I would love to see Gambhir come in place of Jaffer and also see Pathan or Harbhajan in place of Singh. If Munaf is fit, then it will pose an interesting dilemma for the selectors.
It was a great effort by the team, but this is only the building block for the rest of the series. The team must not rest on their laurels, rather work even harder than before on improving themselves even further. India has put themselves in a great position to do to South Africa what no other team in the world has been able to do recently and that is beat them at home.
It will also be interesting to see how many 'supporters' (I don't even know if they deserve that tag) try to quietly sneak back to on the band wagon. You guys should all really be ashamed of yourselves for the way you have treated the team in the past and should have a good hard look at yourselves and the way you think about the team in the future. The role of a supporter is to stick with the team through the tough times and the good times, not just the good ones.