India used the first innings of the Centurion Test as practice for the second innings, which is about as ridiculous as it can get in international sport.
By Suresh Menon
India used the first innings of the Centurion Test as practice for the second innings, which is about as ridiculous as it can get in international sport. Thanks to Sachin Tendulkar’s 50th century and the hoopla surrounding that incredible feat, the officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India will get away once again for putting convenience before preparation, finance above cricketing logic.
The net result was that Dhoni’s men arrived in South Africa for one of their most important Test series in recent times and were forced to play a Test in India-unfriendly conditions against the second best side in the world. If only India had shown as much enthusiasm in getting the two sides to play a five-test series as they had in getting lowly New Zealand to tour India in the hope of filling their coffers and keeping their top ranking untroubled. On the job acclimatization is not to be recommended.
The Ashes Test starting on the same day in Perth had a lesson for India. In the first place, England played three first class matches which went some way towards giving them a 1-0 lead in the series. Then Australia, written off in recent months, fought back like the champion side of old to level the series. Had the match at Perth been drawn, with just one more Test to go, that would have been the end of the series. Instead we have the prospect of a fine match-up to look forward to.
It is difficult not to sympathise with India’s batsmen in the first innings (the same cannot be said of the second). The toss virtually decided the result, although it is unlikely that had South Africa batted first they would have got themselves into a similar tangle. In the second innings, only two wickets fell to wicket-taking deliveries. Gautam Gambhir was unlucky with one that kept low and Rahul Dravid received a beauty that made towards him and then abruptly changed its mind to straighten and take the edge.
Virender Sehwag threw it away, as did Laxman. And what was Suresh Raina doing in such adult company?
An important lesson for India from this Test is that South Africa appear to be a two-bowler team (of course India appear to be a no-bowler team, and that is cause for worry). Dale Steyn and Mornie Morkel may be the best opening pair operating right now, but there is no third seamer to back them up or a spinner who threatens. If India bat first and put up a big score, that will have to act as the psychological push to give their bowlers half a chance of taking 20 wickets.
Just when one thought India had overcome their first-Test blues (losing the opening match of an away series and then finding it impossible to recover), comes this innings defeat. Are we back to the bad old days so quickly? There are other signs too. Some of the fringe selections look like the quota system is back in play. That was the bane of the days when so many people from so many centres with so many votes had to be catered to.
India will have to take inspiration from the team they displaced at the top. Australia must now be favourites to regain the Ashes after a superb all round display. That is the essence of being the number one team in the world – you don’t roll over and die but come back fighting strongly and determined to show that the ranking is no accident.