The Indian innings just seemed to lack a strategy and paid a very heavy price. From shot selections to ridiculous run outs, the drama was only typical.
At the start of the third Test, it was hard to predict a winner. The nature of the pitch offered a few hints in that direction. But in a sport like cricket, nothing is a given and strength on paper has not always brought validation on the pitch, a fact Indian fans have fast become accustomed to.
Rahul Dravid had little doubt in his mind in choosing to bat first while Graeme Smith appeared to rue the turn of the toss. India did well to bat first on the flat deck in order to push home for a series victory.
Smith knew his team would have to dig deep if India dug in and stayed on. As it turned out, India did get stuck in. But so did South Africa.
South Africa had a few issues of their own to tackle first, including the overwhelming need to bring in a spinner. But the buzz around the Indian camp was palpably more. Looking back on this tour, Virender Sehwag will consider this one of his most testing periods as a professional cricketer. The prolific run scorer's performance has appeared paltry by comparison and the added weight on the team in the absence of a conspicuous contribution called for evacuation and damage control.
In the midst of such ire, the team think tank pulled out what would have to be called the last attempt to save Sehwag his position in the team.
But often as it has come to be the tale of Indian cricket, somebody had to sing and dance and entertain the public while another looked for succour. Dinesh Kaarthick will wonder what he had done so wrong to be slotted into this inept role. Kaarthick is not India's number one wicketkeeper.
Kaarthick's inclusion as a batsman in the one day series came about as a result of the fallout of other specialist batsmen. Even then, it raised eyebrows. The injury to Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave Kaarthick the opportunity to be a part of the Test eleven at Newlands. But it came with unwarranted pressure and significant insecurities.
Playing for the team interests is noble. But what of the sacrifices men like Kaarthick make when they forced out again once the main man is in and the hole is no longer needed to be filled?
Dhoni is not likely to lose his place, even if Kaarthick went on to score a century. If the team tactics worked, Sehwag would cruise on new found form and determination. But where does that leave Kaarthick? Not a few times before has this been noticed. Sourav Ganguly has seen it as well as he tried awkwardly to fend the missives from South Africa while chalking out a face saving sixty-three.
But in the match context, Kaarthick played a very important role alongside Wasim Jaffer to set up the foundation for India to launch the victory mode from. Smith must have had not just a few negative thoughts as India played out the first day in effortless fashion. Even Sachin Tendulkar did not waste the opportunity to start the new year on a positive note, scoring his first half-century, in distinct contrast to the year that went by.
South Africa pulled back matters on the second day and Paul Harris was rewarded for his lengthy stint as the teams premier spinner with four wickets. But if Harris could do it, could not Kumble and the other wannabes in the likes of Sehwag and Tendulkar? India was perhaps looking for a quick pack up. But on a pitch that did not unduly trouble the batsmen, Smith and Hashim Amla made sure the Indians would still have a few matters to chew on when play would resume on the third day.
The Test continued and so did the conundrums. Patience appeared the buzz word. Runs did not come easily, but the wickets did not either. Smith perished six short of what would have been a long awaited century. The hosts lost wickets almost always in pairs. The hosts had to grit their way closer. Going into the fourth day's play, the match was tantalizingly poised and a clear victor did not appear. Who was willing to grind longer? And who would outlast?
It was under such trying circumstances that India forfeited a valuable psychological advantage and significant lead in the context of the match. The second innings was indicative of India's slipping and sliding ways on overseas tour. With the match poised on a hinge, the temptation to let Sehwag loose early and garner a few quick runs was too overwhelming. It would have worked, if only Sehwag had some kind of real match presence about him. Struggling for runs, this innings would go the way of the many that went late last year.
Before the eyes had been focused, two wickets fell and the rare possibility of a batsman being timed out suddenly appeared on the cards. Miscalculations meant the Indian team was not prepared for the step down that Tendulkar was forced to resort to for his absence on the field the previous evening. In the midst of the baffling incident, out strode the man who has seen crisis much too many times over the last year. Ganguly took on the demands bravely. But the Indian innings just seemed to lack a strategy and paid a very heavy price. From shot selections to ridiculous run outs, the drama was only typical.
South Africa did not have the odds on their side. They had little going for them. But they held out for victory and were led stoically by their skipper. Rain played sympathetic to India's cause. But then, fortune favours the brave, or in this case, the resolute.
There are no explanations why Harbhajan Singh could not have played in tandem on this so-called 'Indian' pitch and helped Kumble tighten the grip on the South Africans. Just like there are no reasons forthcoming why impetuosity in the team is not restricted to Sehwag alone!