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By Sunil Gavaskar
The South Africans have kept their number one ranking after a terrific comeback in the third and final Test at the WACA ground in Perth. Reputed to be the fastest pitch in the world it was perfectly suited to the South African pace attack but it also gave the Australian pace attack the chance to destabilize the strong South African batting. They certainly did that in the first innings dismissing the Proteas for only 225 with only 'Faf' du Plesiss showing any resistance but then the South Africans led by Dale Steyn struck back and wrapped up the Australian innings giving them a handy lead of 63 runs. It was expected to be a low scoring game since both teams had barely scrambled 400 runs between them in the first innings of the match. However cricket being the unpredictable game it is showed that there were runs in the pitch too.
Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla batted fluently in the second innings to take the South Africans to a total of some safety at the end of the day’s play. Amla had got to 99 in only 81 balls and it took him only another 3 deliveries to complete his century. He didn’t stop at that but went on to get another 96 runs before he was out. This was his second century of the series yet for the South Africans the bigger story was when AB de Villiers got a hundred. It was a century plus knock for AB after a long time and since he had started keeping wickets after the freakish injury that ended Mark Boucher’s career it was felt that the strain of keeping wickets was taking a toll on his batting. The Australians set to chase the highest ever score in Test cricket were simply not up to it and lost by a heavy margin leaving the South Africans with their number one ranking and another overseas series win following their victory in England.
Now they take on New Zealand who are in disarray after sacked skipper Ross Taylor has backed out of the tour and Brendon McCullum takes over the captaincy in all three formats of the game. Ross Taylor played a match winning innings in the third and final Test in Sri Lanka which allowed the Kiwis to level the series and win a test overseas after a long time. Yet his reward for that was to be asked to leave the responsibility of leading to McCullum. The coach Mike Hesson and Taylor did not get along and so Taylor had to be sacrificed since the man in charge of New Zealand cricket is a former coach John Buchanan and he would naturally side with the coach. New Zealand Cricket has gone downhill since his appointment but of course we will be told that the process is on or some such management jargon to try and camouflage the results.
The manner in which Alstair Cook has singlehandedly lifted his team up after the disastrous first Test in Ahmedabad has been nothing short of brilliant. The England players have really put in the hard yards and the results are showing. In Mumbai on a pitch that was turning and bouncing they turned the tables on the Indians by some solid application and determination and then put the hosts under pressure with canny bowling and field placing.
The Indians have not helped themselves with a lackadaisical attitude bordering on indifference. They seemed to expect that after the win in the first Test it was simply a matter of turning up at the ground just before the umpires took the field and they would win again. Instead what has been seen is a transformation led by the skipper Alistair Cook and under his inspirational leadership England are now in a position of winning the series too.
India’s batting has been woefully found out and the lack of a defensive technique is making them vulnerable to any delivery that does something unexpected. It has been a sorry sight but also a signal that the pitches in India need to be such that gives the bolwers also a chance and not just loaded in favour of the batsmen. Unfortunately in India it is either in favour of batters or just so bad that the bowlers win the game in two days. It is only when there is a proper balance between bat and ball that the real skills and temperament of batsmen and bowlers will be seen and a much better information pack will be given to the selectors. This is not difficult at all though of course soil conditions being different in a vast country like India it could differ from region to region and zone to zone.
Still it needs to be looked at on a war footing because India considered invincible at home are losing there now and if they continue to do so then the interest in the game is likely to wane. There is talent alright but it needs to be examined in testing conditions and only then will we know the real tough guys from the powder puff ones.