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The absurdity of two-Test series
by Suresh Menon
Dec 28, 2013

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By Suresh Menon

The drawn Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg demonstrated once again the sheer absurdity of the so-called two-Test series. The objection is not only to the usage of language (can two of anything qualify as a ‘series’?), but also to the lack of cricketing sense.

It is entirely possible that the match ended in a draw (however exciting, well-deserved etc) only because neither team wanted to go into the final Test one-nil down. Such is the effect of administrators on match results! Had it been a five-match series (as befits the top two teams in the world), or even a three-match one, would South Africa have pulled down the shutters with 16 to get from three overs with three wickets in hand? Would India have resorted to bowling short and outside the off stump to prevent run-scoring rather than attempt to take wickets? Safety-first was the tactic at the end and it was the price cricket was paying for the short-sightedness of its administrators. The blame sits squarely, of course, on the Board of Control for Cricket in India which bullied their South African counterparts into having a shortened engagement.

It is time to ban the two-Test ‘series’. Even a single one-off Test is preferable since teams can, theoretically, give one match all they have got without fear of carrying the burden of a defeat into the final Test.

Still, Indian cricket met its future unexpectedly. Following the retirement of the last of the golden era players, the one who gave the age his name, Sachin Tendulkar, it was expected that India would take time to find their feet again. No team can replace a middle order comprising players of the calibre of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman and Sourav Ganguly overnight, and yet India seem to have done exactly that.

It wasn’t just the runs that Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli made as much as the manner of their making that sent out the message all fans wanted to hear: India won’t miss a step. Kohli almost filled in one of the few gaps in his predecessor’s record at number – a century in each innings.

If Dale Steyn went wicketless it wasn’t because he bowled extremely badly – the young batsmen had succeeded in drawing his teeth. Kohli’s taunt at the end of his century, asking the South Africans in effect if that was all their bowling had to offer might have been seen as lacking in grace by an earlier generation, but it was of a piece with his batting and his approach to the game. You cannot have the latter without the former.

Where did India go right? There are problems still, of course – the bowling, for example, but even here the new man Shami Ahmed showed how deceptive he could be and what stamina he possessed while bowling at speeds upwards of 140 even late on the final day. Clearly, this is the new India.

Rebuilding a team is a difficult process. And it is useful to remember that India have often struggled abroad even in the golden era with the Tendulkars and Dravids and Kumbles and Gangulys in the team.

There is something deeply satisfying about watching the old order giving way to the new, especially when the new raise the level of their engagement so spectacularly. For so many years have India lost the first Test of a series abroad (acclimatisation takes time) that it was an unusual situation they found themselves in when the fifth day dawned. Another eight wickets would mean a historic victory, and psychologically it would have meant much more.

It didn’t happen because South Africa played like the No 1 team they are. They lost three of their top batsmen to what can only be described as bad luck, although in the first two instances it was bad judgement as well, and both Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla had to pay. The wicket of Jacques Kallis – Zaheer Khan’s 300th was a gift as he was adjudged leg before despite playing the ball. Faf du Plessis and de Villiers took South Africa to the doorstep of victory.

And then came the shutters, from both sides. Ah! How one wishes the two-Test ‘series’ is banned.

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