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Greame Smith shows he is not a whiner
by Suresh Menon
Apr 14, 2008
Among international teams, it is possible that South Africa complain the least. Given an underprepared track in Kanpur, and after playing in the dry heat of the city, skipper Graeme Smith might have been expected to complain about the wicket, the weather, and if he belonged to the Graham Gooch school of excuse-making, perhaps even the city’s pollution and the planetary configuration.

Instead, he chose to praise the Indian bowling. Asked about the effect of the track on his team’s batting, he pointed out that India had made 300-plus in the same conditions, so there wasn’t much in it. All he did was make a note to prepare green tops for India when they visited South Africa next. He said it almost conversationally, not like Viv Richards, who, after the West Indies lost a Test in Chennai under him said something to the effect, “Come home and we’ll show you.”

Yet, if the South Africans were taken aback by India’s pitch policy, you cannot blame them. There was a featherbed at Chennai to begin with; a track so well appreciated by Virender Sehwag who made a triple century. Sehwag didn’t make another half century in the series, which proves something or the other. This was followed by Ahmedabad which the South African pace bowlers might have mistaken for a home ground. India became only the second team in history to be dismissed before lunch on the first day and the match came swiftly to its inevitable conclusion in three days.

Whether heads will roll or if Ahmedabad was an aberration or if the ground staff was trying to teach the Indian captain a lesson, the damage had been done. To provide visitors a track on which they feel at home might be overstepping the limits of hospitality.

Hence the desperation at Kanpur. On the first day it already looked like a third day wicket, with the ball jumping, turning, keeping low, and asking questions of the batsmen that were not in the syllabus.

It was a stupid chance to take - India could have lost in three days since they were to bat last. India have prepared wickets for the home spinners in the past and watched as the visiting spinners have run through the batting and won series. When the Spin Quartet was at the height of its powers, Australia’s Ashley Mallet, the West Indies’ Lance Gibbs and England’s Derek Underwood all made a mockery of India’s attempts and won series for their countries.

But two things saved India’s neck in Kanpur. One, the incredible batting of Sourav Ganguly who seemed to bat a few feet above the ground, the pitch hardly coming into the equation. And two, the tenth wicket partnership between Sreeshanth and Ishant Sharma aided by some poor South African bowling which gave the hosts a decisive lead.

Still, it is difficult not to sympathise with South Africa. They had dominated most of the series; certainly five of the last six days of it. One bad day, and a possible 2-0 or at least a 1-0 verdict was turned into a 1-1 draw. It can be very frustrating, and it usually is the signal for the captain to mouth off about the conditions. “We wus robbed” is a classic quote in sport.

Yet, by showing magnanimity in defeat and taking the rough and the smooth with rare professionalism, Smith made a point. World champions Australia are whiners, so are England and so too India. And if the captain or coach doesn’t whine, these teams travel with a media battalion which does it on their behalf.

It was a low key series. Perhaps that was its strength.

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