January 6, 2007

India Lose Test Series in South Africa.

India lost the 3-test series against South Africa after losing the third test in Cape Town today. After some very tense moments and several twists, South Africa won quite convincingly in the end by 5 wickets.

This is only the ninth instance in test cricket history when a team won a 3-test series after losing the first test. Previous occasions are:

England: Vs Australia - 1882/83 (in Australia)
                  Vs Australia - 1888 (in England);
                  Vs Sri Lanka - 2000/01 (in Sri Lanka)
Pakistan: Vs Zimbabwe - 1994/95 (in Pakistan)
South Africa: Vs New Zealand - 1994/95 (in South Africa)
Sri Lanka: Vs Pakistan - 1995/96 (in Pakistan)
                    Vs New Zealand - 1998 (in Sri Lanka)
India: Vs Australia - 2000/01 (in India).

This series was a golden opportunity for India to win its first test series in the Southern hemisphere since its first away series win New Zealand in 1967/68. Or at least, to not lose a test series in South Africa for the first time. There might not be another such great opportunity in many years to come for India. There are several reasons why Indians would be kicking themselves for losing this series.

First important reason is that South Africa presently is a pretty ordinary team. South Africa traditionally has been a strong team since its readmission, but lately its record, particularly in test cricket, has been mediocre. Of the 28 tests prior to the current series South Africa lost 12 and won only 8. Further, Graeme Smith has the worst win percentage among 3 captains who led the team for considerable periods. Smith has won 16 tests of 41 (39.02%), while Shaun Pollock won 14 of 26 (53.84%) and Hansie Cronje won 27 of 53 (50.94%).

Beginning with Sourav Ganguly's captaincy India has been playing well abroad, relative to its overall record. India's record abroad traditionally has been quite poor: of the 195 tests played up to the Durban test of last week India lost 83 and won only 27, for a win percentage of 13.84%. With stark contrast, India won 14 and lost 14 of the 40 tests played abroad since 2000. That is a much more respectable winning percentage of 35%. In the process, India registered memorable victories in England 2002, West Indies 2001/02, 2006, Australia 2003/04, Pakistan 2003/04. Though these victories led to series wins only in West Indies 2006 and Pakistan, India achieved satisfactory draws in England and Australia.

In this context, even after being routed in the one-day series by South Africa, India had a great chance to do well in the test series. What they got going for them was the presence of two great young bowlers in Sreesanth and Munaf Patel, a rejuvenated Zahir Khan and of course, the always reliable Kumble. For the first time in recent memory Indian pace bowling appeared equal to its task. The real problem was always going to be our inconsistent and inept batting, as it proved in the end.

The first test in Johannesburg confirmed all this potential. On a pretty friendly bowling pitch, Indian batting rose to occasion and bowling led by Sreesanth did the trick. In Durban, on a better batting pitch the batsmen failed quite shockingly, especially in the second innings. Then came Cape Town.

What greeted them there makes this series defeat particularly disappointing. A slow and dry pitch, devoid of grass looked very much like a typical Indian one. Dravid won a good toss and India asserted themselves on the first day ending at 254/3. What followed was the age-old sorry Indian failure to take the bull by the horns.

First they failed to cash-in on the great start and petered out to a 414. The second innings batting performance is what really stands out as the real image of Indian ineptitude. With a vital 41-run lead and two days to play on a wearing pitch, it was a game India had to lose. And lose they did! The batsmen have to bear the full responsibility for this debacle. Sure, bowling could have been a little better in the second innings. Kumble was not really up to his mark. However, to be fair, they never had enough runs to bowl.

What makes this defeat painful is how tantalizingly close India was to save both tests. In Durban, they needed to play for maximum another hour (about 15-20 balls more each for the top 6 batsmen who together lasted only for 28 overs). The story repeated again in Cape Town. The way Dravid and Tendular crawled on the fourth afternoon for 24 runs in 15 overs was quite appalling. As Sambit Bal wrote on Cricinfo, the way Tendulkar "pottered and scratched, padded and swiveled, nudged and groped" was embarrassing, though it has be to admitted he was not totally fit and was rather unfortunate to be given out lbw. In any case, that 15-over standstill led to the collapse that followed. With only a slightly more application (as was shown by a brilliant Karthik), India could have posted at least another 75 runs. Given that SA eventually won with less than 15 minutes reamining that would have made all the difference.

Another aspect that must be mentioned is the poor umpiring throughout the series, almost always going against India. Dravid was unlucky in both innings of Durban, Tendulakar was unlucky in second innings of Durban and Cape Town. Very importantly, Munaf got out on the seventh ball of an over while Karthik was stranded. Karthik could easily have scored some more vital runs. On the other hand, SA batsmen have been very lucky on a number of occasions. Boucher in Durban was given not out when he was plumb in front, and he went onto play a crucial innings. Kallis clearly edged the fitsy ball he faced in the second innings in Cape Town. If he was given out, as he should have been, the story could have been different.

Notwithstanding the defeat, there are definitely a few positives for India to come out of this series. Sreesanth has been a great revelation. We knew he had potential, but it was enhanced a great deal. His temperament has been amazing, and surely he has a lot more to contribute. Ganguly has made an emphatic return with some very important innings at tense situations. With 214 runs from the series, he led the Indian batting aggregates for the series. Dinesh Karthik was also a great find. He batted quite well and his keeping was top notch. Zahir Khan and Kumble bowled quite well. Jaffer scored a good hundred to cement his place as the opener.

The big disappointment of the tour was Sehwag. He completely failed to take off, except for a nice and rapid 40 in the first innings of Cape Town. Dravid too had an uncharacteristically quiet series and surely that was a big factor in the defeat. A total of 125 runs in 6 innings for an average of 20.83 is quite poor, even taking into account a couple of ordinary umpiring decisions. Sachin Tendulkar also was a relative disappointment for this series. With 199 runs he was only behind Ganguly, but there were occasions when he could have taken the game away from SA (first innings Durban and both innings in Cape Town).

India have a very interesting year coming up with world cup and important away tours to England and Australia. They will have to sort of their one-day issues in the eight matches they play before world cup (four each against West Indies and Sri Lanka). Though they lost the series in SA they should look at the positive side: winning their first test in SA, out-bowling SA in helpful conditions.

India has been consistently winning at least one test on every tour in the last five years or so. That is definitely a great improvement. Now they should look to take another stride forward.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]