Ferocious and yet beautiful struggle between two strong sides

2011-01-08 00:00

INDIA’S feat in securing a drawn series in South Africa counts amongst the most outstanding in its history.

It is an indication of the team’s maturity and high expectations that the response was slightly muted. Admittedly a draw is not to be mistaken for a victory but — all things considered — it was an exceptional result.

Not so long ago India could not have hoped to survive on the sort of firm, bouncy pitches encountered in this series. Nothing in the formative years of young Indian batsmen prepared them for such an ordeal. At times their courage was unjustly questioned, but the real problem was technique. Hard tracks require broad bats.

Now the Indian batsmen can adapt to any conditions. In every match the ball kicked from short of a length, at times imitating a cranky colt. Yet the visitors were not alarmed. Indeed they surpassed themselves in terms of judgement, skill and fortitude.

Had the Indians given themselves a fair chance by arriving a fortnight earlier they might have taken the spoils. Had the pace bowlers worked better as a pack they could not have been denied. Instead Ishant Sharma continued to struggle. His withering pace is now a mere memory. Even so only Jacques Kallis denied them.

A thousand pities that the exchanges did not last longer. Cricket’s two powerhouses need a full series to settle their differences. Between sides of this calibre three matches is insufficient. No sooner has the battle begun than it is over. As with five act plays, the extra time leaves room for the full story to be told. Had five matches been played the series might have attained epic proportions.

Even so it was a wonderful campaign. It was a true test of calibre and the champions emerged with their reputations enhanced. Supposedly in their twilight years, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis played the best cricket of their incredible careers. Dale Steyn and Harbhajan Singh also rose to the occasion.

Anyone doubting that Tendulkar is the greatest batman of the last 50 years at least ought to have watched his work in Cape Town. Rest assured Australians followed the series avidly and talked about it the next morning. After all it surpassed the Ashes because both sides were playing superbly.

Kallis is surely the most unsung cricketer ever. No one has quite known where to place him — as a great batsman or as a mighty all-rounder? In truth he belongs in both categories. Until recently he tended to advance at his own pace and that may have held him back. In the last few seasons, though, he has shed his concerns and batted with the command expected from great players. He is one of the masters of the age.

Steyn’s scything swingers and fierce pace tested every batsmen and he confirmed his status as the most challenging pace bowler around. Jimmy Anderson and Zaheer Khan may be superior with the old ball, but a pace bowler’s primary task is to break though with the new cherry and in that regard Steyn stands alone. Moreover he summons a level of hostility rare in the modern game.

Harbhajan is a fighter to his bootstraps. His batting in the last few Tests has proved the point. Australians dislike his bravado and immaturity and so underestimate his determination and fearlessness. He is a confrontational character but he backs up his words with deeds.

Another cricketer also reinforced his reputation. VVS Laxman is a shrimp amongst shrimps and a giant amongst giants. Once again he held the team together in critical moments. Truly it was a compelling series, a ferocious and yet beautiful struggle between two strong sides. Long may it last.

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