SA deserved Nagpur win

2010-02-13 00:00

SOUTH Africa are entitled to be delighted by their victory in Nagpur. It’s no mean feat to win a Test match in India, let alone by an innings, and after Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag have scored hundreds. Now Graeme Smith and company need to press hard for a second victory. India have seldom played well in the City of Oranges, nowadays a regular venue owing to the importance of the local cricketing bigwig.

Admittedly the hosts were missing two top-class batsmen and began the match in chaos after a batsman was injured kicking a ball around. India’s response to that setback told the tale. Far from taking the chance to play a fifth bowler, the think tank cautiously included the second ’keeper on the grounds that he could hold a bat. It was a dismal episode for any country, let alone the top team in the world and the most powerful governing body in the game.

Still, the Proteas played great cricket and had the edge missing in the series with England. Perhaps, like green soup, they are bad starters. At last their season seems to be gathering momentum. In some opinions, though, the horse has bolted. That brings to mind a comment made by Michael Holding, a bowler as smooth as the best whiskey. After a batsman had edged through the vacant third slip, he asked for a man to be put in that location. His captain responded “Mikey, don’t you think the horse has bolted?” to which the Jamaican replied, “I tink there might be a few horses left in there.”

South Africa’s victory was built around a third-wicket partnership between Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla. Both batted beautifully and both are attaining fresh heights in their careers. Kallis has been a wonderful cricketer and towards the end of his tenure has come out of his shell. On that significant first day he took command of the situation, preventing the speedsters making any further inroads and not allowing the tweakers to settle. He seized the initiative and South Africa never let go. Especially in this era of high scoring, greatness cannot be judged by figures alone. Kallis needed to impose himself more often, a challenge he has met in recent campaigns. His performances against England ought not to be forgotten. The good’uns last a long time.

Amla deserves all the plaudits bestowed upon him. It’s not so long ago that his hopes were in tatters. Pushed along a little too quickly, he found himself playing Test cricket and captaining KZN before he was ready. Another man might have been broken by the ordeal. Amla remained composed and set about rebuilding his game. From the time he stood down as Dolphins captain, it was clear that he was coming back. Here was a humble young man prepared to take the hard road to the top.

Of course, Dale Steyn deserves a lot of credit. He is the vital man in the side. Rhythm is the key to his bowling. When he hits the popping crease correctly he is formidable. Such a pity he went hunting before the home series against the Aussies, but then this is Africa! His pace, swing and stamina were superb and his comrades responded to his lead.

For different reasons Paul Harris is also important to the team, and his second-innings contribution reduces the pressure on him. Every team needs at least one extrovert, a man capable of cracking a joke in a tight time, a fellow not afraid to be himself. Harris plays that role in the Proteas side. He has followed in the footsteps of Pat Symcox. Without characters of that sort, South African sides can become too introverted and then they start wanting to pack their bags and go home. The Proteas’ hasty withdrawal from a tour of Sri Lanka reinforces the point.

Of course it was not all Castle and Boerwors. Ashwell Prince and JP Duminy are short of runs. In another country, their failures might not matter as much, but South Africa is not an ordinary land going through ordinary times. Prince has become tense and all sorts of things may be buzzing in his brain. He needs to examine his technique and not worry as much about batting orders.

Duminy may be suffering from second season blues, a well-known cricketing affliction. He is a novice and bad patches are to be expected. Modern youngsters face challenges unknown to previous generations, Riches are heaped upon them; in a trice their dreams are fulfilled.

What next? It is a question also faced by various young Indians and Australians. In the end the answer is that money can buy many things, but not happiness or satisfaction. Duminy and chums need to go back to basics.

 

* Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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