Predict at your Own Peril

Game of cricket is a great Leveler and this famous saying has been again proved right in the last fortnight. Till the morning of 16th Dec. ’10 there were very few people who could imagine that the famed India batting line up will be back in pavilion within 40 overs on the truncated first day, handling momentum right at the start to South Africa and lose the first match of Final Frontier, and similarly there were very few people who still believed in the Australian team after their innings loss at Adelaide Oval but they came back strongly at Perth and leveled the series.

South Africa humiliated the Indian team in the first match and the only shining moment for India was Sachin Tendulkar registering half century of Test centuries in a losing cause. Loss of Zaheer Khan due to injury made the Indian bowling look listless and made life easy for South Africa with Kallis recording his first Double ton and De Villiers registering the fastest Test ton by any South African batsman ever. Indians are known to start the away series poorly and they once again proved this correct. Dhoni promptly lost the toss and Indian batsman were exposed to the most seamer friendly conditions possible resulting in a drubbing.

South African players duly taunted the Indian team on their Number 1 rank as per ICC Ranking system and in a way put a question mark on their capabilities and stacked their claim to be true Number 1. Test Cricket means testing the players in different conditions and Indian team failed miserably in their first test.

Taunting by the South African players and media rubbed India on the wrong side and they approached second test with much more firm resolve and positive intent. Second match was to be played at Kingsmead, Durban, one of the bounciest tracks in South Africa. Indians were helped by the recovery of Zaheer but then Gambhir was ruled out due to an injury and Suresh Raina had to be replaced due to his poor form and dismal performance in the first test. This meant double changes in the batting line up with Vijay & Pujara getting a match on this tough wicket.

Dhoni once again lost the toss and India had to bat first on a fresh pitch in overcast conditions. The Indians gave a better account of themselves but all the batsmen were responsible of getting a start and converting those starts into something substantial. Bowlers made amends for their lackluster performance at Centurion and bundled out South Africa in 131’s giving India a vital first innings lead in what was turning out to be a low scoring match. Total of 18 wickets fell on the second day and all 22 batsmen got a chance to show their batting skills on a single day. VVS Lakshman played one of the most important innings of his career, though agonishingly missing the personal landmark of registering his first Test century in South Africa by 4 runs. But his 96 proved to be a match winning score as Indian bowlers gave a good account of themselves in the 2nd innings as well and in the process helping India register their first win at Durban and 2nd Test victory on South African soil. This was South Africa’s third straight Test loss at Durban.

Inspite of that, as we understand, the celebrations will have to be much more subdued than what they were, after that famous Johannesburg victory in 2006. The Indian team has to keep their focus on the series victory and create history rather then celebrating an isolated incident of winning a test. We are not undermining the importance of the test vistory at South Africa but what we want to say here is that this team has the potential to go all the way and win a series in South Africa and for that they need to concentrate hard as there is not much gap between the matches. South Africa is a tough team and they will come back very hard at the Indian team at Cape Town and Indians do not enjoy a good record by losing 2 and drawing 1 test match played there. India had a good test match here in January ’07 on exactly the same dates, 2nd to 7th January. India made a good first inning total but faltered in the 2nd innings to lose the match by 5 wickets. Test matches are won by playing consistently good for most part of the match and losing wickets in a heap or letting them out of your grip while bowling.

On the other side of the globe cricket has had a similar run in the last fortnight. Overcoming all their problem Australia mauled England in the 3rd test at Perth against all the momentum England had. But like India England came back very strongly in the Boxing day test and won that by an innings margin and retain the Ashes with a match to spare.

Indian team will be happy to end the year knowing that they did not lose a Test series in 2010 and will have a lot to play for in the 3rd test of the current series as they are on verge of making history. Indians need to get their team composition right and also Dhoni has to call right. Good thing for India is that Sehwag still has to come to party during this series, barring his second innings in first test, and if he decides to come good in this test then many things will fall in place. England captain has already stated that they are looking for Ashes victory and are not just happy by retaining the Ashes and know that Ponting and his men will come very hard at them to regain some lost pride.

2010 has been a great year for the Indian team and there is lot to look forward to in 2011 starting with series decider in South Africa and then the big show in front of Home crowd – World Cup.

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