Cricketers are artists who have the gift of painting poignant, evocative and yet at times, grayscale pictures and story-lines. At the same time, they are statesmen who by virtue of a large following (thanks to the media of the day) have an unenviable role of upholding a nation’s ethos and sporting traditions. This fact is never more evident than in the Test arena, and recently concluded Castle Test series between South Africa and India was a fitting testimony.
As it is said for any high profile series, it tests the best and gets the cream to the top in the process. Whether this happened during this series is to be pondered over. From the purely sports prowess point of view we can safely surmise that it did happen. Laxman won us a match single handedly as only he can – by batting like an angel in the second innings i.e. Tendulkar reached his 51st century (50th in the losing cause and 51st in an honours-even joust.) Kallis pressed the gas pedal and drew nearer to the modern master by reaching his first double (in the drawn Centuriun contest) and by achieving a rare feat of two centuries in two innings of a test match, thereby igniting an otherwise valid debate as to whether he’s got his dues… I’ll have to mention Harbhajan and Sreeesanth here for the way they came back after nasty verbal jibes from opposition captain as well as the local team and crowds.
To me however, there were moments that went under the radar of pundits (and I say this after reading, listening to and viewing a lot of them during this series) which defined the contest between two best sides in the world cricket. SA epitomizes a mechanized approach towards Cricket, something that Germany is to Football; whilst India is all that can be termed Uruguay/Argentina of Cricket, no algorithms, just the sprinklings of madness, sanity, method, timidity and genius in vastly different measures (based on the time-line of reference) and you have a team that can surprise its most staunchest of the supporters and detractors alike. I, as a fan, would any day prefer teams like West Indies, Pakistan and India to an England, Sri Lanka, Australia or SA.
The first test started as every other series opener has since time immemorial, India losing the toss (yet again!) and put in by a very shrewd SA captain on a pitch on which even the Trumpers of the day would’ve been happy scoring a good 40, Indian Warrels and Kanhais managed around 20 each to their early undoing. Result was obvious after the first innings failure of Indian bats and subsequent easing off of the pitch into an Indian sub-continental featherbed. SA piled on the runs and made hay while Sun baked the pitch and Zaheer nursed his injury.
I’d not call myself a fan of his batting to start with, to me he’s yet another Hayden wannabe who thinks his stance and build will intimidate the bowlers of the world – fails to work now — and that shows how he’s been getting out to Zaheer of late. He didn’t win a fan in me either due to his overly gloating words and preposterous remarks afterwards about almost everything. He failed to recognize and acknowledge with grace that the first test doesn’t totally reflect on the true potential of the series, instead he went on blabbering like what not. He must have rued his words while the second and third tests were underway.
He also presented an ugly face of a sulking host when he complained about Sreesanth’s on-field behaviour through media (when he himself was caught on camera waving his bat in a hostile manner at Sree) and later about Umpire Ian Gould being drunk during the evenings (and thereby suggesting that there was more to the questionable decisions during the second test that plain human error factor.)
Hope Smith learns soon enough what he’d like to be remembered as, “RSA’s best captain after Cronje” or “SA’s very own Ponting” before he does enough damage to his image by emulating two of the baddest boys of cricket (read Ponting for arrogance and Symonds for crying hell at the drop of hat while pretending to be tough as a nail.)
My take is that he’d be better off being Smith and not aping Cronje, Symonds or Ponting for obvious reasons 🙂
For me a captain’s foremost job is to represent his own team’s cause, which he failed to do and he was miserable at calling his faculties to work when needed most.
He pulled up Sreesanth in public which dented the youngster’s morale (probably cost us the last match), played into the hands of Smith by taking his words (that Sree said a few personal things) against another’s.
The second blunder he pulled off was when he failed to thank the SA crowds that thronged the grounds braving all sorts of erratic weather. For me it became a glaring faux pas when Smith came later and did indeed thank the people and ground staff.
He also missed scoring a few mental points over Smith by failing to point out that hosts were all-out for a score that was less than that of India’s for three innings in a row. You should never leave an opportunity to hurt the opponent’s ego if it’s too pronounced as it is in Smith’s case. That too when Smith was so vocal when India folded up cheaply in the first test… True, the performance should speak, but at times it does nice things to see some red faces in the opposition camp.
The score line in the end did read 1-1, in fact this holds for the way both the captains managed situations as well, alas, neither could say they fared better. On the hind sight though, had India won the toss in the first test, would the story (and the score line) be any different? Well, that’s why they say cricket is a funny game 🙂
It will be a good tussle to watch in future as the divide between the top three sides narrows down and rankings fluctuate by the rate of completed series.