Blow for Blow - Ind - SA - Test Cricket - 2010
Legitimacy is the most important consideration when conferring crowns and titles. In the media saturated world titles are dispensed with such a haste, conveniently sidestepping the requisite credentials if only to trigger a conversation in the newsprint and air space, that legitimacy often becomes the victim of the impetuousness. 'The final frontier', they dubbed this series between Indians and Proteas. That would mean, theoretically and technically, that India had conquered the rest of the world and only the African nation remains the lone bastion standing between India and the New World Order. Agreed, that India laid siege at many, if not all, foreign turfs over the past few years, where test victories, leave alone series wins, eluded them for decades altogether. England was humbled, New Zealand, conquered, Pakistan, captured and West Indies, usurped. But Sri Lanka resisted, while Australia repelled (the Sydney saga aside, denting Indian claims as a world conqueror. Which is why it comes as a surprise when the phrase 'The final frontier' is coined, obviously to whip up frenzy and interest in the clash between the purported 'World No. 1' and 'World No. 2' (The 'World' titles are as legitimate and apt as the phrase 'world championships' that American media so nonchalantly dubs its intra-national sporting events as). The ratings and the rankings, which don't reflect the true nature of the team's ability of winning games of varying pitches, are the last resort of media pundits (along the lines of, patriotism being one for scoundrels), and so the superlatives - 'greatest', 'best', 'final', 'all time' - should always be taken with fists of salt. 'The pre-penultimate frontier' might have reflected the ground realities of India's away record, but if the ring of that convoluted phrase appears to rob the immediacy of the contest, then a more realistic 'One small step' [in the right direction] would have served right for a team which is constantly looking forward to improving its away record.
India-South Africa series have been Even-Stevens during the past few years with neither of them able to deliver the coup de grace to decisively knock its opponent over (like how the Australians accomplished against virtually every test playing nation for about a decade and half), and that seems right about the contest between two teams, which are about on par, both on paper and on pitch. What Indians lacked in brute pace, they scored in spin, and with batting prowesses being just about the same, the tied series in the last two outings, including the current one, irrespective of home ground advantages, give a clear idea of how close the teams are. The just concluded series saw the usual suspects putting their hands up and delivering what was expected of them, save an exception here and there. If thriving is the name of the name on the sub-continental pitches, it is surviving, on the South African surfaces, both for the home team and the visitors. And apart from the batting exploits of the Colossuses on either side (Tendulkar and Kallis), the series showed the way for the future of Test cricket - fearsome bowlers exploiting the lively pitches. The prodiguous (banana) swing of Steyn, the uncomfortable pace and steep bounce of Morkel, the guile of Zaheer, and the wily spin of Singh, with the accuracy of Tsotsobe and the wild variations (of control and consistency) of Sreesanth - the test series witnessed Test cricket of the highest order - batsmen eking out against bowlers' relentless assaults. That the rubber hung in balance right until the last session of the last day of the last game in the series is the kind of stuff that advocates of the longer version of the game salivate about. With the only disappointment that this would be the closest that Indians would come to closing out a series in SA till the near future, until it settles on a different middle order that is at least decent, consistent and a dependable one, if not as famed and formidable as the current lot, they certainly have performed admirably in alien hostile conditions. And that is a sign of an emerging champion, if not an established, entrenched one.
India's tussle with Pakistan is often dubbed as 'arch-rivalry', no matter the quality of the sides, their duels with Australia, the 'new Ashes', and if history is anything to go by, the match up with SA can rightfully be dubbed as 'Unbreakable' series, with the point of interest being, who would blink first, who would wilt first, who would land the first sucker punch. In the battle of equals, stalemate is still an admirable outcome, something that both sides can be proud of.
Posted by Srinivas Kanchibhotla