A strange series

February 22, 2010

When the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in world cricket lock horns in a test match series, you do not expect them to take turns and beat each other by an innings and a bit, do you. If the same results had been played out by the same two teams in the late 90s, murmurs of match fixing would have done the rounds.

Beyond the result, there was a strange symmetry to the series starting with the number of tests. The SA batsmen dominated the first test and the Indian batsmen capitulated. Tables were turned in the second. In both the tests, two batsmen from the vanquished side had centuries in losing causes. Likewise, on both occasions, the winning team’s bowling was dominated by one bowler. But for weather intervening in Kolkata, both the matches would have run their course in 4 days.

In the end it was obvious that this would have made a riveting 3 or 5 match series. The 3 match one day series could have easily made way for one more test. In the end, commerce overrides matters cricketing. The SA caravan has to rumble through the Indian hinterland for it to make sense for the BCCI. Cricket fans as a species know the value of and therefore appreciate the honourable draw. However, if a series is drawn thanks to the continued stupidity of the organisers, it does leave a bitter taste in the mouth. What could have been the finest series of test matches played in the country in some time was cruelly shortened.

India has much to thank Sehwag for the way he sets up matches these days. In hindsight, considering how easily India could have run out of time at Kolkata, his knock was crucial. Besides the tangible benefit of having scored his runs in a hurry, the intangible benefits of a demoralised attack worked to the advantage of the rest of the Indian batsmen. Despite giving the impression that he takes leave of his sense ever so often, there is no denying that Sehwag is the most influential Indian batsman ever. One can wax eloquent about Dravid’s technique, Gavaskar’s powers of concentration, Tendulkar’s precociousness and Vishwanath’s wristiness, but none exemplifies India’s coming of age as a cricketing nation more than Sehwag. The Indian middle order of recent vintage has a lot to thank Sehwag for.

I guess Hashim Amla deserves all the bouquets that are being showered on him. He did everything possible to save SA the blushes on the final day. Notwithstanding the fact that when the last man, Mornie Morkel, arrived at the crease there were still about 90 minutes (which is a long time for the No. 11 batsman to hang in there) to go and all the smart money was riding on an Indian win, I was surprised that even towards the end there was no attempt on his part to farm the strike. In the end there were about 20 odd deliveries between SA and a heroic draw. Amla himself said that Morkel (and before him Parnell) was confident and comfortable playing out one end. But was it not incumbent on his part to take as much of the strike as possible, especially towards the end when a draw was emerging a distinct possibility. I can think of atleast three legends of the past having done this – Miandad, Border and Waugh. And of the current lot – the tragic Paul Collingwood. As an Indian fan, I am glad Amla did not crave for more glory, yet as a cricket fan, I am more than a little disappointed with his abdication of responsibility. Amla was dismissed only one while facing more than a 1,000 deliveries from the hapless Indian bowlers. Facing upto a few more and thereby shielding Mornie would have given his team a decent chance of having regained the top ranking.


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