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South Africa did not respect India enough
December 20, 2006
It all began with the toss and I could sense the hand of Greg Chappell in it. It is typical of Australians to bat first when confronted with conditions as it existed in the first Test at the Wanderers. They like to seize the bull by the horns, avoid batting last and, importantly, if they have a quality spinner and a good seam attack, to go for the jugular.
I could sense from where it was coming from: the Indians must have thought if they could put up 250 or 270 on the board, they would be in the game.
I must confess though I was extremely surprised when I learnt of India's option to take first strike. There wasn't anything about their batting in the preceding games to suggest that this kind of confidence was still running in their veins and that too for an awkward pitch.
I spoke to Rahul Dravid a day later and he confessed he did not want to put his side for that kind of test in the fourth innings.
The Indians stood the test of fire and quite a few played a critical hand. They, however, were put on course for 250 by the resilience of the lower half and Sourav Ganguly squeezed the maximum out of the tail, no less from VRV Singh, whose plucky effort was the kind of knock that shifts the momentum of the game critically. The Indians from then on were very much on.
Sreesanth was the star for India, and I have rarely seen anybody, from the days of Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev, to have the seam so still on its way to the batsmen. His release is also exceptional and if he can do so regularly he would always be a threat, more so on a pitch such as Wanderers.
I chanced to meet him during the Test and he appeared just the bloke I sensed him to be. He asked the right questions and much of it was about the mental side of the game. We talked about the visualisation, stuff like imagining the nick going to wicketkeeper and all. It wasn't as if he did not know about it -- he had been spoken to on similar lines by Dennis Lillee before and I might just have reconfirmed his impression.
From the South African perspective, they did not respect India enough and India rammed down their throat the message in emphatic style. Graeme Smith and his men were secure in the presumption that it would be a one-sided affair. It would be interesting to see how they recover from the traumatic experience.
Nothing was right about their batting or bowling. The batting was in shambles and the query must start with the openers itself: Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs. That the selectors haven't gone for a change represents a big vote of confidence for the two but doubts about their form are
creeping up all the time.
It was a mistake for the batsmen not to have gone to their franchises and played between the one-dayers and the Test and the same was true for their bowlers. Makhaya Ntini and the likes appeared very rusty and could have done with a stint with their home units.
It would be interesting to see how South Africans approach the second Test at Kingsmead on Boxing Day.
Smith's personal choice of course would be a flat pitch and even I would doubt if it would be a green surface.
Kingsmead has always afforded bounce though in recent times it has periods when it goes absolutely flat. It's a Hobson's Choice really for the hosts as they would also hate to go the Newlands in Cape Town without having drawn level. I can sense though that there wouldn't be as much moisture on the pitch at Kingsmead as was the case at the Wanderers.
Be that as it may, the series has truly come alive. Such are the glorious uncertainties of the game about which legends abound.
But for Australians, I doubt if any other visiting side has caused as much tremor in the Proteas ranks as Indians have done now. It would now be a test of character for both, may be more for Smith and his men.
India's tour of South Africa 2006: The Complete Coverage
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