Friday, January 7, 2011

The Greatest Test Match that never was.

The scene had been building over the past 4 days in Cape Town, the sun shining the crowd pouring in over the new year Test to see a great tussle between the world’s top 2 Test playing nations. India won the toss and sent South Africa in, putting faith in Khan & Sreesanth to get the job done early on a bowlers deck. And they didn’t disappoint removing Smith and Petersen early and cheaply. And then Kallis settled into his role as saviour, grinding out his runs with Amla.

India made a fight back late in the day taking Amla (59) and de Villiers (26). Sreesanth again the executioner. And at the end of day 1 Kallis was standing firm on 81, alongside him Prince with 28. Day 2 brought more people though the gates to see the spectacle unfolding as these two sides were locked in a strong battle of ball and bat. Yet the pitch turned against the home side as victims were found in swing and movement of Khan & Sreesanth, leaving Kallis fighting for partners as he powered on to 100 (taking his series average to a remarkable 166), then 120. Still there was work to do, and the Indian bowlers were not in a forgiving mood. Blitzing the SA tail before finally removing the rock Kallis for 161. Sreesanth with 29-0-114-5.

With 362 set early India stepped into the warmth of the Cape Town sun Gambhir keen to get the board ticking early. Yet he too found willing partners missing as Sehwag & Dravid left early. Entered the Little Master helping himself to further runs to inflate his already bulging sack of achievements, Gambhir & Tendulkar scoring 176 in a 3rd wicket partnership that left Gambhir on 93, but the wise man, with an even wiser bat hadn’t finished filling his boots. Tendulkar looked like he would run out partners until the surprise batting of Singh (I say surprise only as he is a No.8) who since the Kiwi series has been in fine batting form, helped Tendulkar add a further 78 between them. Yet as The Little Master was removed so close to a further 150 (148) and the tail left with stumps on the ground, India had only just rolled over the SA target, finishing with 364.

So the scene was set after 2 and a bit days for the last 3 Days to be the start of a Test within a Test. Rain threaten to ruin the opportunity as South Africa looked to set the bar high. This innings would belong to Singh as the pitch started to shift, and the cracks opened up the spinners dancing feet left the top order stumbling early, and again Kallis was called on to obtain some much needed leverage. Nudging and pushing in an innings that only had 8 fours struck Kallis began building his total, Prince (22) this time would not be by his side, and nor was deVilliers (13).

Good sides always try to find a winner whenever it all looks gone, and Boucher scratched around with Kallis to put on a further 103. It was Tendulkar of all people to end this partnership that threaten to take the game away from India his skidding, low dragging ball undoing Boucher on 55. Steyn and Morkel tried to help Kallis reach his 3 figures. And he did, the first South African to score 100’s in both innings of a test match. Holding his bat they left the field leaving India with hard graft but 339 to obtain in a day.

I must admit looking at the total it would have been tough, but not out of reach for a team with so much fire power in the batting department. Gambhir nursed a thumb injury but was prepared to open, Dhoni known for his flurry of runs in T20, Laxman, Dravid the list goes on. The only other team I could think chasing this would have been a Steve Waugh lead Australian side. Here was India ’s chance to show they had fight, character and a little bit of grunt, and mark themselves against the best.

As the day opened up much was spoken about a steady start, a clear head in the first session. But it was clear come lunch that India had given up the ghost early, as Dravid watched balls outside off glide into Boucher’s gloves and padded ball after ball from Harris, eventually leaving with 64 from 271 balls, even the entrance of Tendulkar didn’t stir the pot he too built a score of 14 from 146. India played the sort of Test cricket that non-cricket lovers believe to be always, India protected averages and pay-cheques instead of record books and heroic status. India showed no heart in not attempting a half day chase and instead left the series at 1-1. They don’t mind smashing it up against New Zealand but find no heart in trying to chase South Africa .
This could have been the best, the scores showed; the bouncing balls and helmet calls made this seem like something timeless. But in the end it was just another draw on a sunny day as the leather never touched the willow.