Thursday 19 December 2013

Going the Distance

I do not care if South Africa wins the Test match from here. I will be one of the happier souls if India were to win the Test from here or an unlikely draw - if weather were to intervene the proceedings of the first Test match between India and South Africa.

Since its re-admission to international cricket - India has toured the 'Rainbow Nation' six times including the current tour. Barring the previous series (which was levelled 1-1), India has lost all the tours and is yet to win a ODI series over there. What will be the outcome of this tour? We know surely what happened in the ODI series.

I will neither be talking more about the shorter formats nor predicting how the series will unwrap in the days to come; all I want to share is the way I feel about this Indian team after having watched the first two days of the Test match in this current series.

A young team led by M S Dhoni - who incidentally captaining in his 50th Test  (only 14 have managed to achieve this feat till date) wins the toss and elects to bat against the number one team in the world. My mind goes back to the Headingly Test match in 2002 when India chose to bat first in overcast conditions with series 1-0 down. India won the Test match in spite of playing in a seamer-friendly conditions to level the series in an emphatic fashion. That was a brave decision!

For the first time (since the time I started to watch cricket) there will be no Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammed Azharuddin, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in the test line-up. These names resonate a sense of my belonging to cricket - and now we have a team whose highest run-getter is MS Dhoni. This team will go down as one of  the most in-experienced line-up for a long time I can remember. Yet there is no sense of panic and that partially is due to low expectations.

Day one saw Indian openers batting first; they hung around for a while and got out without making any impact. Then came the partnership of the Test match so far (from Indian perspective) between Pujara and Virat Kohli. They occupy the #3 and #4 positions respectively in the line-up which the previous incumbents were the top two run-getters of India all-time and the top three (as I write) in the history of the game.

During the playing days of Dravid and Tendulkar - the third wicket partnership had always been a crucial phase; one which has contributed to many of the recoveries after a poor start and many a times gave momentum to an innings, capitalising on a good opening partnership. The essence was there - although I do not want to compare them in one-to-one terms; the feeling of security was to be seen - controlled aggression meets the soothing influence. And then came the run out - Quel Dommage!

India managed to score 280 and probably could have scored more - I do not wish to get into details. Twenty short of three hundred was all this new team could manage. A lot better than some of the scores the team had posted when they last toured outside the sub-continent (Australia in 2011-12 & England 2011).

I watched India bowl - and saw South Africans running away with the game after good initial spells from the pace bowling trio of Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Shami. With 120 runs on the board for the loss of solitary wicket, the Proteas were in commanding position going into tea.

Then came the intense spells from the trio, suitably rewarded for some good bowling which reduced them to 145/6. It was all about the Indian pace attack; they did a tremendous job in damaging the back bone of the South Africa never ending list of batsmen.

Bouncebackability - a term invented by English football club manager Iain Dowie comes to my mind. The word is apt for the way Indians forged ahead in spite of losing the openers while batting and the manner they took wickets mid way through the South African innings.

The match at the end of day two is well balanced. Unless there is an intervention from the weather, this Test will produce a result with both teams having a fair chance to win.

Historically, this is one of the few away grounds where India is yet to lose a Test match. In 1992, Indian batsmen fought it out on the last day to draw the Test match; 1997 match saw stellar performances by the duo of Rahul Dravid - Sourav Ganguly; victory only to be denied by poor weather on the final day and a stiff resistance of Daryll Cullinan. In 2006, India won the Test match - their first test win in South Africa.

What will happen this time? I am no astrologer - and I will be thrilled if India were to win and maintain its no-loss record at this ground. A quote from the movie 'Rocky' comes to my mind - "I was nobody. But that don't matter either, you know? 'Cause I was thinkin', it really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance."

Going the distance is what I expect from this Indian team - a team of new guys little short on Test match experience.