Match or Mismatch?

 

In the 1990s, the phrase “final frontier” became immensely popular in cricket circles as the Australian team led by Steve Waugh continued their relentless domination  across the world. They ended up winning everywhere else other than India. The Australian attempt to conquer their final frontier became the stuff of legend, culminating in an epic series in 2001 which is still fondly remembered for perhaps the greatest series-turning knock in test cricket history.

When applied to India, most people would naturally think of beating Australia in Australia as the final frontier. The team under Ganguly managed to improve its overseas record by winning series in West Indies and England, but never won a series in Australia. However, they managed to tie the series in 2003-2004 and almost managed to win it in Sydney.  They famously won a test in Perth in 2008 too.  India- Australia series have been so riveting in recent times that the fact that India have yet to beat South Africa in South Africa is forgotten.

In fact, India have only ever won two matches in South Africa, one each in their last two visits. India’s best chance to win a series came when they toured South Africa in 2010-2011. The series however ended in a draw.

Since then, both teams have gone in opposite directions. South Africa are the dominant test side in the world today, while India had disastrous tours of England and Australia, losing all four matches in both series. South Africa’s bowling, always a strength, looks stronger than ever. India’s batting, historically a strength too, on the other hand looks weak all of a sudden with the departure of four legendary  batsmen in Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag and Laxman. Now they look to improve their recent miserable away record in a country where they have historically struggled against a side which is aspiring towards cricket greatness. Could the task be any tougher?

Well, yes, of course it could be. The fact of the matter is that expectations from this Indian side are pretty low at the moment. As low, in fact, as the expectations from the South African side are high. Even a draw in a test match would be considered an achievement for India whereas South Africa really have everything to lose and nothing to gain. It is the exact opposite scenario of the one day series where a high- ranked India were beaten by South Africa. India should take strength from this and allow their batsmen to play freely without being inhibited in their stroke play. If any one of them clicks, the pressure could fall back on the South African bowlers.

This easier said than done though. The Indians will be up against the best bowling line up in the world comprising of Steyn, Philander and Morkel. The last time India toured here, Steyn destroyed them single handedly. This time, he has Philander, a top-class bowler of exactly the type Indians tend to struggle against and a much-improved Morkel for company.

For me, the series will be decided by the other battle which is not talked about much because its outcome seems to be taken for granted. I am referring of course to the battle between the Indian bowling line up and the mighty Protean batsmen. India HAVE to strike early. If Smith or Amla get off to a good start, then it will be long sessions in the field against a daunting array of batsmen which features someone like Duminy walking in to bat at Number 7. It is here that India’s matches will be won or lost.

Try as I might, I cannot see them winning this contest. On a good day, their batsmen may post a reasonable total against Steyn and co, but their bowlers simply do not seem incapable of destroying the South African batting line up in a similar manner. Zaheer has had the measure of Smith in the past, but this is the series where I see Smith turning this around and imposing himself on India.

Expect Dale Steyn to destroy India at least once in four innings and the abysmal record of India abroad to continue. It will be interesting to see which Indian batsmen steps up and succeeds (relatively speaking) in this series because that will be a harbinger of more exciting series that lie in wait for us in the years to come. My gutfeel is that this will be Pujara and not Kohli. We will wait and watch on this.

Prediction: I expect the Indians to improve their record overseas maybe next season, but not so soon. It is perhaps a boring and conventional prediction to make, but I just cannot see beyond a 2-0 result unless the teams are given a flat track at Johannesburg or Durban. The top ranked team in the world will beat the second ranked team without too much of fuss and add another jewel to their crown.

 – Rajkamal Vasu (Rajkamal Vasu is the Founder of Sportz Cosmos.)

 

 

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32 thoughts on “Match or Mismatch?

  1. I still think Smith is Zak’s bunny, all the SA batsmen struggle if the ball reverses with good pace. SA batsmen have always had quite a few chinks, if Indian batsmen can be patient and put up 300+, will be very interesting. The swinging pacy pitches could work against SA.

  2. Ranjit, very much agreed. I think, in many ways this is a test of SA mental strength and Indian playing skills. We can argue both teams have been found well short on those fronts…..

    Jo’Burg 2006 and Durban 2009 or Capetown 2010. India need to fight and make it close and well…. see what Safrica are made of….

  3. Totally agree pujara being India’s best bat, he was the only one sounded sane before the series. Just want batsman a little patient and bowlers aggressive from India.

  4. I am liking so far what I am watching. Indian batting seems very determined despite the couple of dismissals. No one seems to be here to give the wicket keeper + slips catching practice. Come on guys 300+, this game is ours.

  5. Kohli can be pardoned for anything today just for his timing. His technique playing outside off is simply outstanding. Rohit looks positive too, I have never been this bullish of Ind doing well in SA. SA can disintegrate in no time.

  6. Ranjit: Our prediction of 1-1 is looking better now 🙂 Fingers and toes crossed!

    Tomorrow 1st hour MSD and Rahane have to make sure our new no.4’s ton doesn’t go waste, something India was terrible at during the 90s.

    #GameOn

  7. RK excellent piece – and glad to know you share my prediction – and rgds Vijay I think he is the only passenger in this squad – – – miles to go before we conquer frontiers outside India – – but we are on the right path for sure!!!

  8. Even a 1 run lead is going to be psychological advantage. Cricket is such a mental game, starting innings at 1/0 looks better than 0/0.. Game on big time! The way Zak made Smith hop around was the highlight for me. If Ashwin and Rohit had held on to their catches, SA would have been in serious trouble. I attribute this to young blood enthusiasm. This is where Dhoni, Zak, Fletcher come in, need to talk to the youngsters and calm them down.

  9. Good points Ranjit. More than that, the old problem of last 5 wickets scoring more than top 5 resurfaces! That hurts real bad. I mean how can you explain that they get the best batsmen out and then struggle with absolute nobodies! no offence to Faf/Philander

  10. I think the bowlers gotta go full throttle straight away like Philander did yesterday. copy/paste from yesterday = 1st hour absa-#$#%inlutely critical. India MUST win this battle to wrest control!

  11. Its a good point. Why dont we always finish the tail-enders. Being a huge fan of Freakonomics, I think there is a freak relation here. Our fast bowlers have always been nice mama’s, family oriented boys. Does the Indian culture of living with parents, non-aggression forbid us from attacking lesser mortals. Kapil, Srinath, Zak, Ishant, Shami, Munaf, Agarkar et al, all family boys. Even history has shown Indians never attack weaklings unlike sorry to say, some super powers who keep pounding non competition militarily. Ok, I have my idea for next article, this is a serious Freakonomic stat to be explored.

  12. superb effort by Indian bowlers, they could have easily got a lead of 100, but never the less terrific effort, now the batsman need to get 250 to 300 atleast

  13. i feel its important for India to bat atleast for 4 sessions, so that the south africans wont have not more than 4 sessions to get 300 runs

  14. India also need time to bowl out JayK. but yeah 300 in 4 is good…. but Joburg generally becomes tougher to get wickets…. I am going to say 300 upwards means India is atleast coming out with a draw. A ripper of a match so far!

  15. terrific is the word to describe the status of the match. Gsmith vs ZAK, going on only the roles changed, smith the captain and zak the batsman

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