First things first – kudos to Jacques Kallis on a most wonderful career – arguably the greatest all-rounder the game has seen. He turns is focus on to the one prize that has eluded South Africa and himself – a World Cup. It is a refreshing move and really tells us about the changing Cricket scene. ODIs and T-20s are fast gaining a reputation of being a prize, themselves and moving ahead of Tests as the format players covet most. That is a topic for another day.
Things are supremely poised in Durban and in some sense a 2 test series might just work wonders. How a 5 match test series can be one match too many, we can see right now on Television as England and Australia try to give some meaning to a dead series. This India – South Africa series however has been meaningful right from the time the first ball was bowled about 10days ago.
It is going to be immensely difficult to top off the heroics at the Bull-Ring, but both teams want this match and series so badly that we might just get a match that will be in the same league if not on par with that classic match in Johannesburg. Both the teams had a shot at winning the match, but could not convert due to various reasons – India because their achilles’ heel bowling let them down on the final lap. South Africa also had their achilles’ heel trouble them on the final few yards, their fear of losing.
India had bossed the 1st test for the first four days, mainly due to the heroics from their new No.4 batsman – Virat Kohli. In the very 1st innings, Virat Kohli’s innings was reminiscent of many a knock played by the man he has replaced – The Great One (according to most cricket fans). Fortunately for Virat Kohli and India, the comparison ended right there. The bowlers, led by Zaheer Khan, struck major blows – thanks in no part to that always maligned bowler called Ishant Sharma. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli then batted South Africa out of the game – or so it seemed. Their bowlers could not continue their 1st innings heroics, but they did enough in the end to save the team some mighty embarrassment, with adequate help from Ajinkya Rahane.
South Africa’s problem that came to haunt them was a very familiar one to the objective-minded fans and definitely their critics. Their paralysis in the face of pressure is a very well documented one. Credit to them, then, that they did not let the match be lost, but a draw definitely feels like a loss for South Africa, who were everyone’s favorite to steam-roll the Indians in 4 days. On the positive side, South Africa did end the match very much like the dominant side they have been in tests the past few years.
So what do these teams have to do to seal this “Winner Takes All” contest which has high stakes for both teams? India will have to continue to bat with the maturity Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara displayed – Rohit Sharma, I am looking at you. Their bowlers will have to start it all over again, but that pitch will be less South African and in a very weird way that actually helps the Indian bowlers who will feel more at home. I would actually think India should go in with 2 spinners and 5 bowlers – something that might just help them solve the issues with their bowlers.
As for South Africa, they will need Steyn to hit top gear and Imran Tahir to really earn his spot. Apart from that, they will have to manage their nerves – something they have had success along the lines of Afridi curbing his natural instincts while batting. They will do well to bat with the recklessness Afridi brings – it has definitely done Pakistan good in some big matches.
Prediction: South Africa will get their act just right to give Jacques Kallis the farewell he deserves.
Spoil Sport Alert: Rain forecast for Sunday and Monday.