India face test of character|
Krishnamachari Srikkanth - 06 November 2001
The third day's play at Bloemfontein has seen the Indian bowlers put
up a much-improved display. Javagal Srinath, in particular, was
impressive, but with South Africa having gained a handsome lead, India
will have to fight the good fight if they are to get on top again.
Many of India's woes stem from the fact that the Indian captain and
his bowlers were unimaginative on a placid wicket on Sunday. After a
heroic and magnificent innings from Sachin Tendulkar and Virender
Sehwag, I had expected the Indian bowlers, who have usually done well
abroad, to rise to the occasion. But Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan, two
of the four frontline bowlers, disappointed hugely.
Srinath, in contrast, bowled a good line and length, but then again, I
could not understand why he did not come round the wicket while
bowling to Gary Kirsten. After putting 379 on the board, India
required quick breakthroughs, but Srinath's hesitancy to come round
the wicket meant that Kirsten batted with minimum fuss. The senior
South African opener went on to play another of his efficient innings
before throwing his wicket away to an uncharacteristically loose shot.
Herschelle Gibbs, for his part, was at his belligerent best. The young
South African opener has great hand-eye co-ordination and is one of
the finest of natural stroke-players around today. If Sachin lent the
sparkle on Saturday, it was Gibbs who shone on Sunday.
A century partnership at the top of the order is always a huge boost
to any team, and the fact that Gibbs and Kirsten have put on three
century partnerships in the last three Tests has definitely helped
their side in posting huge totals. I cannot help but speculate how
much it would help India to have a opening pair like theirs.
With the regular Indian bowling proving to be bland, I was surprised
to see Sourav Ganguly take a long time before finally introducing
Sachin. The little champion is a minor magician with the ball and, as
the tri-series final at Durban proved, the South Africans also have
great difficulty in reading him. On Sunday too they had their
problems, handling the little champion's brand of leg-spin. I only
hope that Sourav shows greater faith in Sachin during the rest of the
match, for it might prove crucial on a pitch that is expected to
assist the slower bowlers during the last two days.
Talking about slower bowlers, India definitely misses Harbhajan Singh
a great deal. He was one bowler who could have taken the mickey out of
the South Africans. The home team batsmen haven't read him at all, and
Bhajji's amazing bag of tricks and variations of flight would
have made a world of difference to the Indian attack.
Let me then move on to the most pleasant task of talking about
Sachin's great innings on Saturday. India were in the doldrums when
the little master launched his brilliant offensive. Even a single
mistake from the great man, and a total of even hundred might have
been beyond us. But Sachin kept his head, used his imagination,
finding boundaries where none existed. It was a clever innings, and
only the genius of the man made it possible. I loved the way in which
he deliberately kept guiding the ball over slips and to the third-man
boundary. If you were to ask me, I would rate this knock as his
finest, even above his great knock at Perth in February 1992. The fact
that it gave India a chance to win the first Test of an away series
makes it a very precious knock indeed.
I also liked the way in which Sachin guided Virender Sehwag. It was
good to see him welcome the young man with a smile. Sachin also walked
up to Sehwag at the right moments during the magnificent partnership
between the two, and the young man gave his idol an attentive ear.
Sehwag's hundred proved that he was a worthy entrant to the 'red-
handkerchief club'. The courage and concentration that he showed
during his first innings would have pleased both Jimmy Amarnath and
Steve Waugh, founding members of and, indeed, on the board of
directors of that exclusive club. Sehwag has a reputation for being
one of the most attacking batsmen in Indian cricket, but the way in
which he picked and chose the balls to hit showed a maturity and
adaptability that was laudable in an young man playing his first Test.
When the Indians play their second innings, all the batsmen will have
to show a similar maturity and commitment if we are to make our
electric performance on the first day count. The South Africans have
already built up a handsome lead and will be hoping to build on it and
pile on the pressure. The remaining days are going to test the
character of the Indians and their ability to save the Test, if not
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