Tuesday, December 19, 2006

South Africa vs India - Where To Now?

How does this victory rank with the others? Better than a series win in the West Indies? Maybe. The most significant victory for Indian cricket over the past decade? Most probably.

Although this is likely to be a point of great debate, we must not forget the bigger picture. Sure, the team has shown great resilience in returning with a vengeance after the humiliation of the ODI series. Sure, the old rifts that may have been created as a result of contentious selections have well and truly proven to be a phenomenon of the past. Not even the perennial naysayers would deny that the team has shown great fight during the match to weather difficult storms and come out the other side with their pride well and truly intact.

As well as this group of cricketers have done over the previous four days, many more challenges await in the very near future. Nobody is begrudging the players a few quiet ones, for they have deserved every last drop. However, we and they must not lose sight of the fact that reputations and results are based and judged on the basis of a series, not a single Test match.

A regular commenter on this blog who signs off as "XYZ", has raised the contention that maybe Team India are a bunch of mediocre players who should be labeled over-achievers each time they win a match, rather than under-achievers every time they lose. I have heard this argument before and I cannot help but disagree with the theory and the biases that give rise to it. IMHO, the current team is as talented as any other in world cricket at present. The differentiator between them and the best is in the mind. I am of the serious view that we are witnessing the proverbial turning the corner with reference to the perceived lack of mental fortitude within Team India.

However, the players must be aware that such sentiments can only be quashed with consistent and consistently excellent performances. For mine, the most heartening observation from the demolition act of the first Test was the lack of a single run-away star performance.

Sreesanth's heroics with the ball deserve the highest commendation. However, he would not have tasted success had it not been for the likes of Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan complimenting his wizardry with magic of their own, with complimentary dashes from VRV Singh. Similarly, the batting was a collective effort underpinned by the performances of Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman in the respective innings.

As X suggested, the team can be further improved for the remainder of the series. I believe Wasim Jaffer has the talent to play telling knocks for his country and should/will be persisted with for the rest of the series (especially if they win the next match). However, X makes a valid point in mentioning that VRV Singh needs to be replaced. I do not believe he is quite ready for Test Match cricket. He doesn't have the repertoire of deliveries that will consistently trouble top-class batsmen. Admittedly, he only played because Munaf Patel was injured. India need Munaf back in the side and bowling at full pace - that is when quick bowlers are at their most lethal. I reference this comment with the lack of success of even the most successful quick bowler in history, a certain Glen McGrath, when his pace is less than 130 km/h.

Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised by the gumption and fight that Ganguly exhibited on his return. I do not care how the runs are made, as long as they are made. Ganguly seems to have recently subscribed to this mantra and for Team India's sake I hope it pays rich dividends.

I would still suggest that Jaffer and Sehwag be given net practice on a concrete strip, with a bowling machine. These two are proven performers and deserve to be given every chance to succeed. Their lives are not going to get any easier, with the South African quicks picking up their game and the pitches likely to get faster. The South African camp didn't get the surface they had so publicly called for at the outset and a few harsh words will undoubtedly be offered to curators who refuse to come on board.

Team India has the mental and physical resources to cope with anything the South Africans throw at them. They have won key psychological battles with many of the opposition players - New Zealand proved a few seasons ago just how fallible the South Africans are when the going gets tough.

Congratulations on the victory gentlemen. Savour the moment and accept all accolades graciously. Hold your heads high and make sure you come at your opposition with redoubled fire and intensity. Winning a Test match is great, but winning a series will taste so much sweeter.

(All images courtesy Cricinfo.)

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