Proteas in full bloom

With a determined approach, the South Africans have stolen a march over India.-K. R. DEEPAK

The South Africans have managed their limited resources well enough and though India has been hit by injuries to key players, the visitors’ performance has to be given credit. Full marks to Graeme Smith and his men for putting it across the Indians. The results have shown that they were better in the execution of their plans.

I had written in my earlier column that the South Africans had to bat well if they were to nurture any ambitions of winning in India. They got into the Tests after doing away with the lead-up game and the way they have measured up to the challenges is admirable. In a short Test series, it is imperative to wrest the initiative as chances are minimal to make a comeback. The first Test in Chennai was a sort of sparring game between the sides and but for Sehwag’s pyrotec hnics and Rahul Dravid’s determined effort there was nothing much to write home about. However, the South Africans sounded a warning in what was a lacklustre affair by posting a big total first and then regrouping well to trigger an Indian middle-order collapse.

The visitors were not thought of as good players of spin and hence they had to counter the Indian spin duo well enough to get rid of any anxieties. The benign surface at the MAC Stadium came as a Godsend for the visiting top-order batsmen to not only run into form, but, most importantly, blunt the spinners. The lack of bounce and pace meant that the bowlers had to toil extremely hard and though Harbhajan ended up with a five-wicket haul, the confidence of the South African batsmen was enhanced much to India’s discomfort. On some earlier occasions, the South Africans had resorted to defensive measures against the spinners on Indian tracks, but the current batting line-up looked positive and put away anything that was a shade off line and length. They utilised the pace of Kumble to pick up runs and whenever Harbhajan tossed the ball up, they went after him to establish their authority. The counter-attack forced the Indian spinners to try and contain rather than attack the batsmen with close-in catchers.

Neil McKenzie has revelled in this series with his strokeplay. He has provided the South Africans with solid starts and the confidence with which he handled the Indian attack seems to have rubbed off on the rest of the batsmen. McKenzie has always been rated highly in South Africa and but for Smith preferring his experience for the sub-continental tours, age might have gone against him. Amla is another batsman who has come along nicely and with Kallis and De Villiers joining the party in Ahmedabad, the South Africans have little to worry about on the batting front. In contrast, the Indian batsmen have flattered to deceive and the collapse in Ahmedabad was hard to believe. It is probably a coincidence that Tendulkar was missing, but the fact remains that the middle-order failed in Chennai as well.

The collapse of the middle-order was engineered by Steyn and with no quality spinners to trouble the Indian batsmen, the visitors had to pin their faith on the fast bowlers to deliver the goods. Steyn has responded well to his skipper’s call and his efforts in Chennai and Ahmedabad have enabled the South Africans to gain the upper hand over India. He has used the short ball with discretion and in the right measure to set the batsmen up and his wickets in Ahmedabad came from deliveries pitched up. The one that castled Dravid was a beauty. The Indian seamers would do well to learn a lesson from Steyn as he did not allow the docile tracks to deter him and hit the deck hard to extract whatever bounce was there.

Steyn’s hostile spell created a fair amount of uncertainty in the minds of the Indian batsmen and Paddy Upton, the recent addition to the Indian support staff, will need to get into the act and erase the memory of the Ahmedabad collapse from the minds of the Indian players.

The South Africans have achieved their objective of putting runs on the board and creating pressure to rattle the Indians. Before anyone could realise it, the Indians have been pushed into a corner and left to fight with their backs to the wall.

The visitors have once again proved to be a formidable force in India. They have managed their limited resources well enough and though India has been hit by injuries to key players, the visitors’ performance has to be given credit. One can be pardoned for assuming that the track in Kanpur will be spinner-friendly but given the manner in which the South African batsmen have handled the Indian spinners so far, they will be confident of tackling Harbhajan and Kumble even on a turner. Full marks to Graeme Smith and his men for putting it across the Indians. The results have shown that they were better in the execution of their plans.