Why is this Indian team different from ones that preceded it? Simple. They have the wherewithal, or find it, to claw back from any position. Whenever these players have had their backs to the wall, they've responded really well, with courage and fighting spirit.
Which is why I find the way they were treated after the loss in the Nagpur Test so annoying. We, as a people, tend to have over-the-top reactions to losses on the cricket field. We did that again for the first Test.
It mattered not that this was a team that played with no Rahul, no Laxman, no Yuvraj; that there were inexperienced players in the middle who were just stepping into international games, or that they had just played against Bangaldesh. It mattered not that in a dozen or so Tests as captain till then, Dhoni had not suffered a loss. People just went ahead and ripped the team apart.
Just like they ripped apart Harbhajan. People seem to conveniently forget that Harbhajan has been around for 10 years or more, and that he has 350 Test wickets. He was pretty upset with the adverse reactions and all I told him was to take this as another challenge, I'd been through it all too. The five-wicket hauls would come. I told him it wasn’t that he wasn't bowling well. He was perhaps trying too hard.
But it’s very difficult, not letting it all get to you. Let me tell you how this works. When you’ve played so long and done so much in the journey that is your career, there are bound to be challenges. When you start it’s a different challenge, when you’re gaining ground, it’s a different challenge, from your late 20s and early 30s, when you've established your credentials, it’s different.
You have to constantly come up with different ideas, think differently about field placements, use your experience to make judgement calls, take on pressure. In Kolkata, India depended on Zaheer and Harbhajan and once Zak was injured, the onus of making it happen was definitely on the senior bowler left --- Harbhajan.
If the match itself, the best thing India did and SA did not, was score runs. If South Africa had tried to score, perhaps this game would have been over the previous day, but in hindsight, if they had pushed to go past the lead India had, things might have been different. I don't think Australia would have played a defensive cricket.
But like I said, the Indian bowlers need credit. Take Amit Mishra. In the euphoria about the No. 1 status, people forget that Mishy picked up three crucial wickets, Kallis, Smith and de Villiers — calculated players of spin. Mishra supported Harbhajan very well and as he keeps playing, he’ll learn to start winning matches on his own. Sometimes Harbhajan will play second fiddle.
Just a couple of final notes: I wish people wouldn't start talking about how Mishy has to fill my shoes. Don't put him under pressure. He has just started his international career and has all the variations, everything it takes. All the great bowlers talk of changing angles etc but this comes in due course, with experience. Like I said about Harbhajan, it's a constant learning process.
Instead of pulling down our own players, we should celebrate them, stand by this team. They have shown, on the field, that they are special.