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Fear of failure and the spin in the tale

With Ashwin not doing well abroad yet again, the question is whether Dhoni will continue with him or replace him. The Kingsmead wicket here has slowed down over the years and supports spin more than any other South African wicket, so Ashwin looks likely to play.

cricket Updated: Dec 24, 2013 00:45 IST
khurram habib
India vs South Africa Live

After battling hard to show they didn’t want to lose, it turned out that neither team wanted to win.

Or, as someone in Johannesburg put it rather bluntly on Sunday night, “Both were scared to lose”.

In times of too much cricket in the shorter formats, and with boards like BCCI hard pressed or disagreeable on allowing every nation a full Test series, such situations may arise more regularly in the future. In fact, India travel to New Zealand next month for what is again a two-Test series.

Playing it safe

At the Wanderers though, no one wanted to risk losing — the India bowlers didn’t target the stumps enough while the South Africa batsmen didn’t bother to connect the ball in the last few overs.

Former players here are of the view that had this been a three-match series, you could have seen a result.

Now, maybe, as AB de Villiers made it clear to the media upon arrival on Monday, it is unlikely the teams will use a safety-first approach come the Boxing Day Test here and will go all out for a win.

BALANCE AN ISSUE

There have been positives from the first Test for MS Dhoni as his batsmen stood up and delivered while his pace attack, considering how lowly it was rated, did well until the last day. But the dilemma of balance has hampered the India skipper.

At the Wanderers, Dhoni went in with seven specialist batsmen, which proved effective as the new inductee, Ajinkya Rahane, came up with impressive performances to help India set South Africa a formidable target.

However, Rahane’s inclusion deprived Dhoni of a bowler against a good batting side in their den. And when he was looking to give Zaheer and Co some rest after their prolonged efforts, he had to turn to R Ashwin quite early on the fifth day.

It was a mistake Graeme Smith had done early in the first Test and, just as it allowed Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to get off the hook, the introduction of Ashwin on a track that had nothing for spinners allowed De Villiers and Du Plessis to settle down nicely.

‘The Ashwin question’

With Ashwin not doing well abroad yet again, the question is whether Dhoni will continue with him or replace him. The Kingsmead wicket here has slowed down over the years and supports spin more than any other South African wicket, so Ashwin looks likely to play. Ex-cricketers here feel the track will help India, who won a Test here when they last toured in 2010-11.

Ashwin has done remarkably well at home and ahead of this Test series insisted he had learnt from his mistakes in Australia.

SECOND TIME COMING

For the record, in the last 23 years since the arrival of Anil Kumble and Co, there have been only two Tests where spinners haven’t taken a wicket. Before this one, it happened in Adelaide in 2011-12. And that too involved Ashwin.

No wonder former India skipper Sourav Ganguly was pretty strong in his views on Sunday night, questioning Ashwin’s ability to perform on surfaces abroad.

But what about Dhoni? Despite being a thinking captain, he kept him on and on, even with an attacking field for the major part.

Perhaps, he may have thought that a wicket will give his offie some confidence and bury the criticism.

If that was the case, then it almost cost India the match.