We’re used to life in the fast lane. Ball meeting bat and whizzing by at supersonic speed. Scores of 400-odd in 50-over games not raising eyebrows. Run-rates of 3.75 to 4 pretty much expected in Tests.
So, what we got on Saturday at the VCA stadium was a bit of an oddity, a relic from days of yore — an honest-to-goodness Test match.
The pitch was sluggish, the batting watchful and the fast men (or one really, Zaheer Khan) did the damage early before the batsmen dug in. As the day progressed and wickets didn’t fall, field placements became increasingly defensive, the bowling less imaginative and shoulders drooped.
The contest between bat and ball moved from fascinating, to unequal to mundane. It wasn’t in your face, it was never flamboyant, but it was steady, solid stuff — cricket that unfolds at its own pace, building up anticipation that we’re going to be treated to something special in the days ahead.
For the record, at stumps, South Africa were in the driver’s seat. Jacques Kallis, square-jawed, expressionless and utterly dependable, and Hashim Amla, quiet, unpretentious and content to play second fiddle, had rebuilt the Proteas innings from 6-2 inside the first half hour of play to 291-2. Both helped themselves to handy centuries. For Kallis, the bedrock of South Africa’s batting for over a decade, it was his 34th, bringing him at par with Sunil Gavaskar, watching from the commentary box, and Brian Lara. Only Sachin Tendulkar (45) and Ricky Ponting (39) have more tons.
Watching Kallis stand there imperious, impervious —other than a couple of deliveries from leggie Amit Mishra that turned more than expected, nothing bothered him — makes you wonder afresh why he so seldom comes to mind when people rate the greats of the current game.
To those who point out that Kallis has played only six matches less than Ponting but has over a 1000 runs less, here’s a fact. Kallis also bowls. The world’s best allrounder has sent down 17,370 balls and taken 260 Test wickets at 31.40 and a very handy economy rate of 2.82.
But still we continue to undervalue the South African — possibly because most of us have a penchant for the dramatic, and Kallis is anything but.
South Africa, though, will take that. After all, 17 of Kallis’s 100s have come in winning causes, 13 in draws, and only three in lost causes. India will be telling themselves this needs to be the fourth.
For that, it looks like they’ll need a Zaheer special. It wouldn’t hurt if the wicket gave the spinners more purchase as the match progressed, but as things stand, Zaheer was the only one who looked like he’d get through anyone’s defences.
In the morning, he was lethal. He extracted life from the wicket and troubled Ashwell Prince, forcing him on the back foot, keeping him there, and finally getting him for a duck 20 minutes into the game.
Proteas skipper Smith, who had been cautious, even over-cautious, lasted about eight minutes more. He hesitantly went forward in defence and completely missed the line of a delivery that cut back to take out his stumps. Two down. That’s when Kallis walked in to join Amla and, watched by a sparse but vocal crowd, began the process of rebuilding.
Zak passes Srinath
With two wickets Zaheer Khan went past Javagal Srinath in the list of all-time wicket-takers for Indian fast bowlers. He has 237 but is well behind Kapil Dev, who has 434 wickets.