While all eyes are on Ishant Sharma and Anil Kumble, who will undergo fitness tests on March 10 before they can be passed fit to play in the final South Africa Test in Kanpur, the role of experienced bowlers has been brought into sharp focus. India’s young fast bowlers have been completely unpenetrative in placid conditions.
In comparison, though, South Africa’s quick men have all been successful, even if the credit has largely gone to the exciting Dale Steyn. Morne Morkel has bowl tight lines throughout, not getting much tap even when Virender Sehwag was making merry in Chennai. Jacques Kallis has contributed by breaking key partnerships and helping his captain control the game by keeping one end quiet. But it is the role of Makhaya Ntini that has been most crucial.
Although Ntini has not been as devastating as Steyn, and did come in for some serious punishment from Sehwag in the first Test, his role as the most experienced member of the South African attack has been critical. Ntini has run in hard for long spells, removed some of the most critical batsmen from the opposite side, and generally played a strong role in forcing the direction in which a match went.
Graeme Smith, South Africa’s captain, was quick to heap praise on Ntini even as the South African team enjoyed two well deserved days off in Ahmedabad. “Now that Polly (Shaun Pollock) has retired, Makhaya has taken over the role of being the senior player and the leader of the attack. This has been particularly important as his fast bowling colleagues are far younger and less experienced than he is. Dale has had a fabulous year so far but he needs the leadership that Makhaya is providing,” said Smith.
“Makhaya has been outstanding throughout this series. He produced a critical spell at Chennai when he got rid of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar and got us back into the game. And, again here in the second Test, he got the all important wicket at the start in both innings. He then came back on Sunday to get the key wicket of Dhoni when they were making a fight of things and he then finished off the match perfectly for us.”
While Paul Harris continued to struggle against the Indians, his left arm spin not posing any major threat, South Africa’s fast bowlers have had to shoulder their share of the burden. Between them they picked up 19 wickets in the second Test. “It was the perfect Test match,” Smith said, looking back at the team’s win. “We were in control from the very first ball and the guys never let up for a moment. I am very proud of everybody. It was a true team effort.”
While Micky Arthur, South Africa’s coach, has allowed himself a quiet chuckle looking at the disarray the Indian team is in thanks to injury concerns, he is making sure none of his players worry too much about what the opposition is doing. South Africa, who have travelled better to India than many other teams, are focussed on getting their own plans right, and executing them with minimum fuss, just like at Ahmedabad.