Call it divine intervention or blame it on global warming, but Ahmedabad received an unseasonal drenching of such severity that players and officials had to flee for cover shortly after 4pm on the second day. Without much warning the skies opened, drenching the ground in a heavy downpour.
Temporarily this brought relief to the Indians, but South Africa’s lead is already 418, and the rains will have signalled a close to their innings. Whenever play gets under way, the rains will only have freshened the pitch – despite the elaborate covers that the groundsmen dragged on in desperate haste – and replenished the moisture. This will mean more purchase for Dale Steyn and his merry men.
The shock of being dismissed for only 76, in a mere 20 overs, will have settled, but the gravity of the mess they have got themselves into was driven home ruthlessly by AB de Villiers who reached an unbeaten 217, about three times the number of runs the Indian team managed.
One of the most over-rated aspects of cricket is how good a batsman looks when he’s at the crease, if you’re looking at the game from the point of view of success and defeat. India’s batsmen are as varied and talented as the country is large and populous. From Virender Sehwag’s uncomplicated driving to Rahul Dravid’s understated orthodoxy, from VVS Laxman’s wrists to Sourav Ganguly’s off-side play, each batsman is different in the manner in which he plays, and a joy to watch.
In contrasts, the South Africans all seem to be cast in the same mould. The proliferation of coaching professionals from England working in schools in South Africa means that there’s a certain sameness to the way they all bat. There’s minimum use of the wrist, a preference to stay on the back foot even while pressing forward to full deliveries and a tendency to play with bat well in front of pad. It doesn’t always make for great viewing, and for this reason it is under-rated. When something is aesthetically pleasing, it is that much easier for the mind to appreciate its value.
Purpose and delivery
The manner in which Jacques Kallis and de Villiers batted, showed that sometimes application is more useful than elegance when it comes to winning matches. The two put on 256 runs for the fifth wicket, crucially seeing off the entire first session.
Kallis’ hunger for runs is well documented, and he’s now less than 500 shy of the 10,000 mark but it was de Villiers who married entertainment with efficiency. Watching de Villiers one rarely gets the impression that a tough game of Test cricket is on. Rather it’s like watching a naturally gifted youngster toying around with his less capable neighbours in a street match. He tucks the ball round the corner from outside the off, he chases after wide deliveries swatting merrily, he manufactures shots to perfectly good balls. This is not to say he does not play proper cricket shots. His cover drive was played with excellent balance and easy on the eye, his pick up shot through midwicket a cheeky act matched by whippet-like sprinting between the wickets.
The shot that epitomised the day’s play came in the 132nd over with Harbhajan Singh attempting to bowl a restrictive line from around the stumps. De Villiers charged down the pitch, got to the ball and slog swept it so hard that it landed on the roof. Tushar Trivedi, who has been the scorer for every international match here since 1983 has never seen a ball hit as far at this venue. De Villiers, who had fallen over playing the shot, enjoyed his handiwork lying prone on the pitch. He was back on his feet soon enough, scoring only the seventh double-century at No. 6, ending the day on 217 with 17 fours and two sixes.
When Kallis tried to shoulder arms after initially offering his bat, and dragged the ball back onto his stumps on 132, India had their first breakthrough of the day. There would be a couple more, with Kumble and Harbhajan snaring one each, but when the rains came down South Africa had an iron grip on the match. Harbhajan, who went past Bishan Bedi’s tally of 266 Test wickets on Thursday, will have to wait longer to celebrate, even if he’s on the verge of another five-wicket bag.