It is time to think of the Eden Test and not brood too much over the negatives thrown up by India’s embarrassing defeat at Nagpur. The stinging criticism of almost everyone connected with the team is understandable and I don’t want to add anything more to what has been already said and written. Instead, I come here not to bury the team but to dig out two exceptional batting performances out of the debris left behind by the South African ambush of the Indians.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Dayle Steyn’s swing bowling was simply exceptional, which made most of the batsmen look like novices, unable as they were to read his movement. Morkel was not far behind and Paul Harris’ use of the rough, forcing batsmen to succumb to the temptation of sweep, was a tactical masterstroke, which stung India badly. Seldom has a negative line produced so many positive gains for a team, as Harris’ left-arm spin did on the fourth day.
His most celebrated wicket was that of Sachin Tendulkar, who had by then constructed an innings which could have been remembered as one of his most meaningful knocks ever, crafted with a lot of tactical care and focus to counter the menacing attack. Today, this knock will be known as one of the numbers — 46th — in his collection of 100s. And this would, I guess, hurt him the most.
Why do I say this?
Consider the backdrop to his second innings arrival at the crease. He had looked in good nick in the first innings, till Steyn foxed him with a disguised outswinger, lulling him into repeating a drive, which Tendulkar had played successfully in the previous over. The consequences this time around were fatal for the batsman.
What was Tendulkar’s response in the second innings? He just refused to take the bait and cut out the drive completely from his shot selection. He had done a similar thing in the 2004 Sydney Test, refusing to play one of his most productive strokes, which on that tour had led to his demise a few times. The amazing part is that despite imposing this severe restriction on himself, which curtailed his run-making ability, he went on to score a double hundred then.
He resolved to do the same here, executed it to perfection, showing that he has neither lost his mental powers nor the fierce will to succeed, despite having added five more years to his life.
How ironic that after having triumphed in executing so well the most difficult part of his plan, he became a helpless victim to a sweep-stroke, which at most other times would not have resulted in a dismissal.
This now brings me to Virender Sehwag’s first innings knock. Unlike his mentor, Sehwag did not curb any of his attacking shots but chose to play them a bit more carefully. And despite the ball moving and darting around so regularly that most other batsmen were searching for it, Sehwag played one of his more assured hundreds. If you take this innings in the context of the match and the quality of the bowling, this must surely rank as one of the most outstanding knocks of his.
The SA bowling is a searing challenge to test the best. What a pity that Rahul Dravid has to miss out playing this series.