India get ready for sterner Tests
In the cold and rain of Belfast, the Indians might just have found the fire that could light up their English summer.
It’s still early days yet, India have played only four one-dayers since leaving Mumbai two weeks ago, but the signs are good. They seem to have weathered the early storm, faced adversity bravely and stared it down. That bodes well for the Tests against England.
Consider this — the team landed in a cold, bleak Belfast right after the heat of Bangladesh and India — a 25°C change in temperature for many! Almost immediately, the camp was hit by the flu that knocked out their bowling guns and numbed the bats.
Reinforcements were summoned from England and India, but the situation was grim, even crushing.
That they stretched South Africa to the limit in the first ODI, and then stunned them in the remaining two, suggests that India just might have found the strength to stem the rot that had set in during the Chappell years.
More than anything else, the team seems happier than it has in the recent months — victories such as the ones in Belfast do much for the team. There is little that seems wrong with a team that wins, problems manifest themselves only when it is losing.
What was most pleasing about the wins in Ireland was the fact that the team looked a carefree, cheerful bunch despite the flu — the players walked about unmolested by fans or hacks, took open-bus tours of the city and then proceeded to whip the Proteas.
All three matches went to the last over; Jacques Kallis pointed out that the teams were equals, but finally, South Africa were left with gloom, India with joy.
Captain Rahul Dravid said at every opportunity that the team is a very happy unit now.
That showed. Tendulkar finished as the Man of the Series after two knocks in the 90s — two innings that were a study in contrast.
The 99 in the first match was a painstaking knock, coming after the Proteas pacers, bowling quick and with accuracy, had taken two early wickets and the team was in trouble.
The 93 in the second ODI was a ferocious knock — the South African attack was calibrated to a mid-pitch length. On and outside the off-stump, they troubled the Indians.
On middle and leg, Tendulkar troubled them; he took out the hook from his arsenal, took the attack to the Proteas and opened the door, which was then knocked down by Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik.
Rahul Dravid played two important innings, 74 in the first match and 36 in the third, which was much more than the number it represented — Tendulkar, Ganguly and Gambhir had gone with just 38 on the board. India needed a couple of men to stay in against the fiery pace of Ntini, Nel, Steyn and Hall.
Yuvraj Singh was the second man. The Punjab southpaw’s 49 and 61 in the last two games, both unconquered, were priceless innings, they ensured two wins and the first ODI series victory over South Africa in 16 years.
Victory went to the team batting second in all games — rain and fear made captains opt to bat second, then their pacemen delivered.
The Indians, bowling first in two matches, used the conditions better. Zaheer Khan was lethal, Ajit Agarkar sensational in the decisive game, Piyush Chawla incisive before he ran into the slogging Kemp and Gibbs. The fielding was good, catches were held.
Three dropped catches in three games is not too bad, at least two were not the simplest. The Indians left with happy memories of the Stormont, their last evening in Belfast lit up by golden sunlight. The sun came, finally, and India were shining.
At Glasgow, thus, the Indians were confident of beating Pakistan. Glasgow was supposed to be colder than Belfast, but that proved to be a rumour - it was the warmest after leaving India, the jackets and woollens were thrown off. The rain remained, and remained long enough to wash out the game.
India, thus, got a break longer than scheduled.
Now come the Tests, but before that the preparation, beginning at Hove on Saturday. Wasim Jaffer, Anil Kumle and VVS Laxman flew in from Mumbai and joined the team at Heathrow in the afternoon.
From there the team travelled by road to Southampton — a confident, happy band of men coming off triumph, headed for further battles with hope.