Monday, Dec 05, 2022

India vs South Africa: Last Test, lasting legacy

On a seemingly sporting track at the Kotla, India have chance to make this a truly historic series triumph.

Virat Kohli, Virat Kohli India, India Virat Kohli, India captain Virat Kohli, Feroz Shah Kotla, Kotla Test DDCA, DDCA Kotla Test, Cricket News, Cricket Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan at the practice session. (Source: PTI)

In June, when Virat Kohli embarked on his first tour as India’s full-time Test captain — to Bangladesh — he made it clear he wanted his team to realign its focus from process to result. With each series, his commitment towards this philosophy seems to have only grown. While Hashim Amla talks about need of winning or losing honourably. Kohli, on the other hand, stresses that winning is the ultimate thing. Often, he seems to suggest it’s the only thing. He wants the team to be ruthless. “We are not satisfied with winning the series 2-0…we want to make it 3-0,” he said ahead of the fourth and final Test against South Africa.

Lately, this unrelenting, single-minded pursuit of victory has seen the team resort to questionable methods. The pitch in Mohali was a vicious tuner. And what passed off as wicket in Nagpur was downright diabolical.

But Kohli doesn’t subscribe to the sanctity of means. End is what people remember, he says. “If in a team sport, you don’t win, people will talk about your numbers for a while, but in the end it all boils down to how many times you have been a part of a winning team.”

Perhaps he is right, too. In many cases, after a considerable passage of time, people tend to remember what happened in a match, and not how it happened. During the 1956 Jim Laker 19-wicket Test, in which England defeated Australia by an innings and 170 runs, there was a furore about the Old Trafford pitch.

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Says the Wisden Almanack report from that Test: “The controversy arose over the preparation of the pitch and for days cricketers, officials, critics and the general cricketing public could talk of little else… Accusations were made that the pitch had been prepared specially for England’s spin bowlers and these were denied by the Lancashire authorities. The Australians were said to be extremely bitter over the condition of the pitch, but their captain, Johnson, declined to comment on the subject.”

Six decades later, most remember the record and the result, and few can recollect the controversy. Closer home, the questionable umpiring by AV Jayaprakash in the 1999 Anil Kumble 10-wicket-an-innings match at Kotla is but a footnote.

But here is the thing: Kohli is not willing to wait for decades. He wants due recognition for what he calls a historic win, now.

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“I don’t want to talk more about pitch, a lot has been said about it. It will be better if people talk about cricket’s positives. What the team has achieved and gained. When the team wins we should get support from all quarters. People always look to criticise the team. I don’t understand this. I don’t see any wrong in any kind of wicket that we play on,” he complained at the pre-match press conference. He became grumpier still when a journalist asked why there had been only two half-centuries from the Indian team in the series even though they were facing a weaker spin attack.

“Sir, we are prepared to face anyone anywhere,” he replied. “I don’t understand why we are sitting here and not talking about the fact that we are 2-0 up in the series. Again we are trying to criticise our players and bring out their weaknesses. We know that, and we are working. We are international cricketers. We are not here to hide away from any mistakes, but if that is the only thing that’s gonna be raised in press conferences and debates, then as a cricketer you don’t find any sense to answer those questions after a while. So I think it will be good if we can appreciate what the team has done.”

Hollow wins

The fact is, at this moment, India wins in the series — especially the one in the last match — ring hollow. It will take time for those pitches to erode from public memory. Or to forget the fact that their accomplished batsmen struggled to put bat to ball in a manner not different from South Africa’s. With 39 runs in four innings, what positives, one might ask, would the talented Ajinkya Rahane take away from the series — save perhaps his slip catching? Kohli himself hasn’t had the best of series. Lack of runs thanks to such wickets can have unintended consequences. It could put a few doubts in batsmen’s minds next time. It can chip away at their confidence. Old issues that were put away can sneak back in. It may not be a coincidence that Kohli old problem outside the off-stump appears to have resurfaced during this self-inflicted lean phase.

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There’s also the question of what legacy such manufactured, uni-dimensional wins leave behind. Can the spinners’ wickets make up for the batsmen’s lack of runs? To take the argument further, in the long run, can such results alone foster winning mentality?

India can still redeem themselves. In a paradox, the wickets in Mohali and Nagpur might have sealed the series in favour of India, but they have also ended up making the Delhi Test relevant in a different way. With the pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium looking better than any the series has witnessed so far, it would be interesting to see if India can get the better of South Africa here.

As Amla cautioned, “anything can happen overnight”, but if the wicket remains what it was on match eve, it could give us a fair idea as to how the series would have panned out had the 22-yard playing field been a bit more level.

Among other things, with no Test match lined-up for the next six months, it could also give India’s misfiring batsmen a chance to show they are better than what their tally in the series has suggested.

For South Africa, too, it is an opportunity to restore their pride.

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“We’ve got the England series very close, almost two weeks,” said Amla. “It’s very important for us to get back to winning ways. That’s probably the key to it. It’s very important for us to go at least 2-1, salvage some pride. Also, we came to India almost two and a half months ago, had a largely successful tour in terms of winning the T20 Internationals and the ODIs, so it would be good to cap off the tour with a win.”

If it goes the other way, and India indeed make it 3-0, they will rise to No.2 in the Test rankings. But more importantly, they will have risen without having to stoop low.

First published on: 03-12-2015 at 01:53:54 am
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Ind vs SA: Results don’t justify our preparation, says Hashim Amla

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