x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Despondent Smith blames batting for setback

India levelled the series in dramatic fashion by winning the second Test by 87 runs despite losing the toss.

India ripped through South Africa's middle and lower order to win the second Test at Kingsmead.
India ripped through South Africa's middle and lower order to win the second Test at Kingsmead.

If one picture could tell you the story of how Indian cricket’s fortunes have changed in three years, it would be that taken at Kingsmead at 9.58am on Wednesday.

Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who had tested his captain’s patience in the last game by taking an age to bowl his overs, pitched one just short of a length to Jacques Kallis.

The ball spat up like an angry cobra and it said much about Kallis’s skill that he jackknifed and managed to get a glove to it before it rearranged his features.

The ball lobbed up gently to Virender Sehwag at gully and four wickets down with another 180 to get, South Africa were out for the count. And, after years of their batsmen copping punishment from opposition quicks, an Indian pace bowler was dishing it out.

Within another three-quarters of an hour, the game was effectively over, with two ordinary umpiring decisions upsetting a South African side that had no recourse to reviewing by camera after India’s refusal to use the available technology in this series.

AB de Villiers, whose century had inspired a famous win at Perth two years ago, was adjudged leg before to Harbhajan Singh. Replays suggested that the ball may have cleared the stumps. Minutes later, it was not Asad Rauf, but Steve Davis that was the centre of attention.

This time, Mark Boucher was struck on the back pad deep in his crease and though the ball did not appear to deviate enough to hit off, he too was on his way.

Resistance came from Ashwell Prince, who made a century against India in Durban on their last tour, but with the bowlers chipping away on a surface where the odd ball always did something, India were never close to the panic button.

Paul Harris and Morne Morkel delayed the inevitable, helping Prince take the game into a second session, but Zaheer and Ishant Sharma summoned up good deliveries to send them on their way.

When Cheteshwar Pujara showed tremendous reflexes at short leg to run out Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who had overbalanced while flicking one off the pads, it was all over.

For South Africa, it was a third successive loss at Durban. After being rolled over for 138 and 131 by Australia and England, they were skittled for 131 on the second day to hand India the initiative.

“I think we probably lost the Test match on day two,” said Graeme Smith, the captain. “I don’t think it was a 131 wicket. Getting bowled out for that wasn’t good enough.”

There was also some degree of irritation at the decisions that went India’s way, hastening the slide to an 87-run defeat. “The ICC needs to take responsibility for that,” he said. “They need to lead the way. They can’t leave it up to boards to negotiate.”

On a pitch where some of the world’s finest batsmen struggled, VVS Laxman was predictably named man of the match, after innings of 38 and 96. “We always count on Laxman,” said MS Dhoni after sealing his 14th win in 23 matches as captain.

“It was one of those wickets where it was quite tough to convince yourself that you’re set because one odd ball may do something and get you out. At the end of the day, the 96 runs that he made mattered.”

Smith and South Africa have now squandered a lead in three consecutive series against India.

There’s unlikely to be much grass on the Newlands pitch for the New Year Test, and bowlers on both sides could find life a lot harder.

For now though, India can bask in this success, though Dhoni could not resist a small dig at Sreesanth’s state of mind. “You always need to have him under control,” he said. “It’s good for everyone, not only for him, for us, for our side, for the opposition, for the umpires and the spectators.”

As long as he comes up with game-changing unplayable deliveries though, the complaint will always be accompanied by a smile.