India in SA
Giant SA step to series win
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Dale Steyn (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The Proteas will be terribly hard to stop now, won’t they?GALLERY: South Africa v India, first Test
VIDEO: Jacques Kallis talks about his maiden double ton
When India last visited South Africa for a Test series they caught the hosts cold and complacent and earned a shock victory at the Wanderers, before Graeme Smith and company stormed back to pilfer the spoils 2-1 anyway.
This time, by complete contrast, the Proteas hit the ground running and deserve highest praise for Monday’s crushing, innings triumph at Centurion against the world’s top-ranked side.
This was arguably a top-tenner on the list of most satisfying and clinical Test victories ever by the country against blue chip opponents.
Some 25 minutes on day five was all they needed to complete the inevitable at SuperSport Park, to all intents and purposes giving them a welcome extra day of feet-up ahead of the second Test at Kingsmead on Boxing Day, where prospects of an early series close-out must be considered very rosy.
Of course you must guard against putting the cart before the horse – were the suddenly humbled England perhaps guilty of that in Perth, for instance? – but I do find it reasonably hard to imagine India winning either of the remaining encounters, even if their team has the capacity to grit out a stalemate or two if conditions are to prove fairly benign and less subject to the perils of weather than they were initially on the Highveld.
We had confirmation yet again, in their altogether more resolute second knock, of the known high pedigree that characterises their batting department, with Sachin Tendulkar fittingly fighting unbowed to the team’s death.
But it is their bowling that presents headaches of pretty severe proportions: do they really have the firepower to do the required “20 wickets” job at either Durban or Cape Town, especially considering the ego-battering their four-pronged specialist attack took at Centurion?
That 620 for four which the Proteas posted at a merry old tempo in their only knock was no mere “peg in the ground” (a term used by Shaun Pollock in broad summary shortly after the first Test had ended).
It was more like a dagger straight through Indian hearts.
With Smith’s 62 the lowest score and poor Ashwell Prince at No 6 not even getting a bat in the match, the home nation look a menace indeed with blade in hand.
We are rapidly approaching a situation where the current Nos 3, 4 and 5 for South Africa – Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers respectively – can resolutely be branded the best in those key slots as a combination in the country’s Test history.
Any change to the home batting line-up will only come through injury or illness for the rest of the series, after Alviro Petersen made 77 and put on 111 at the top of the order with his captain to cement his claims to a shoe-in berth as opener.
So clearly the issue that will keep Gary Kirsten, MS Dhoni and company most occupied in the lead-up to Durban is how to make proper inroads into the Proteas’ innings - either first or second! - before it reaches unmanageable proportions once more.
They may even want to consider the slightly extreme step, now that they are firmly on the back foot, of ditching a batsman – it would be the struggling Suresh Raina, of course – in favour of a fifth “proper” bowling option.
Their situation is not helped by the ongoing, glaring lack of a genuine all-rounder of Test quality in Indian cricket, something the Proteas can take for granted through the continued, general zest for the game of “Superman” Kallis.
As it is, the Indian camp will be pinning their hopes keenly on a return to fitness at Kingsmead of their treasured left-arm spearhead Zaheer Khan, a 76-Test veteran who could give them much greater menace if it is humid and maybe often overcast on the KwaZulu-Natal coast.
But even with “Zak” back in the saddle, it is my view that South Africa are going to have to regress with some violence as a batting force if they are to succumb in the second Test.
After all, afore-mentioned Ashes events at the WACA ought to have reminded the Proteas of the damaging effects any swollen-head syndrome can bring.
If they keep their feet so impressively on the accelerator in just about every facet, Smith and his men must be smart money, before this year is out, to render Newlands a dead-rubber affair ...