India in SA

Were the Proteas 'bullied'?

2010-12-30 14:06
India (Gallo Images)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – To suggest that South Africa were the proverbial sissies with sand kicked in their faces would be stretching things a bit.

But let’s put it a slightly different way: the Proteas unusually and indisputably didn’t come out on top against once-frail India in terms of either sledging or bowling aggression in their second-Test humbling at Kingsmead.

Indeed the tourists, who had been so soundly walloped at Centurion, suddenly also seized back the initiative in broad mental toughness, because winning after being on the wrong end of another influential toss took some doing.

It sets up the Newlands decider especially beautifully: the middle there will be no place for the faint-hearted as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side try to extend their new-found “nastiness” and the miffed South Africans presumably go all out to recapture their long-time advantage in that area.

 There is little doubt in my mind that coach Gary Kirsten, with his personal gold mine of knowledge on what makes the Proteas tick and also falter, would have played a far from minor role in India’s “in your face” philosophy in Durban – although kudos clearly must go to the players themselves for having had the fortitude and confidence to actually execute it.

The approach seemed to catch South Africa a wee bit by surprise, and was not absent from the various reasons Graeme Smith’s team played second fiddle against the odds.

Although much of what happens on the pitch also still manages to stay on it (just), it did not take a rocket scientist to work out that the Indians had plenty to say, and a lot of the time.

The returning Zaheer Khan’s feisty, warrior spirit seemed to rub off on all of Sree Sreesanth (although he often doesn’t need any prompting on the verbals front anyway), Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma, among others.

And they did not let up in any way as the South African second innings petered out to a near-inevitable conclusion, Khan still snarling and glaring to the last and also rapping tail-ender Morne Morkel on the armguard with a short ball – a bit of “own medicine” treatment if ever you wished to see it.

Snorter of the match, of course, was also the property of the tourists, as Sreesanth produced a peach of a missile to almost decapitate an admirable elusive Jacques Kallis, although the delivery did enough anyway to account for the kingpin batsman and also send him off for a precautionary x-ray.

There was also, too, the fact that Smith, who had striven so hard to shrug off his Khan bogey in his aggressive second turn at the crease, was suckered to a fair extent into his dismissal at the hands of Sreesanth, fatally mistiming a pull after he had angrily waved his bat at the bowler in a skirmish just two overs from the eccentric tearaway earlier.

Acknowledgement for India’s progress in mental sturdiness at Kingsmead has come on the Cricinfo website from no less a figure than former Proteas head-hunter Allan Donald.

Donald said on Thursday: “This (Indian) team haven’t taken a backward step. They have shown a lot more character than they ever have away from home.

“I always looked forward to playing India away from (their) home because I just didn’t think they had enough fight, but they have shown it here. Character, mental toughness.”

Earlier, in SuperSport commentary during the Durban Test, Donald had lamented the fact that Morkel did not target quite frequently enough the back-of-a-length terrain that caused the departure of Indian opener Murali Vijay when he spliced a vicious lifter from the lanky paceman to Hashim Amla at short-leg.

The chances are pretty good, you would think, that after some honest soul-searching the Proteas will enter the deciding Test suitably refocused, but also with some necessary, constructive steam coming out their ears.

An encounter like this one, after all, is exactly the kind of situation a certain GC Smith tends to revel in, and his likely steel-eyed ambition at Fortress Newlands ought to rub off through the ranks.

It may very well need to ...


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