It is that tour again. The tour which the Indians traditionally have never liked. They have never won a series in this part of the world and have registered only one test victory here. Ironically, their two most successful world cups (runners-up in the 2003 world cup and winners in the 2007 T20 worldcup) stories were scripted here. However, they know that a test series win in SA will not only justify the number one status of the men in blue but this will be the ultimate achievement for the current crop (with the Aussies not being the dominant force they once were). Each time they make the trans-Indian Ocean journey to the South West, there is a sense of optimism. There is a feeling of having learnt from the mistakes in the past. Admittedly, there has been an improvement in their performances every time they have gone. But every time they have finished second best. Fast pitches, seaming wickets, hostile fast bowling, chin music, Donald, Pollock, Fanie Devillers, Nantie Hayward, Makhaya Ntini, Cullinan, Hudson, Kallis, Gibbs, Durban, Pretoria, Jo'burg, 1992, 1996, 2001, 2006, Mik e Denness and so on..... not happy memories for Indian cricket.
SA had just returned from their darkest period in their cricketing history. The first two tests ended in evenly-contested draws. In the third test, the Indians were struck by the 'White Lightening'.
Having the Indian bowling for Lunch - Rice, Vessels and Cook!!
Allan Donald took twelve for the match as SA romped home by eight wickets to go one up. The fourth test ended in a draw as the hosts took the series by 1-0.
India's next tour to SA had a sense of optimism about it as this series followed a home-series win against them in tests and the ODIs (which also involved Australia). The optimism lasted just one day, when India bowled SA out for 235 on day 1 at Durban. Prasad took five as the Proteas stumbled to a moderate-looking total. The joy was, as I mentioned earlier, short-lived. Indians were blown away by the South African pacemen for exactly a 100 runs. Donald did the most damage with a five-for, including a beauty to sneak between bat and pad of the little master to hit timber.
Lightening does strike twice!
India bowled well again in the second innings to dismiss the Proteas for 259. But the woeful batting effort in the first innings meant that they were chasing an improbable target close to 400. They folded out for a dismal 66 in the second innings, with only Rahul Dravid getting into double figures. Not only did SA won round 1, but they also struck some punches which the opposition found hard to recover from. India went into the second test with a bowling attack(lead by Srinath and Prasad) that was decent but a psychologically-dented batting line-up. The home team won the toss and elected to bat. They knew that if the Srinath-Prasad combination was blunted a huge first-innings total would be inevitable. That is exactly what happened as they declared at 529/7. India, in reply, were in tatters at 58/5 when the captain and former-captain started the counter-attack. Sachin scored 169 and Azhar made 115.
Counter-attacking 169 by Sachin at Cape Town
India's reply was a respectable 359. Bacher's catch to dismiss Sachin was one of the best ever. SA's batting got off to another poor start. But the absence of a good third seamer hit India again. SA declared at 256/6 after being 33/3 at one stage. There were to be no heroics in the second innings for the tourists as they folded for 144. A better performance this time, but hardly anything to write home about.
The third test should have resulted in an Indian victory, but for the weather and a dogged effort from Daryll Cullinan. Dravid's century and Srinath's hostile spell had set India on the road to their first win in SA. But, the rain gods smiled on SA and the tourists were denied a well-deserved victory.
The hosts resumed their domination in the the ODI series that followed, winning all their group games against India and Zimbabwe. The tied match against Zimbabwe at Paarl was one of the highlights of the host-dominated series, with Robin Singh rescuing India from a disastrous position. In a must-win game to reach the final, Sachin restored himself to the top of the order and scored a belligerent century (104 off 97 balls) to set India on their way to a target of 241 (to be achieved in 41 overs to reach the final on a better NRR). The fact that India had to go through on NRR ahead of Zimbabwe tells you the kind of trouble they were going through on the tour. In the final, an inspired Dravid almost took India home. A swept six of Donald by Dravid will be etched in the minds of those few who cared to stay awake to watch the game. India fell short by 17 runs and who knows what the outcome would have been had rain not interrupted and the D/L system not come into play. A loss yes, but signs were there towards the end of the test series and the ODI series that India could compete against SA in SA.
The 2001 'Summer Spice' series. The hopes were high again. After all India had just conquered the world champions, albeit, in their home. The manner of that victory over the Aussies, the discovery of Harbhajan and Laxman, and the newfound steel under Dada's captaincy were three good reasons for the Indian cricket team, and indeed the fans, to believe that they could set their record straight in SA. There was optimism despite the fact that on their recenttour to Zimbabwe, they could only manage a 1-1 draw. The preparations were ideal this time with the ODIs scheduled before the tests. The ODI series (also involving Kenya) could not have started better for India. Sachin and Saurav set India on their way, both scoring centuries, to a huge total. However, SA made light-work of a target of 279. India's current coach, Gary Kirsten, who has tormented them so many times in the past, scored another hundred and took the Proteas home. India reached the final after a few hiccups. But Gary Kirsten continued his domination of Indian bowlers to lead SA to an easy victory.
Tormentor in the past, Mentor now - Gary Kirsten
Then began the test series. In the first test, Sachin and Sehwag, the latter on his debut, helped the Indians recover from a precarious 68/4 with a 220-run partnership for the 5th wicket. But India's total of 379 was made to look small against the hosts' mammoth total of 563.
Another beauty from Sachin- 155 at Bloemfontain
India surrendered meekly in the second innings and SA knocked off the small target for the loss of just one wicket. In the second test at Port Elizabeth, India was forced to change their bowling line-up after they looked pedestrian in the first test. Harbhajan came in for Nehra while Zaheer made way for Agarkar. Going in with just two seamers was a very strange decision, and one fraught with danger. Winning the toss and sending the opposition in showed the confused state of mind the Indians were in, considering the fact that they had just two seamers to exploit the conditions. The only way India could win the test with the two seamers-two spinners combination was by batting first and forcing the issue in the fourth innings. Srinath, however, did peg SA back with regular wickets. SA rode on Gibbs' 196 to reach 362. India struggled in their response and were reduced to 119/8, about 40 runs shy of avoiding the follow-on. A rear-guard action from Kumble and Laxman helped India save the blushes (and indeed the follow-on!). Indians were eventually bowled out for 201.
Leading by example - Shaun Pollock
Srinath and Agarkar, inspired by the spirited fightback shown by Laxman and Kumble, reduced the Proteas to 26/3. Sensing a chance to put pressure on the South Africans, the Indians probably went a little overboard with their appealing. But what was to follow was completely unprecedented, unexpected,and shocking. Mike Denness, the match referee, sen tenced six Indian players for various charges- the biggest one being the ball tampering charges on Sachin Tendulkar. The Indian media and public could not fathom this and there was a national outburst, with effigies of Mike Denness being burnt. This probably created a sense of injustice to the Indian team and made them even more determined to save the test after the hosts had recovered to declare at 233/5 leaving India to chase an improbable 395 in about 110 overs. Gritty efforts from Dravid(87 off 241) and Deep Dasgupta(63 off 281) helped India save the test.
The BCCI threatened to call off its tour of SA unless Mike Denness was replaced as match referee for the Third Test. The ICC supported Denness but the South African board sided with the BCCI's position and replaced Denness, who was not even allowed to enter the stadium, with Denis Lindsay. The ICC declared the match to be "unofficial" and classified it as a "friendly five day match". The series was officially limited to the two matches already completed with SA therefore the 1?0 winners.
SA pummeled India in the unofficial test by an innings a few runs. I thought both teams took the game as seriously as they could and SA were a much better team in those conditions.
Another overseas tour went by without even a test victory, let alone a series win. The tour began with so much promise. But here were the Indians still looking for the elusive test win outside the sub-continent since 1986.
SA hammered an Indian team, which was flying high before the 2007 world cup, to win the five-match ODI series 4-0 (winning by 157 runs, 106 runs, 80 runs and nine wickets). Players like Raina were sent back home mid-way through the tour as they were found wanting against the short-ball (which puts a big question mark on his selection in the first test in the ongoing series).
Suresh Raina - Oops! This is not quite T20!
Dravid's captaincy came under scrutiny. It was history repeating itself and there was a sense of Deja-vu. An SOS was sent to Dada to join the Indian team for the first test to add some experience and steel to the middle order. The former India captain, playing for his life, scored a fighting half-century to help India reach 249. A total, which never looked possible at one point. His contribution looked even bigger when the hosts were bowled out for 84, thanks to a five-for from Sreesanth.
Sreesanth - Jaffer to complete the five-for!
India scored a modest 236 in their second innings, but a sizeable first innings lead meant that SA were chasing over 400. Indians kept pegging away with wickets at regular intervals and a target of 402 was always going to be out of reach despite an impressive 97 from Ashwell Prince. Finally, the Indians celebrated a win in SA, their first one.
'Bhangra pa le!!' - Is this why he was recruited to the Kings IX Punjab
The sudden turn in fortunes made the Indian fans dream again. They were just one test victory away from completing the turn around. South Africans handed a young Morne Morkel his debut in the second test. Indians, who went in unchanged, got off to the perfect start. Zaheer got his bunny, Smith, again before trapping Amla in front. Sreesanth got rid of AB de Villers and the hosts were reeling at 30/3. But a fighting century from Prince, with support from Gibbs and Boucher, propelled SA to 328.
Leading the royal fightback - Ashwell Prince
The problem for India again was, like so many times in the past, the third seamer. Out of a total of 91 overs, VRV Singh bowled just thirteen. The momentum swung back into the favor of the hosts. And when Nel got Sehwag and Dravid early, the pressure was firmly on the Indians. The tourists kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Sachin scored 63. Laxman (50*) ran out of partners for the umpteenth time in his career and Indians were bowled out for 240. India then had SA in trouble at 143/6. But the hosts recovered through Pollock's half-century and declared at 265/8 after rain had intervened their innings. Trying to save the test, India was in trouble again. However, with Dhoni and Zaheer showing some fight, a draw looked possible as the light was fading. But once Dhoni got out, SA got the last two wickets within five overs. As history has it, India would have saved the test had they batted for another five overs. But here they were ruing a missed opportunity just like Kingston some four years ago.
In the third test, India brought in Munaf Patel for VRV Singh and Dinesh Kartik came in for an injured Dhoni. For SA, Morkel and Nel made way for Steyn and Paul Harris, the latter making his debut. India got off to another superb start. This time, they won the toss and the new opening combination of Jaffer and Kartik put on a 153-run stand. The Indians looked like running towards a huge total, but were bowled out for 414, losing their last six wickets for about 70 runs. SA, in reply, scored 373, thanks mainly to their skipper Graeme Smith, who scored 94. Even though the lead was small, Indians were in a good position. At 90/2, they seemed to take control of the match. However, the wicket of Ganguly triggered another collapse and they were bowled out for 169. There was another opportunity for the Indians when SA was 127/4 chasing 211. They failed to grab this one too and the hosts won by five wickets to win the test and with it, the series. India had its moments but could not press on the peddle when it mattered most. They could not stamp the door wide open when they saw it open slightly. They could have saved the second test, even after losing the initiative. There were moments in all four innings of the third test, where they could have shut SA out of the game. On the positive side, they turned around a woeful display in ODI to a much better performance in tests. Also, their performance was much better compared to their previous two tours.
Fought hard without success. Can they win it for us this time?
So, here they go again with high expectations. They are the number one test team now. They have won in Pakistan(2003-04), in New Zealand(2008-09), in England(2006-07), in the West Indies(2006). Can they add South Africa to their cap. January the sixth will give us the answer.
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