What’s Going On India?

10/02/2010

It’s been billed as the battle for the number one position in the Test rankings. Currently India sit top of the table but a series win by South Africa would take them to the top of the log. The Protea’s win in the opening Test takes them a step closer, but an Indian win in the final Test would keep them there for the April deadline, where whoever is leading then gets the cash prize.

So with the series being billed so highly, and with much at stake, surely only the best will do? South Africa has struggled to fill stadiums for Test cricket but the last couple of series, featuring Australia and England have seen record Test crowds show up. But those record crowds are basically half full stadiums each day. Those of us outside India expect to see big crowds for all games. The first Test was very poorly attended and makes me wonder why such a high profile match was not properly assigned? At least we move on to Eden Gardens for the next Test.

The main worry however was the lack of the review system. The ICC wants to make the review system mandatory at all Test matches, and rightly so. Calls for technology to be introduced to ensure the right decisions are reached are always the right way to go. Especially when the match has so much at stake, as this series does. There have hiccups in the trail period of the review system, but that can be sorted by ensuring that all the technology is available for all matches. The South Africa England Series didn’t have hot spot because it was being used in the Australia West Indies and Pakistan New Zealand Series. Everything needs to be used for all matches to ensure parity.

There has been debate about who should pick up the tab for hot spot and the such, with the ICC wanting the host broadcaster to pick up the tab and the host broadcaster wanting the ICC to. My feeling is that the ICC should pay as it is a cricket matter and not a broadcasting one. It would also ensure that the poorer nations would also benefit from the best technology. In terms of India the point is moot. India are the richest cricket board and would have no trouble paying. They make so much from the sport they should be made to put some back in.

But India don’t like the review system and so we aren’t using it. The ICC should insist but everyone bows down to India. India did not have the best time with the review system when they first trialed it and perhaps this is why they don’t want it. England and India are the least in favour of technology and that’s because both haven’t worked out how to use it. England were clueless when they were in South Africa. When South Africa first used it, against Australia, they too struggled with it. But they’ve learned to use it and are fully behind it, ensuring the right decisions are reached. Interestingly as far as England are concerned, they moaned and complained about the review system during the South Africa Series, but had they not been using it England would have lost the series 3-1, with Collingwood being given out on the final day of the Cape Town match before the review should him not out.

India need to embrace the way the game is moving and get used to it as quickly as they can before they are left behind. A problem they face is that their bowlers tend to appeal for everything, so deciding which decisions to review would not be easy. A lot of their play would be called into question and they would be caught out. Maybe this is why they have been so reluctant?

In the opening session of the series, Ashwell Prince, a player under pressure for his position, was given out caught when he didn’t hit it. He looked to captain Smith to review the decision, forgetting that it wasn’t an option. He had to walk. Career defining mistakes can now be rectified and that can’t be a bad thing. It’s all good and well saying that these things even themselves out, but when someone gets a bad decision and is dropped from the team, things evening themselves out offers him little respite.

After all I’ve said Indian captain Dhoni must be commended for walking both times before he had been given out. But the review system is the future of cricket and India need to get behind it. How they can host effectively a Test championship series and not have all the trimmings is crazy and should never have been allowed to happen.

pic from cricinfo.com

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Emphatic and Professional

10/02/2010

After the Protea’s emphatic innings victory over India yesterday you’d think they deserved a day off. Add to that that the win came in 4 days, with a day to spare, and so they were entitled to a day off. Yet they spent their day off having an optional net session. This side is professional.

They’ve come to India to win the series, and with it take over from their hosts at the top of the Test rankings. Yesterdays win, as emphatic as it was, is just a step in that direction. There’s still another Test left and that’s were the focus has switched.

In 2008, this sides defining year, the year they won for the first time in England and Australia, actually began with a drawn series in India. That series, a 3 match series as apposed to this 2 match series, saw a drawn first match followed by an emphatic victory by the Protea’s, one that saw India bowled out on the first day before lunch. On that occasion India prepared a pitch that started as a day 5 one and got worse. The pitch was made to ensure an Indian win and a share of the series. And it worked. Expect much of the same in terms of pitch preparation for this weekend.

The difference between the team that toured two years ago and this one is focus. This team were able to put the backroom problems that engulfed the team, with Mickey Arthur’s resignation mere days before they left for India, behind them and focus on the cricket. They overcame a terrible start, being 6/2, to take the game away from India and dominate an Indian team that hadn’t lost a home Test since the last time the Protea’s toured. It was also the first Test they had lost with Dhoni as captain.

The Protea’s will be unchanged no doubt this weekend, had they lost the Test then perhaps the misfiring Prince or Duminy would have missed out and Alviro Petersen made his Test debut. That’s unlikely now. South Africa will be unchanged and India will make two or three changes in an attempt to draw the series and keep their number one ranking.

This South African team are bettered prepared to deal with spin than any other Protea’s team that has toured. Smith looks to dominate, Prince, who’s more of a middle order batsman and thus faces more spin than openers would, Amla is wristy and sub continental, Kallis can handle anything, de Villiers has great footwork, and although badly out of form at the moment, JP Duminy is also a fine player of spin bowling. This batting line up can dominate all attacks on all surfaces, and having a batting coach like Kepler Wessels in charge there’s no doubt they’ll be well drilled for what’s to come.

As for the bowling attack, we know what to expect from them. Dale Steyn is the best bowler in the world. In only 37 Tests he has 13 five wicket hauls and 4 ten wicket hauls. That’s a terrific record. His strike rate of 39 is the best in Test history for any bowlers playing a decent amount of games. He leads this attack and no matter what the surface he’ll be a handful. Morne Morkel is his new deputy and is coming of age with the added responsibility that goes with being a new ball bowler. Steyns pace and swing together with Morne’s bounce and aggression has the makings of the best opening attack in world cricket. If they continue to go at the rate they are right now. The new kid on the block, Wayne Parnell adds left arm swing to the attack, and with the ageless Kallis regaining his bowling fitness, the attack is looking well rounded and destructive. Case in point the last Test.

Spinner Paul Harris makes up the attack. After a poor series against England he came into this one low on confidence and with questions marks over his place in the team. His second innings figures will do much to restore his faith. He’s often taken for granted and underestimated, and he’ll have no problem with the opposition continuing to do this. He does a job for his captain and does it well. He bowled the entire second session yesterday, and not only picks up the odd wicket, ties the run rate down, but gives the pace attack enough rest so that they can come up with the sort of burst Dale Steyn produced on day 3.

India will fight, and no doubt do all they can to ensure the pitch suits them, but have no doubt that the Protea’s will be ready. The battle for number one continues on Sunday.

pic from cricinfo.com