Holding on to your wicket has become a lost art

Written by: Sunil Gavaskar
Published: Monday, March 6, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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South Africa completed a massive victory over India to win the Test series. Not that there was any doubt that they would win after dismissing India for 158 in the first innings on the first day itself. That the match went to the fifth day was due to South Africa continuing to bat and not declaring their innings.

Though in the end they won the game quite comfortably, Cronje's decision to subject his main bowler Allan Donald to the possibility of a finger injury on a pitch where the ball was bouncing awkwardly made little cricketing sense.

With a lead in excess of 300, there really was no need to take that risk, for if the bowlers had been injured, it would have substantially reduced the chances of South Africa winning the game. Or perhaps Cronje knew that even with two bowlers he could bowl India out and so was not concerned much about the possibility of an injury to his bowlers.

The way the Indians batted again in this innings showed that their confidence is at the bootlace level. Dravid is struggling and so is Ganguly. But because the latter is the new captain, not much has been made of his failure in this series, while Dravid's problems have been highlighted much more. Tendulkar was lucky that he got out in the manner he did in front of the more tolerant Karnataka crowd, for if he had done the same in Eden Gardens, then who knows what might have happened.

Indian teams in recent times have just not been able to bat for a day or more to save a match. Perhaps it is too much one-day cricket where just about every ball is to be scored off and so the art of leaving the ball around the off-stump is slowly being lost and forgotten.

The poking at the deliveries around and outside the off-stump with an angled bat, keeping the slip fielders on their toes, has been a regular mode of dismissal and this is a legacy of too much one-day cricket. Still, the fact that it seems to happen to Indian batsmen more than other batsmen is a pity, for there are few to match the technique of Indian batsmen in recent times.

Apart from Cronje who extended his side's innings well into the fourth day and did not let loose his pace attack on the Indian batsmen looking dog-tired on the third evening, the other player who took the match into the fifth day was Mohd Azharuddin.

What a comeback it has been for him! Out to a real snorter in the first innings and questions being asked about his ability to play that kind of bowling cropping up again with that dismissal, he let the world know that at the end of the day, it is runs on the board that matter and not technique.

Mixing caution with aggression, he hung on to score a century to save India from total humiliation and gave the crowd something to cheer about and some hope for the one-dayers that follow. That is not going to be an easy series either, for the South Africans are a terrific one-day team with their fielding adding a sharper edge to their bowling, even though Donald will not be part of their attack.

For India to have any chances, they have to only look at Mohd Azharuddin and his motto: 'Believe in yourself when just about everyone else has lost faith'.

Congratulations South Africa, and Well done, Mohd Azharuddin!

Professional Management Group

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