So I made a New Year resolution, to blog every day (and to apologize for the prolonged absence late last year, during which many of you apparently came, repeatedly, looking for updates. Sorry — life happened).
On second thoughts… the resolution is to blog every working day.
Actually, second guessing the second thoughts, it is to blog every working day that I am actually at my desk.
Oh hell — let’s just say, to blog more regularly, and leave it at that.
Here, for now — with plans to migrate the blog to a Yahoo platform at the earliest opportunity. Details of that, as and when it happens.
Meanwhile, it’s great to start the year with a Test — a meaningful one against a quality opponent. Perfect kick off to the next 12 months which, besides distractions like the World Cup and the IPL, contains away tours of England and the West Indies.
Day one of the Newlands Test (kicking back and watching the play was the perfect start to the year; having to return to the work station today is not quite so perfect) was a bit of a curate’s egg — patchy excellence where sustained brilliance was called for.
MS winning a rare toss was the best way to start. Bowling first? I’m personally not convinced it was an attempt to give the Indian bowlers the best conditions — the decision seemed to be influenced, at least in part, by Dhoni’s desire to spare the batsmen the pain facing Steyn and Morkel on a seaming track in overcast conditions would entail. Hence my comment on Twitter at the time of the toss:
I hope, when MS opted to bowl, that he calculated the advantage of 2 hours good bowling conditions against chasing over 200 in 4th innings.
Nothing I saw in the day’s play caused a revision of that initial thought. Zak bowled with his usual competence, and got Smith out yet again to the ploy of moving the ball away consistently, each time drawing the batsman further across the stumps, before bringing one back in sharply to trap the Proteas captain in front. You’d have thought, given the number of times Smith has fallen to this trap, that he would have worked out an antidote by now — but no.
On a wicket without the bounce of Durban, and with just enough cloud cover and sub-surface moisture to help the bowlers move the ball in the air and off the wicket, the heartening bit was that all three Indian seamers hit the optimal fuller length. Not so heartening though was the fact that they seemed to have misplaced the edge they had found in the second Test — there was a pacifist quality to their bowling, and how much of it is the result of MS publicly reprimanding Sreesanth for kicking over the verbal traces is anyone’s guess.
There is no denying that the Kerala pacer tends to overdo things. This, after all, is the guy who explained his behavior by saying he was merely attempting to see “how far he could go” — apparently his motormouth tendencies are motivated by a spirit of scientific inquiry.
The Sreesanth story follows a predictable cycle: He makes it to the team. He is on his best behavior. He gets a few wickets. He loses his head. He behaves in execrable fashion. He gets a final warning — the latest of many such final warnings. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a pity, really, because the lad is a good talent, if he could be persuaded to focus on his already excellent skills.
All of that said, I am not sure MS should have taken his grouse to the public forum, and spoken to the media about his strictures to Sreesanth — that is a conversation that should have been confined to the dressing room, preferably in the presence of the coach, Zak, and some of the senior players. To publicly excoriate a player in that fashion was surprising — and unless I am misreading the signs, it appears to have cast a dampener on the ebullience of the entire bowling unit. Through the day, there were brief glimpses of quality from Zak, Sree and Ishant — but not the sustained intent, the aggression, that could have helped India utilize the toss to optimal effect. The bowling — and strangely, even the in-out field setting — was indicative more of a desire to contain, than to smash through — and at close, the unbeaten 68-run Prince-Kallis partnership, and the score of 232/4, meant South Africa had done far better than they had any right to expect after losing four top batsmen, including the prolific Amla and de Villiers, relatively cheap. (Keep in mind that the average first innings score in Newlands hovers around the 235-240 mark).
The most inexplicable aspect of the day’s play was the sustained use of Harbhajan as a defensive, ‘holding’, bowler. At no time did MS look to attack with his “star spinner”; the fields were routinely set to contain; the lines Harbhajan bowled reflected that desire, and the upshot was that neither could he break through, nor did he contain (his personal run rate of 3.03 is merely a fraction below the Proteas overall run rate of 3.13).
An ideal (from the Indian point of view) situation would have seen the Proteas end the day 5/6 wickets down, for just around 200 — absent such a result, the advantage of the toss is nullified. As matters stand, India has a brief window of opportunity when play resumes today — an hour, max, to knock over Kallis, Prince and Boucher and ensure that SA ends up with a sub-300 score. The trap for India now, though, is the choice of bowlers to take advantage of that first hour — the ball is 74 overs old, and if Dhoni lets two of his seamers lead the attack in the first hour, they will begin to tire by the time the new ball becomes due. If on the other hand he opts to bowl one seamer and Harbhajan in tandem, the likely result will be to allow Prince and Kallis to settle back in, and set themselves for a big partnership in conditions that, as the pitch dries further, will favor batting.
To borrow from the Ravi Shastri template for a moment — “the first session will be crucial”. For once, the cliche is true. See you back here at lunch, with a quick update.
And again — here’s to 2011; may it be the best year ever.