What if, at the start of day two, someone had struck a bargain with India — add 130 runs to the overnight score, in return for the six remaining wickets? Would MS and team have grabbed it? Hell yes. Would they have been right to believe they had struck a great bargain? Hell, yes.
From that vantage point, 362 all out is not a bad score, against the overnight position of 232/4. Another way of looking at it, though, is this: India, yet again, got away only thanks to a random moment of inspiration (or a moment of random inspiration – whatever works); and again, it showed the inability to follow through such moments, to ram the boot home into the gut of a downed opponent.
Thanks to a ridiculously good over by Sreesanth with the second new ball, India had SA down at 272/8. 4 wickets for 40 runs, and the game’s controls were in the tourists’ hands. Till they put on display an object lesson in frittering away the advantage. Like, so: 1. Spread the field as wide as you can get it without actually crossing the ropes, on the theory that it is not just okay, but desirable, to give a single to the lone recognized batsman and “attack” the tail-enders. 2. Bowl both sides of the wicket; eschew the good lengths that had produced dividends and pitch as short as you can without landing the ball behind the bowling crease (okay, that’s an exaggeration — but only just). 3. If you are a spinner, go round the wicket, land on leg and move the ball away down the leg side to “contain”.
A combination of those policies led to SA adding 90 runs for the last two wickets — and that, plus the way Jacques Kallis, who somewhere in course of the morning appeared to have done his hip a bit of no-good, batted brought memories of VVS Laxman at Durban. There are times when, watching an innings, you get the sinking feeling that your side is sinking — and Kallis’ knock was it for me today.
When Laxman bats, I watch with the wide-eyed awe of a kid at his first magic performance. When Kallis bats, I head off to watch paint dry. Not because he is the ‘enemy’, hence boring — merely because there is a sort of majestic inevitability about how he bats, and *that* makes Kallis at the batting crease sub-optimal from a viewer’s point of view. The two have this in common, though: on their day, nothing matters — not the wicket, not the opposition, not the conditions or the state of their team; they bat because they can.
That’s been Kallis, this series — batting, because what else is there to do? Cricinfo made the point in course of its commentary — the man has 398 runs this series. He has 39 centuries — with Ricky Ponting, the second highest tote in international cricket after… never mind who. In four completed innings thus far. And this is despite being desperately unlucky with the run out in the first innings at Centurion, and then getting the ball of the year as follow up.
362 all out, in context of Sreesanth’s early morning heroics, is serious over-achievement by the Proteas. Does it spell the end for India? Not necessarily — but it has exponentially increased the difficulty of winning this Test. 57 overs remain in the day as I write this, plus three more playing days — a total of 327 overs. India needs, optimally, to be 100, 150 up on SA if it is to entertain thoughts of a win. And it needs to leave enough overs remaining to bowl SA out, then knock off whatever the target is. All of that means scoring at better than 3.5-4 an over, for a longish spell.
Give that task a name: Virender Sehwag. On his longevity at the crease rests the answer to the question: will India be able to push for a win, or will it have to rest content with squaring the series. I could be selling the others short — but the fact is, barring Sehwag, none have shown the nous to take the attack to the opposition.
PS: Update on the Indian innings tomorrow morning.