Stalemate

Statistically speaking, Dale Steyn has dismissed Viru Sehwag more often than any other bowler in the business. He has done that by implementing to perfection a simple plan — prey on the Indian opener’s impetuosity by keeping the ball outside off, to varying degrees, and challenging Sehwag to go after him. Steyn can now legitimately claim the Indian opener as his bunny. Or can he? The best comment on Sehwag I’ve seen in a long time came from my friend Siddarth Vaidyanathan (@sidvee on Twitter — are you following him yet?):

  1. Sidvee
    sidvee Sehwag is his own bunny


With Sehwag falling to his own headlong momentum and Rahul Dravid, in his 150th Test, continuing his nightmare run (cricketers say it is almost axiomatic that when you are going through a bad patch, everything that could possibly go wrong, will — Dravid on this tour is proving to be the perfect example), there was the distinct possibility that India would fall to its own demons. What saved the side its collective blushes was some gritty batting by Gambhir and Tendulkar, some fairly ordinary catching by the Proteas, and a moment of generosity from the umpires who decided to give Tendulkar ‘benefit of doubt’ against Harris.

While on that last, I wonder how long it will take the South African media to speculate on whether the umpire was drunk the night before — as it did famously after the Durban Test. That was easily the WTF moment of last year — a defeat on the back of a spectacular first innings collapse (during which the umpires, please note, were not drunk — SA’s intoxication with its own success was solely responsible for the pathetic 131 it put up), and media reports immediately following that the umpire in question was seen inebriated the night before the Test began. Rather strange case to make, that intoxication led to bad decisions five days later — surely the longest lasting hangover in history. What made it funnier still, in a WTF kind of way, was the build up — players were supposed to have seen the drunk umpire, the manager was supposed to be filing a complaint, and then after all the hoo-haa, turned out no complaint was ever filed.

In any case, if the team manager had heard of this incident before the Test started, surely it was the act of a responsible official to bring it to the ICC’s notice at once, and not after the result of the game was known?

Back to the cricket. The pitch has been easing out steadily since around the third session of day one (which makes Sreesanth’s early morning heroics of day two all the more commendable); if the weather holds, day three should be the best batting day of this Newlands encounter. Against that, Steyn and Morkel showed the advantage of an extra yard or ten of pace on a benign wicket, repeatedly hustling Gambhir in particular with bounce at pace. On this track, that is just about the only tactic South Africa has at its disposal, so today’s play should see more of the same.

The real danger, though, comes from Tsotsobe, the “holding” seamer who has been the recipient of Indian generosity in previous matches. The batsmen seem so focussed on negating Steyn, and Morkel to an extent, that they tend to relax against the third seamer — who on the day saw two good edges go to waste (when Prince failed to go for a catch off a Tendulkar edge, and when de Villiers of all people dropped Gambhir towards close of play).

The other possible problem — and this is a peculiarly Tendulkar problem — comes from Paul Harris. Sachin has in this knock shown a tendency to pre-judge how he will play the spinner — a big stride forward, bat religiously in front of pad, angled to work the ball to leg through the close cordon. The risk is that he will miss, and be LBW — and but for the umpire’s largesse, that is how he should have perished late yesterday evening.

At the end of day two, the game is deadlocked — and on balance, India is better placed to prise it open. South Africa has a problem — it will have to bowl this morning with a ball already 50 overs old, on a pitch becoming increasingly good for batting. Its best chance is to let Steyn and Morkel bowl flat out — but there is a limit to how many overs the two quicks can bowl at a time. Smith has to conserve their energies by using Tsotsobe and Harris for extended periods (and he has no Kallis to fall back on). All things considered, advantage marginally India: lose wickets early and the tourists are back on the back foot; ride out the early spurt from the Proteas quicks, and Sachin, Gambhir, Laxman, Pujara and Dhoni can look to milk the two lesser bowlers, with a view to taking the lead well before play ends today.

Sorely tempted to borrow from Ravi Shastri’s playbook and say “Today is going to be critical” — but then, I don’t recall any Test where every day wasn’t critical (unless India is playing Sri Lanka on a featherbed), do you?

 

Advertisements

24 thoughts on “Stalemate

  1. I dont know why do you think Dravid is in poor form. Didnt he just hit 2 centuries against the Kiwis? He has always been a suspect against good bowling. Only 4 centuries of his 31 have come against SA and Australia home and away. 2 of those, his partners scored 19 runs either side of 300, one was against not a first choice attack in Adelade and one was once upon a time. He averages 30 in SA and the series was on par with his skill and talent.

  2. A series between the best 2 teams in the world needed UDRS. Even if we win this test, there will be question marks because of the number of decisions that seem to be going against SA.

  3. point being whom do you replace Dravid with ?
    They tried Raina – we know how that went – now this pujara experiment is going on. I wish they atleast had another spinner in place of pujara, for the enormous amount of runs he scored.

  4. Prem, interesting bit about Dravid. Knives seem to be out for him.
    Do you think it’s just a bad patch ? Or, is he done ?

    • on Dravid he scored a couple of centuries a few matches back,in the first two matches he didnt look uncomfortable .He is the best judge of his own situation.India play a lot of tests next year and he could retire after them.

  5. Hi Prem,

    First: really great to see you back to blogging! Cheers!

    IMHO you’re being too critical of the umpire in relation to the SRT lbw appeal. I don’t think its was the umpire’s largesse at all, but was in fact a goo decision. If you take a look into the replays, less that 1/4th of the ball struck the leg stump. Even under the UDRS that would have been not out.

    Eagerly awaiting more posts from you.

    • Not so sure, actually — it doesn’t matter if the seam strikes the stumps, for all practical purposes. And as I recall that review, the ball was hitting middle and outside of the top of leg, not even a case of clipping the bail. More to the point, in real time, the way he was struck, with his leg on middle and the leg stump not showing, on a track without tennis ball bounce off length, I was the umpire I’d have raised the finger at once.

  6. I think you are oversimplifying the battle between Steyn and Sehwag. When bowling to Sehwag, other bowlers have tried keeping the ball outside off to varying degrees and have been lashed around the ground. Steyn’s pace and late movement have definitely unsettled Sehwag. Sehwag may be his own bunny when facing Paul Harris, but I think Steyn deserves a lot more credit than that.

    • Not taking credit away from Steyn, and I agree that others have tried it too; Steyn’s added pace messes with Viru’s timing. The only reason I mentioned Sid’s comment is because the ploy has been fairly evident from the first innings of the first Test, but through this series Viru hasn’t made any attempt to counter it.

      For instance, on an earlier tour of Aus, McGrath employed a similar strategy against Sachin, got him out in the slips or covers a couple of times. Then Sachin studiously avoided the cover drive — that is to say, any attempt to address the ball outside off — and wore McGrath down, forced him to change his line to closer to the stumps, and when the bowler did that, took him to the cleaners. Viru, by way of contrast, has been aware of the Steyn trap but kept walking into it anyway. Which is not to deny Steyn credit for the way he has bowled.

      • Sehwag has been very successful in tests w/o footwork and it works as well against all bowlers,maybe it doesnt work when the conditions are seaming and combined with pace,I do remember him doing well against Steyn in Indian conditions,so the pace is not the issue,it is the conditions.Maybe if his footwork was a tad better he would have handled the conditions better,but then he may not have been the Viru we know

      • Agreed. SRT is a master at reading the conditions (pitch/weather), the match situation, the bowling attack he is up against and adjusting his game accordingly. The match you are talking about is Adelaide 99, I think. Remember a couple of occasions when he took the bowlers on, realizing that the pitch/conditions would get him out sooner, rather than later: 40 odd vs West Indies on a crazy pitch in an ODI in 97/98 and a 40 against McGrath in Nairobi. My favourite ODI innings of his was a 95 against Asif et al on a seaming track in Lahore where he blended aggression and defence beautifully (even RSD struggled that day). At the other extreme was the monkish self-denial in his innings of 241 at Sydney.

        I think Sehwag just needs more time to adjust to different tactics and can’t adapt his game “on the fly” like SRT. His approach worked well until 2006 (roughly) – when England worked him over with short balls (fending to gully) or inswingers (bowled through the gate). He then got dropped after the SA tour, remodeled his game and played beautifully from 2008 to 2010. This shows that he is a smart guy willing to work on his game. Hopefully, he goes back and figures out an answer to this problem too.

      • Agreed. SRT is a master at reading the conditions (pitch/weather), the match situation, the bowling attack he is up against and adjusting his game accordingly. The match you are talking about is Adelaide 99, I think. Remember a couple of occasions when he took on the bowling realizing that the pitch/conditions would get him out sooner, rather than later: 40 odd vs West Indies on a crazy pitch in an ODI in 97/98 and a 40 against McGrath in Nairobi. My favourite ODI innings of his was a 95 against Asif et al on a seaming track in Lahore where he blended aggression and defence beautifully (even RSD struggled). At the other extreme was the monkish self-denial in his innings of 241 at Sydney.

        I think Sehwag just needs more time to adjust to different tactics and can’t adapt his game “on the fly” like SRT. His approach worked well until 2006 (roughly) – when England worked him over with short balls (fending to gully) or inswingers (bowled through the gate). He then got dropped after the SA tour, remodeled his game and played beautifully from 2008 to 2010. This shows that he is a smart guy willing to work on his game. Hopefully, he goes back and figures out an answer to this problem too.

        • Apologies for the duplicate messages. The formatting on my browser totally confused me. Could you delete the second message?

    • I know. Unfortunately, I also have to earn a living — not able to spend my days and nights watching domestic and international games, hence no comment 🙂

  7. Another Tsotsobe delivery that was edged and went down was the delivery that Dravid was run out on after Gambhir was dropped.

  8. Had the feeling that SRT and GG kind of missed the plot. 35 runs in the last 20 overs. 44 runs in the 10 overs prior to that. It was ‘deja vu all over again’. Cape Town, decider, Paul Harris, Lord Harris. With a little more enterprise, could they have ended at say 180 yesterday given Kallis’ absence and be in a position to drive it in today?

    • In a sense, yeah, but I thought the bowlers figured out the danger and bowled just the kind of lines and lengths they needed to, to make run-scoring very difficult. I suspect we will get more of the same today, so the game for India is about attrition — the longer space between wickets, the more they tire the bowlers, the easier it will get. But outside of Viru, don’t see anyone who can force the issue here. So they likely have to go with what they can do best — fairly cautious accumulation. If the team goal is to be 150+ in the lead by say the 4th day morning, we’ll have done well. Also, if GG, SRT and maybe VVS can accumulate at around 3, 3.5 through the first two sessions, it will set it up for Dhoni to have a go at a tiring lineup in the final session.

Comments are closed.