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SA vs India & the cruel beauty of a bowler's wicket

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Facing_Dale_Steyn_Cricket_fast_bowlingThe recent South Africa vs. India Test series was many things to many people. It was an example of home teams continuing to dominate in the Test arena; it provided a chance for people to say India aren’t a real no.1 Test nation; it was a horrid time for South African groundsmen; and it was a reminder that the Proteas are struggling with their middle order.

A snapshot of the Twitter conversations throughout the series gave us all the above and more. But to steer away from back and forth arguing over the many debatables, I think it is worth elaborating on the most important takeaway from the series: bowler’s wickets make for great Test cricket.

 

Everything in cricket nowadays seems to be about batting. It is seen as the thing that will bring people to the stadiums, and this may be true. Through this entire Test series, however, I was absolutely fixated on the action as it resembled true Test cricket to me. The new ball got to talk, and the fielders felt something was always about to happen. Batting was difficult, and runs were fought for at every stage. It was the epitome of a contest.

 

Newlands started with India ripping thought the SA top order. AB de Villiers then hit back with an innings that was nothing short of pure class. It wasn’t a well measured century that we have come to applaud in this format of the game, it was a forceful 50 that fought fire with fire and turned the balance of the game.

India bowled themselves back into the contest later on, and felt they were a few sessions away from a famous victory, but a superhuman effort from Vernon Philander secured the victory for the home team. The match was always in the balance, and could have gone either way.

The second test at Centurion was a much stranger Test, with the groundsman seemingly offering a surface more conducive to the visitors. Runs flowed early for the home team, but the Indian bowlers pulled things back. Adaptation became the name of the game, with Virat Kohli – the master of that – scoring an incredible 150. Batting became more and more difficult at a ground known for high totals, and with 287 to get in the 4th innings; the unfavoured visitors still had a chance. It wasn’t to be for them, but the game was competitive for large parts.

This then brings us to the final Test, where a fast and fiery pitch was expected. With India 8/2 early in the first session it delivered on the hype. The batsmen dug deep though and stuck it out to eventually post a decent total. Decent, as the pitch was only going to get tougher to bat on. The two teams were separated by 7 runs after their first knocks; it was then down to grinding out every run you could get. Any score above 20 was a masterful effort as the batsmen’s entire skillset, both physically and mentally, was examined.

 

This is Test cricket is it not? Test cricket isn’t just a longer version of limited overs cricket in different clothing. It’s a tough, uncompromising place where you simply sink or swim, you never just make up the numbers.

 

Sadly, from there the Test was tainted with fears of safety – which is of course incredibly important – but the atmosphere created and the tension between the two teams represented everything that is great about the game.

South Africa were in a winning position. They should have won. But they didn’t. India put in a terrific Test match performance, outlasting their opponents, showing all the grit and determination that is needed to do so, and as a result got to savour something special in the game - an away Test victory in unwelcoming conditions.

As a supporter, this series will live on in my memory for a very long time. I have already forgotten about the latest Ashes series, and I couldn’t really tell you too much about whom India had beaten on their run to the number 1 ranking in the world.

We now get to enjoy the limited over stuff. The place where 4s and 6s replace wickets in terms of focus. Where batsmen are the heroes, and the bowlers almost secondary players in a performance where runs are all that matters. And that is fine.

What makes it all the more fine is that Test cricket continues to give us a contrast, continues to show us the value of performance, the importance of fight and determination out in the middle.

This South Africa vs India series was the first ever series where 120 wickets fell in 3 tests, and we shouldn’t be too critical of that. Yes, the pitches were concerning, but it ultimately reminded us that Test cricket is a place where you are tested. As long as the safety of the players is taken care of, let them sweat, and let them fight for every run and position of strength.

Whether it’s a turning track in Nagpur, or a bouncing one at the Wanderers, the players will be forced to prepare accordingly. By means of more warm up matches, or by teams focusing on Test specialists, this will only add to the contest, and make more match ups as interesting as the one we just got to experience.

 

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Ben Karpinski is a South African sports blogger/MC/tweeter with a heart so broken by the Proteas, t...

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